New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has signaled that Geoffrey Berman, the likely nominee to replace Preet Bharara as the chief federal prosecutor in Manhattan, will face home-state political opposition in the Senate over a reported private job interview with President Donald Trump.
Gillibrand’s office said in a statement that she thought the private session with Trump was “disqualifying” because it raised questions about Berman’s ability to be “independent” of political influence in the Manhattan post, which handles some of the nation’s highest profile cases and covers the nerve center of Trump’s private businesses.
“If this meeting took place it shows a lack of judgment that she believes her colleagues should view as disqualifying as a nominee,” the statement said.
Berman, 57, a member of Greenberg Traurig LLC who worked for four years as a Manhattan federal prosecutor in the 1990s, was named interim U.S. attorney on Wednesday, and began work on Friday.
The 120-day interim appointment was one of 17 made this week by the Justice Department, including ex-prosecutor Richard Donoghue to head the Brooklyn and Long Island district. Trump is expected to nominate Berman and Donoghue to the Senate to take the posts permanently.
Berman’s private meeting with Trump, described in news reports months ago, has not been confirmed. Critics including Bharara, whose March firing triggered concerns about politicizing the office, have said personal presidential contacts break a tradition designed to foster apolitical independence.
Gillibrand, a Democrat, linked the reported meeting with Berman to former FBI Director James Comey’s assertions that Trump tried to influence him.
“Reports that President Trump took the unusual step of personally interviewing Berman are deeply disturbing considering the conflicts of interest inherent by his potential jurisdiction on matters that could affect the president personally,” said her statement, issued late Thursday.
A spokeswoman for Gillibrand had no comment on whether she intended to just vote no if Berman is nominated, or use senatorial privilege to try to block a nomination. Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal has staked out the same position, calling the appointment “absolutely abhorrent to the rule of law” in a tweet.
New York senior Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, has endorsed Donoghue but his office has declined to comment on Berman. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), the senior Republican in New York’s congressional delegation, said he didn’t agree with Gillibrand.
“It is not at all disqualifying,” King said. “Presidents personally interview prospective Supreme Court Justice and Attorney General nominees.”
And some former colleagues of Berman said the reported interview didn’t alter their support.
“I understand the concerns, but I have no question about Jeff’s independence and commitment to fair and appropriate administration of the office,” said Lorin Reisner, a former criminal division chief under Bharara.
Berman, who named former SEC enforcement director Robert Khuzami as his top deputy on Friday, did not respond to a request for comment.