Schumer seeks investigation of ‘Nixonian’ attempt to oust U.S. Attorney Berman

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Schumer, (D-NY) speaks during a news briefing of the COVID-19 at the City Hall in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-NY) speaks during a news briefing of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the City Hall in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 14, 2020. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

The morning after Attorney General William Barr tried to remove U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman from his Manhattan post, Senator Charles Schumer called for an immediate probe into the fiasco — and for SEC Chairman Jay Clayton to withdraw his nomination to the office.

Barr announced Friday night that Berman was stepping down, and that President Trump had nominated Clayton to the post. But shortly after that announcement was made, Berman made a stunning declaration that he wasn’t going anywhere — saying he only learned of his purported resignation through Barr’s press release, and that he will remain in office until a successor is confirmed.

In a statement Saturday morning, Schumer described the situation as a “brazen Trump-Barr scheme to interfere in investigations” by Berman’s Southern District of New York office. During his 2 1/2 year tenure, the U.S. Attorney has investigated several Trump associates, including the president’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and his current legal counsel, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

New York’s senior senator compared the attempted Berman coup to the events of the Saturday Night Massacre in October 1973, at the height of the Watergate scandal.

Then-President Richard Nixon wanted Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor appointed to investigate his actions, fired. But Nixon’s own attorney general, Elliot Richardson, resigned rather than carry out the firing order. Later, the deputy attorney general, William Rucklehaus, was fired after he refused to can Cox. The solicitor general, Robert Bork, wound up fulfilling Nixon’s wish.

Today, Schumer compared Clayton’s current position to that of Richardson’s when Nixon told him to fire Cox. New York’s senior senator and Senate minority leader challenged Clayton to withdraw his nomination to the U.S. attorney post rather than sully his reputation.

“Forty-seven years ago, Elliot Richardson had the courage to say no to a gross abuse of presidential power,” Schumer said. “Jay Clayton has a similar choice today: He can allow himself to be used in the brazen Trump-Barr scheme to interfere in investigations by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, or he can stand up to this corruption, withdraw his name from consideration and save his own reputation from overnight ruin.”

Schumer further called upon the Inspector General for the U.S. Justice Department to launch an investigation into the reasons behind the decision by the president and the attorney general to dismiss Berman.

Clayton’s nomination must be confirmed by the Senate. On Saturday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the Trump administration has not yet formally informed him of the nomination. Before proceeding on considering Clayton, Graham noted, the committee traditionally waits upon “blue slips” from New York’s senators, Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

The blue slips are opinions that a senator writes from the state where a judicial nominee lives. The senator may opt not to submit a blue slip, or may write an opinion for or against the nominee.