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Top US prosecutor who probed Trump's allies fired

  • Published at 03:14 pm June 21st, 2020
(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 10, 2019 US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman speaks during a press conference in New York City. - A US prosecutor who investigated allies of President Donald Trump insisted late June 19, 2020, he had no intention of quitting after the attorney general issued a press release announcing his resignation. Geoffrey Berman oversaw the prosecution of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and probed advisor Rudy Giuliani's efforts to discredit the president's political opponents since he was appointed to head the powerful Southern District of New York attorney's office in 2018. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP)
File photo: In this file photo taken on October 10, 2019 US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman speaks during a press conference in New York City AFP

The veteran prosecutor had overseen the prosecution of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and probed advisor Rudy Giuliani's efforts to discredit the president's political opponents

America's top law enforcement official told a federal prosecutor known for probing allies of President Donald Trump that he was fired on Saturday -- sparking uproar and triggering an inquiry by Democratic lawmakers.

Geoffrey Berman, head of the Southern District of New York attorney's office since 2018, discovered his job was in jeopardy via a press release late Friday from Attorney General Bill Barr saying the prosecutor was stepping down.

Berman responded that he had "no intention" of quitting, and that his office's "investigations will move forward without interruption."

But Barr sent him a letter Saturday saying Trump had agreed to fire the official "as of today."

The fast-intensifying crisis has pitted the government against much of Washington's legal community -- and has apparently set Barr against Trump, who denied any involvement in the case.

In his letter, circulated widely by US media, Barr accused Berman of having "chosen public spectacle over public service" through his defiance. 

Berman -- who later confirmed in a statement he would be leaving "immediately" -- finds himself at the center of the latest controversy in what Democrats have characterized as the politicization of the Justice Department under Barr.

The veteran prosecutor had overseen the prosecution of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and probed advisor Rudy Giuliani's efforts to discredit the president's political opponents. 

But Trump, speaking to reporters ahead of a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, denied sacking Berman -- further adding to the confused messaging coming from the administration.

"That's all up to the attorney general... He's working on that, that's his department, not my department," Trump said. "I'm not involved."

Berman, a Republican who held a position in Trump's transition team and was once a law partner of Giuliani, has pursued cases against tycoon sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell last year.

He has also investigated two associates of Giuliani accused of campaign finance violations and helping dig up dirt on Trump's election challenger Joe Biden as part of the Ukraine scandal over which Trump was impeached.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer urged the Justice Department's inspector general to launch an investigation into "blatantly corrupt DOJ interference."

Meanwhile Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, accused Barr of repeatedly interfering in "criminal investigations on Trump's behalf."

The committee said in a statement it would "immediately open an investigation into this incident, as part of our broader investigation into Barr's unacceptable politicization of the Department of Justice." 

Two whistleblowers are scheduled to testify Wednesday on "why Barr's attempt to fire Mr Berman is part of a larger, ongoing, and wholly unacceptable pattern of conduct," the statement added.


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