Over the weekend, a flap arose about the removal of Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. On Friday evening, Attorney General Barr announced that Berman had resigned. As Andy McCarthy has said, “it is a conventional indulgence to [a] dumped public official to frame the removal as a resignation, or to couch it ambiguously, so it is unclear whether the official decided to leave or was pushed out.”
Berman, however, was having none of it. He said he had not resigned, and intended to stay in the job to ensure that the cases his office is working on continue unimpeded. Barr then fired Berman, saying that President Trump had directed the decision.
At that point, Berman said he was resigning. He also pronounced himself satisfied that his deputy, Audrey Strauss whom he described in glowing terms, would carry on in an exemplary fashion.
Thus, it seems clear that, with Strauss succeeding Berman, the operation and course of the U.S. Attorney’s office won’t change appreciably. Why, then, did Barr fire Berman?
One theory is that Barr hoped to change course by replacing Berman on an interim basis with Craig Carpentino, currently the interim U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey. In particular, the theory goes, Barr wanted to protect close Trump associates including Rudy Giuliani from investigation.
Barr did, in fact, initially seek to install Carpentino. However, as McCarthy says, Carpentino has a good reputation. There is no reason to believe he would protect Giuliani or anyone else from a proper investigation.
The real reason for Berman’s sacking can probably be found in this report by The Hill. Citing the Wall Street Journal, The Hill says that Berman refused to sign a letter criticizing New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for placing major restrictions on religious gatherings. Berman’s refusal reportedly occurred a day before Barr announced that he would be replaced.
Justice Department supervisors asked both Berman and Eric Dreiband, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, to sign the letter. But Berman objected. Eric signed the letter, and it was sent to de Blasio on Friday evening, a few hours before the sacking of Berman.
The Hill says that Barr views Berman as stubborn and difficult to work with, and that the Attorney General was already looking for a replacement. Apparently, Berman’s refusal to sign the letter was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Berman’s initial response to Barr’s announcement tends to confirm the attorney general’s assessment. In any event, the conspiracy theory that Barr made the decision to remove Berman in order to protect anyone from investigation appears to be utterly without basis.