By Associated Press
He ultimately agreed to step down from his post, but only after being assured his office’s probes of Trump’s circle would continue.
As he sat alone before the committee on Thursday, Berman told the panel of the series of events that started with an email from Barr’s office requesting the meeting, apparently on June 18. He said he was not told what it was about.
When he arrived at Barr’s hotel suite the next day, there “were sandwiches on the table, but nobody ate.”
Barr told him he wanted to make changes at the office. Berman resisted, saying he “loved” his job and asked if Barr was “dissatisfied” with his performance.
Barr assured him the move was solely because SEC head Clayton wanted to relocate to New York and the administration wanted to “keep him on the team.”
Before taking the reins at the SEC, Clayton had been a well-connected Wall Street lawyer who represented and advised a number of major companies, including Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and UBS.
Back and forth it went on that Friday at the Pierre, with Barr saying the move would be good for Berman’s résumé and eventual return to the private sector, Berman said. Berman would “only have to sit there” for five months until the presidential election determined next steps, Barr said. He told Berman it would be an opportunity to accumulate a “book of business” — clients — to bring to a private firm.
As Berman remained unmoved, Barr told him “he was trying to think of other jobs in the administration” that might be of interest. “I said that there was no job offer that would entice me to resign from my position,” Berman recalled.
Late that Friday the Justice Department issued a statement saying Berman was stepping down, launching the standoff. Berman issued his own statement saying he had “no intention of resigning.” He showed up for work Saturday.
On Saturday night, Barr publicly released a letter saying he had been fired by the president.
At the time, Trump told reporters it was “all up to the attorney general,” adding, “I wasn’t involved.”
Berman told the House panel the letter also contained a “critical concession” from Barr. In it, Barr stated that Berman’s hand-picked deputy would take over as acting U.S. attorney until the permanent successor was in place. Berman said that with “full confidence” the work of the office would continue, “I decided to step down and not litigate my removal.”
Berman had worked from 1987 to 1990 for the independent counsel who investigated the administration of President Ronald Reagan in the Iran-contra affair.
He previously served in the SDNY office as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1990 to 1994 before joining private practice, including time at the same firm as Giuliani. He reportedly met with Trump before being assigned as the top federal prosecutor job in Manhattan, after Trump’s ouster of Preet Preet Bharara in 2017.
Bharara, a federal prosecutor appointed to the SDNY post by President Barack Obama, announced his own firing in March 2017, shortly after Trump took office.
SDNY has probed Trump’s inaugural fundraising and overseen the prosecution of two Florida businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were associates of Giuliani and tied to the Ukraine impeachment investigation. The men were charged in October with federal campaign-finance violations.