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Democrats criticize Trump, Barr over prosecutor's firing

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 12, 2020. Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky

Democrats on Sunday criticized President Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr for firing a top Manhattan prosecutor whose office has investigated Trump's associates as Republicans defended Trump for hosting a campaign rally during the coronavirus pandemic.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Barr “deserves impeachment” for “corruptly impeding” independent investigations, citing Barr's weekend attempts to make Geoffrey Berman resign as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. The Southern District is reportedly investigating Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and brought charges against former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

But calls for Barr’s impeachment “are a waste of time at this point” because Senate Republicans would not consider it, “no matter what the evidence and no matter what the facts,” Nadler said on CNN’s "State of the Union."

Trump fired Berman this weekend after a standoff. Barr claimed Berman was stepping down Friday night. Berman, who said he did not plan to step down and only heard Barr's announcement through a news release, agreed to leave office once his deputy, Audrey Strauss, was named acting U.S. attorney. 

Nadler said the judiciary committee has asked Berman to testify this week.

Preet Bharara, who formerly held Berman’s job, expressed doubt that Berman would testify about why he believes he was fired, saying that prosecutors typically do not discuss ongoing investigations, even after they leave office. But he said Barr showed “an unfitness for office” by lying about Berman stepping down.

Sen. Chuck Schumer demanded an immediate investigation Sunday into what he called Barr’s “ugly, ham-handed plot” to oust Berman. 

Schumer (D-N.Y.) also called for Security and Exchange Commission chairman Jay Clayton to remove himself from consideration as Berman’s replacement during a news conference Sunday outside the Senate majority leader’s midtown Manhattan offices. 

 Schumer said Barr’s attempts to force Berman to leave his post must be investigated by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility and its Inspector General. 

 “The investigation must examine the role of Trump and Barr,” Schumer said. “What did the president know and when did he know it?”

Barr, who appeared on Fox News "Sunday Morning Futures" in an interview taped Friday, did not mention Berman’s firing. He spoke on protests against police brutality, saying some are raising legitimate concerns about police abuse. But he said the Department of Justice will “not be influenced by the mob.” He said the federal government may have to intervene in Seattle’s autonomous zone because “we can’t let it go on indefinitely” and it could deprive some people of their civil rights.

Barr also denied that there is systemic racism in the country.

“I do think there’s racism,” Barr said, but it is from individuals with bias, not the law enforcement system as a whole.

Barr also expressed concern that the officer who shot and killed Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta was charged before an investigation was complete and without a grand jury. “It’s important to go through the right processes before charging,” Barr said.

Many Atlanta police officers have called in sick in protest of the charges. 

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a contender as Joe Biden's running mate, said the city values police officers. 

"But this continues to be about where we are in this country and making sure that we don't have people who are part of our force who are not respectful of our communities," Lance Bottoms said on CNN.

Also Sunday, Trump advisers defended the president for hosting a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday. Trump has been criticized for flouting health guidelines to host the event and for saying that he asked advisers to slow testing down to reduce case numbers.

White House Adviser Peter Navarro said Trump’s comment was “tongue in cheek.” He said the administration is stockpiling supplies in case of a second wave in the fall.

But both Republicans and Democrats were united in their criticism of former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has written a tell-all book about his time in the White House. Republicans said Bolton was just upset that he was fired while Democrats criticized him for not testifying at the impeachment trial.

“He managed to unite all of Washington,” Sen. Mark Warner said on CBS’ Face the Nation.

With Michael O'Keeffe

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