Richard Donoghue, a former Army paratrooper who as a young prosecutor helped head up the Justice Department’s initial war against street gangs on Long Island, was appointed Wednesday as chief federal prosecutor for the Eastern District.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also named Geoffrey Berman, a former Southern District prosecutor who worked on the Iran-Contra case, as chief federal prosecutor for that district, which includes Manhattan, the Bronx, as well Westchester and several upstate counties.
Although the firing of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara from the Southern District by President Donald Trump early last year prompted concerns that a political crony might be named and compromise the integrity of the Manhattan office, which handles some of the nation’s most sensitive terrorism and Wall Street cases, office alumni said they were relieved at Berman’s appointment as the interim U.S. attorney.
“He appreciates the heritage and integrity of the office,” said Lorin Reisner, a former criminal division chief under Bharara who worked as an assistant U.S. attorney with Berman. “My sense is he will not allow that to be compromised. I think it’s an excellent appointment.”
Sessions said in announcing both the appointments of Donoghue and Berman, as well as 15 other U.S. attorneys across the country: “United States Attorneys lead federal prosecutors across the country, taking deadly drugs and criminals off our streets and protecting the safety of law-abiding people.”
As the interim U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, Donoghue will head up all federal criminal and much civil litigation in the area that includes Nassau and Suffolk Counties, as well as Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
The appointments at least at the moment are temporary. Sessions was facing a deadline to fill the positions after the Trump administration removed most of the U.S. attorneys appointed by the Obama administration and interims had been serving in those places as acting U.S. attorneys.
But those people could only serve for 300 days. Nevertheless, the newly appointed prosecutors are in a position to be named permanently as the choice of the current administration to fill the slots.
Donoghue, 49, had the support of politicians from both sides of the aisle who had recommended him for the position and praised his selection.
“Richard Donoghue has a wealth of prosecutorial experience in exactly the area he is being asked to oversee, including serving as the Eastern District’s Chief of the Criminal Division, where he was a leader in the fight against gangs like MS-13. He is a career, no-nonsense prosecutor,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said Donoghue “is an excellent choice, extremely well-qualified. All I’ve ever heard are very positive about his abilities and integrity. . . . He gets across-the-board support, which is very unusual these days.”
Donoghue’s former colleagues and present prosecutors share this view, according to Mark Lesko, who served as deputy chief of the Eastern District’s Criminal Division when Donoghue was the chief under former U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch. Lesko, who is executive dean at Hofstra University and former Brookhaven Town supervisor, noted that 30 former and present assistant U.S. attorneys had signed a letter recommending Donoghue’s appointment.
Donoghue, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Hofstra and St. John’s University Law School, had won the New York City Bar Association’s prestigious Stimson Medal in 2007 for prosecuting dozens of MS-13 gang members on Long Island starting in the early 2000s. Donoghue, now senior vice president and head litigator at CA Technologies in Islandia, joined the Eastern District office after seven years as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne and as an Army lawyer.
Berman, 57, of New York City, a Stanford law school graduate, worked for the special prosecutor in the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s and served as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan from 1990 to 1994, where he handled tax, securities and early computer identity hacking cases.
He is currently a partner with Greenberg Traurig LLP, the same large Manhattan law firm where Rudy Giuliani is a partner, and according to published reports was personally interviewed by Trump — a practice Bharara criticized as atypical in an October tweet.
But former colleagues like Mary Jo White, the former SEC chair who was Berman’s boss as U.S. attorney in the 1990s, praised the selection. “I think Geoff is a great choice,” said White. “He is not only a fine lawyer who knows the office well, but also very high-minded and committed to doing the right thing.”
Michael Chertoff, former U.S. attorney in New Jersey and former head of the Department of Homeland Security, recalled that when he and Berman were in private practice together at a large firm Berman was named to a team monitoring the cleanup of the city carpenters union.
“He absolutely should put to rest any concerns people have about who’s going to run that office,” Chertoff said. “I think he’s completely independent and had an independent career and he’s going to be an independent person.”