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U.S. attorney for Southern District of New York refuses to resign

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman announces an indictment on Oct. 10, 2019, in Manhattan. Credit: Charles Eckert

Manhattan's top federal prosecutor — whose office has overseen investigations into President Donald Trump’s inner circle — is refusing to resign, after Attorney General William P. Barr announced Friday night that he would step down.

“I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney," Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. "I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York."

Berman, a Republican who was appointed in 2018, said he would continue until a replacement was confirmed by the Senate, and no sooner.

"Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption," Berman said.

Berman's office has obtained guilty pleas from Trump's formal personal attorney Michael Cohen to criminal tax evasion and other charges, and there is a reported, ongoing probe of the president's current personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

At 11:14 p.m. Friday, exactly two hours after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that he would resign, the Southern District of New York's official Twitter account, @SDNYnews, posted a statement from Berman disputing that and saying that he intends "to ensure that this Office's important cases continue unimpeded."

Berman was appointed to the post on an interim basis in 2018 — later permanently by the district’s judges in a rare procedure after Trump did not formally nominate anyone for U.S. Senate confirmation.

In the news release, sent at 9:14 p.m., the Justice Department said that Berman was stepping down and that Jay Clayton, currently the chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, would be nominated to the U.S. attorney post, leading an office that has long relished the nickname the “Sovereign District of New York” for its ostensible independence.

Until Clayton was to take over, Craig Carpenito, who is U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, was to be Berman’s acting replacement, effective July 3, while the Senate considers Clayton’s nomination.

Now it’s unclear what will happen.

In the Justice Department news release, Barr — Berman’s boss — was quoted praising Berman.

“Finally, I thank Geoffrey Berman, who is stepping down after two-and-a-half years of service as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. With tenacity and savvy, Geoff has done an excellent job leading one of our nation’s most significant U.S. Attorney’s Offices, achieving many successes on consequential civil and criminal matters,” Barr is quoted as saying. “I appreciate his service to the Department of Justice and our nation, and I wish him well in the future.”

Berman donated $5,400 to Trump's presidential campaign in 2016, according to the Federal Election Commission’s online database.

The district, which has jurisdiction over Manhattan, the Bronx and the nearby northern suburbs, has a history dating back to the beginning of the United States: What would become the Southern District was the nation’s first to sit under the then-new U.S. Constitution, in 1789.

Past U.S. attorneys of the Southern District include Preet Bharara, Robert Morgenthau — and Giuliani. Berman is Giuliani's former law partner.

Bharara — who in 2017 like most Obama-era U.S. attorneys was ousted by Trump — sent out a series of tweets Friday night about Berman’s departure, before Berman’s own statement.

“Why does a president get rid of his own hand-picked US Attorney in SDNY on a Friday night, less than 5 months before the election?“ Bharara tweeted, with a follow up that “Berman ‘stepping down’” amounts to what Bharara described with a barnyard expletive. “He was fired.”

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