WASHINGTON (AP) – The ousted U.S. attorney who was leading investigations into President Donald Trump’s allies arrived on Capitol Hill for a closed-door interview Thursday at the House Judiciary Committee as the panel deepens its probe of politicization at the Justice Department.
Geoffrey Berman, the former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, engaged in an extraordinary standoff last month when Attorney General William Barr sought to have him leave office. Berman refused to step down, relenting only after being assured his office’s probes of Trump’s circle would continue.
In setting the interview, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., called Berman’s dismissal â€œpart of a clear and dangerous patternâ€ of behavior by Barr. The panel’s Democratic majority is pursuing its investigation of the attorney general, who they say operates more like Trump’s personal lawyer than the nation’s top law enforcement official. Barr is set to testify before the committee later this month.
The noontime session comes as the Capitol remains partially shutdown during the COVID-19 crisis. Some, but not all lawmakers on the panel, attended.
The Southern District, known for its high-profile prosecutions, is where Berman oversaw several ongoing investigations of Trump associates, including some who figured prominently in the House impeachment inquiry of the president.
Berman’s office is looking into the business dealings of Rudy Giuliani, Trumpâ€™s personal lawyer and a former New York mayor. It has also prosecuted Trumpâ€™s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who went to prison for lying to Congress and campaign finance crimes.
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.
The Judiciary panel’s interview will be held behind closed doors. It is likely to go on for hours. A transcript is expected to be released later.
Berman, a Republican lawyer and donor to Trump, was tapped by the administration in 2018 as the U.S. attorney for SDNY. He 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.
The effort to oust Berman sparked an unusual clash between the Justice Department and its storied prosecutors’ office in New York.
Late on a Friday, Barr announced in a statement that Berman was stepping down. Shortly after 11 p.m. Berman issued his own statement saying he had “no intention of resigning.â€
Berman showed up for work Saturday morning. Barr, critical of the â€œpublic spectacle,” announced Berman’s firing.
Trump told reporters it was â€œall up to the attorney general.â€ At the time, Trump added: â€œI wasnâ€™t involved.â€
It’s not the first ouster of a U.S. attorney from the SDNY. Preet Bahara, a former federal prosecutor appointed by President Barack Obama, announced that he was fired in March 2017, shortly after Trump took office.