Geoff Berman, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who was fired last month, testified Thursday that Attorney General Bill Barr repeatedly urged him to leave the office and take another job. Berman refused, leading to a confrontation with Barr that ended with Berman being fired.
Barr, according to Berman’s prepared testimony, told Berman in a meeting on Friday, June 19 that he wanted to open up the job so that the SEC Chairman Jay Clayton could be nominated to fill it. But Berman objected, saying he wanted to stay where he was and that Clayton was “an unqualified choice” given his lack of experience in criminal law.
Barr offered other jobs in the administration to Berman, including becoming the head of the DOJ’s Civil Division, Berman testified. Barr told Berman that, in the Civil Division role, Berman could create a “book of business” before going back to the private sector, according to Berman’s testimony.
“He also stated that I would just have to sit there for five months and see who won the election before deciding what came next for me,” Berman testified.
Berman said he resisted those offers, testifying that he even compared Barr’s efforts to shift him into a new job to what happened to the former U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., Jessie Liu. In January Liu was given a new role, in the Treasury Department, and was replaced by the Barr ally Timothy Shea rather than a deputy within the U.S. Attorney’s office. Liu later resigned from the Treasury Department in February after the President withdrew her nomination to become the department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes.
“The Attorney General said that if I did not resign from my position I would be fired,” Berman testified. “He added that getting fired from my job would not be good for my resume or future job prospects. I told him that while I did not want to get fired, I would not resign.”
The last time Barr and Berman spoke, Berman testified, was over the phone that same night, just a few hours after Barr first informed Berman that he wanted him gone.
“I told him my position was unchanged and that I wanted to wait until Monday to have our final conversation,” Berman testified, adding that he wanted to consult with his staff.
“He asked why I needed to talk to my Executive Staff,” Berman testified. “He said this is about you. I said it is about the Office.”
Soon after that, Barr asserted in a press release that Berman had stepped down — and that the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, would fill in for Berman until Clayton was confirmed. That caught Berman off-guard.
“Sometime after 9:14 pm on Friday I became aware that DOJ issued a press release that I would be ‘stepping down,'” he testified. “That statement was false.”
Berman put out his own statement denying that he’d stepped down. The next day, Barr said Berman had been fired by the President — though Trump later denied involvement — and that Berman’s top deputy, Audrey Strauss, would fill in as acting U.S. attorney rather than Carpenito.
Installing Carpenito in that job, Berman testified, “would have been unprecedented, unnecessary and unexplained.” Following his testimony, the committee’s Democratic majority said that Berman also testified that installing Carpenito would “delay and disrupt” pending investigations.
So giving Strauss the interim job instead, Berman testified, was a “critical concession.”
“[H]aving full confidence that Audrey would continue the important work of the Office, I decided to step down and not litigate my removal,” Berman testified.
Read Berman’s full prepared testimony here or below: