White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany claimed on Monday that now-former U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman was removed because his replacement, current Security and Exchange Commission chair Jay Clayton, wanted to live in the Big Apple.
“Mr. Clayton wanted to go back to New York City. We wanted to keep him in government and therefore he was given the position at SDNY,” McEnany told reporters during a White House press briefing.
President Donald Trump holds Clayton, who has no experience as a prosecutor, “in very high regard,” the press secretary said.
McEnany claimed that Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr were “very much in sync” over Berman’s firing, despite the fact that Barr had told Berman that Trump had ordered his ouster while the President claimed he had nothing to do with it.
The press secretary said Berman, who initially refused to step down after Barr suddenly announced his departure, had disrupted the “smooth transition” the attorney general was working on to install Clayton in the SDNY.
“When Berman chose to respond in the way that he did, [Barr] came to the President and the president agreed and fired this individual,” McEnany said.
Trump was involved “in the signoff capacity,” according to the press secretary.
Berman resigned on Saturday evening, leaving all of the SDNY’s investigations, including the probe into Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in the hands of Deputy U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss and then Clayton, if he is confirmed.
McEnany denied that Berman had been fired due to his Giuliani investigation or any others related to Trump’s allies.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) didn’t buy the White House’s explanation for Berman’s removal, calling it “one of the stupidest and least believable excuses for government corruption I’ve ever heard.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that right before his ouster, Berman had refused to sign Justice Department officials’ letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio that trashed him for restricting religious gatherings with his stay-at-home order amid COVID-19. However, it is unknown whether the U.S. attorney’s objection to the letter led to his firing.
McEnany says Berman was dismissed and replaced by Jay Clayton because "Mr. Clayton wanted to go back to New York City." pic.twitter.com/WcU2VV84xi
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) June 22, 2020