The definitive answer as to what happened in the Manhattan U.S. Attorneys office is still far from definitive. In the short period of time between Friday evening and Sunday morning, the bizarre saga of (former) U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman has taken more twists and turns than an Olympic luge run. Yesterday I puzzled over how Bermans dismissal by either Donald Trump or Bill Barr (depending who you ask) was handled in such an apparently slapdash fashion. In less than a day, we went from Barr announcing the Berman was resigning to Berman saying he wasnt. Then Barr said Trump had fired Berman. The President claimed that he hadnt. But Barr isnt authorized to fire Berman, so if Trump didnt do it, then Berman is still the U.S. Attorney for Manhattan, right? (We can pause here if you feel the need to take an aspirin and lie down for a bit.)
Well, none of that matters this morning. It seems that a deal was cut and Berman is now admitting hes fired. Or hes resigning. Im really not sure anymore, but hes leaving the office effective immediately. (NY Post)
Geoffrey Berman on Saturday night agreed to step down as one of the nations most powerful U.S. Attorneys, ending a day-long power tug-of-war that stretched from his Manhattan headquarters to the White House and Justice Department in Washington.
In a statement issued at 6 p.m., Berman said he would leave immediately, and turn control of the office over to his Deputy U.S. Attorney, Audrey Strauss.
Berman credited his decision which came after a day of refusing to step down to Attorney General William Barr backtracking on his original demand that his successor be attorney and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton.
Im confident that Berman crafted his statement carefully and his choice of words was interesting. He didnt say he was resigning but he also didnt mention being fired. He simply said, I will be leaving
Let me circle back to something I wrote about this yesterday. [Berman] cant technically refuse to leave the office because all U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President. If Trump says hes fired, hes fired. But now the President is saying he didnt fire Berman, so the former U.S. Attorney has technically resigned. But in order to get him to do it, Barr had to sweeten the pot by agreeing to back down on installing Securities and Exchange Commission chief Jay Clayton as his replacement. Instead, Bermans former deputy, Audrey Strauss will be stepping up to fill his shoes until the Senate confirms somebody.
Barr has now placed Trump in something of a delicate position, assuming we believe that this was all Barrs idea to begin with. (More on that in a moment.) Yes, the GOP still has enough votes to ram through Clayton if they can keep everyone in line. But the Democrats have the perfect excuse to make it a party-line vote. Theyll simply argue that theres already a perfectly viable person serving in the office (Strauss) who has literally been prosecuting cases since Jimmy Carter was in office. She actually had to come out of retirement in 2018 to take the role of Bermans deputy. Clayton, on the other hand, has never prosecuted so much as a jaywalking ticket.
Returning to how this all began, do any of you honestly believe that Bill Barr would have taken it upon himself to can Berman without at least giving President Trump a courtesy call? Given the obvious political fallout of this transition and the media circus that followed, that should be a firing offense on Barrs part if he did. Trump is denying this publicly, but thats a bit much for even me to swallow. And the fallout started last night. The (at least temporary) surrender on Clayton is already being fed into the CNN/MSNBC translator and defined as a victory for The Resistance. And if a couple of nervous Republicans bail out on the Clayton confirmation vote, the Democrats will chalk that one up in the W column also, leaving Trump with yet another acting person in the U.S. Attorneys office in Manhattan who he never wanted in the first place.
Bill Barr has been a loyalist in Trumps camp from day one, so its difficult to see him getting the boot over this. But somebody messed up majorly in how this was handled. Yes, Donald Trump loves stories where hes portrayed as being a fighter and sticking it to his enemies. But he also likes stories where he wins the fight. Thats looking far from certain at this point.