The U.S. attorney who oversaw key prosecutions of allies of U.S. President Donald Trump and an investigation into Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani abruptly left his post Friday.
Geoffrey S. Berman is stepping down as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. The office is one of the nation’s premiere districts, trying major mob cases and terror cases over the years.
It was unclear why Berman was leaving his position after serving more than two years. The announcement came after Barr visited New York City to meet with local police officials. Trump is nominating the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission to the job, a lawyer with virtually no experience as a federal prosecutor.
Barr offered Berman other positions in the Justice Department, including running the civil division, but he declined, a senior Justice Department official said. The official could not publicly discuss the private conversations and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Berman’s departure comes days after allegations surfaced from former Trump national security adviser John Bolton that Trump sought to interfere in a Southern District investigation into the Turkish Halkbank in an effort to cut deals with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The shakeup was likely to raise additional questions from congressional Democrats who have accused Barr of politicizing the Justice Department and acting more like Trump’s personal attorney than the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
“Doesn’t sound like ‘stepping down,’” Preet Bharara, the previous permanent U.S. attorney there, said in a tweet Friday. “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?”
Trump intends to nominate SEC Chairman Jay Clayton to the post, Barr said. The U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, will serve as the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan beginning July 3, he said.
Before taking the reins at the SEC, Clayton was a well-connected Wall Street lawyer who represented and advised a number of major companies, including Goldman Sacks, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and UBS. As SEC chairman since May 2017, Clayton has presided over a deregulatory push to soften rules affecting Wall Street and the financial markets, as Trump pledged when he took office.
With a majority of Republicans sitting as commissioners on the five-member SEC through most of his tenure, Clayton has eased rules for companies raising capital as well as corporate disclosure requirements. Rules under the 2010 Dodd-Frank law that tightened the reins on banks and Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis have been nipped around the edges.
The SDNY office has prosecuted a number of Trump associates, including Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who served a prison sentence for lying to Congress and campaign finance crimes, and has also been investigating Giuliani and his associates. He had recused himself from directly overseeing the Cohen investigation for reasons that were never disclosed.
Berman has also 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, including hiding the origin of a $325,000 donation to a group supporting Trump’s reelection.