US prosecutor investigating Trump associates resigns after standoff

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US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman announced on Saturday he would be leaving his position, ending a standoff with Attorney General William Barr.

On Friday night, Barr announced that Berman had been fired. Berman came to work on Saturday, saying he was there to do his job.

Barr then sent Berman a letter saying that President Donald Trump had fired him “as of today.” The letter also stated that Barr was surprised and disappointed that Berman had chosen “public spectacle over public service.”

However, Trump denied any involvement in the case. “That’s all up to the attorney general … He’s working on that, that’s his department, not my department,” the president told reporters.

Berman’s deputy attorney, Audrey Strauss, will fill his position until a permanent replacement is hired. Berman said the office could continue its “tradition of integrity and independence” under Strauss.

In his letter to Berman, Barr wrote: “I fully expect that the office will continue to handle all cases in the normal course and pursuant to the Department’s applicable standards, policies, and guidance.”

Investigating Trump associates

The standoff with Berman is the latest incident in what critics say is an effort by Barr to undermine the independence of the Justice Department.

Berman’s office, which is responsible for prosecuting terrorism, financial crime and government corruption, had taken up several high profile cases linked to Trump.

The office oversaw the prosecution of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer. It had also been investigating Trump’s current personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, in connection to Trump’s dealings in Ukraine. Berman had also pursued charges against sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in a Manhattan prison last year.

According to a new book by Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, the president sought to interfere into Berman’s investigation in a Turkish state-owned bank and cut a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Democrat Jerrold Nadler, said it would “immediately open an investigation into this incident, as part of our broader investigation into Barr’s unacceptable politicization of the Department of Justice.”

Trump has been under scrutiny for firing officials who are not perceived to be completely supportive of his administration. Several agency watchdogs have been fired in the previous weeks, including one who played a significant role in Trump’s impeachment trial.

tg/dr (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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