Attorney General William P. Barr denied accusations of political interference Sunday after a tumultuous weekend at the Justice Department that saw the ousting of the U.S. attorney for Manhattan turn into an embarrassing tug of war.
“I’m enforcing the law,” Mr. Barr responded when asked by Fox News Channel’s Maria Bartiromo whether he was doing the president’s bidding.
“And as I said when I was confirmed, any — anything within the four walls of the Department of Justice, any matter is going to be handled strictly on the laws, the law and the facts. It’s going to be reflecting our independent judgment of what the law requires,” he said.
Mr. Barr did not directly address the disastrous firing of Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. But the abrupt personnel move late Friday raised questions of whether President Trump was purging those whom he views as disloyal to him. Mr. Berman’s office has investigated Mr. Trump and his associates.
House Democrats on Sunday urged Mr. Berman to testify this week before the Judiciary Committee. On Wednesday, the committee is holding a hearing on corruption claims about Mr. Barr featuring two current Justice Department officials and one former employee.
“I certainly hope that [Mr. Berman] will come and testify before Congress,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat,
It’s “the most disastrous management of the Justice Department in modern memory,” Mr. Schiff said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “And like so much of what we have seen in this administration, it doesn’t come as a surprise any more, but yet it’s completely demoralizing to the people in the department and dangerous to the rule of law.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told CNN he’s launched an investigation into Mr. Berman’s firing. But he dismissed claims it could lead to another impeachment inquiry.
“We’ve seen a pattern of the president opposing, of Barr corruptly impeding all these investigations. This is just more of the same,” the New York Democrat said on CNN. “They are a waste of time at this point because we know that we have a corrupt Republican majority in the Senate which will not consider an impeachment no matter what the evidence.”
Federal prosecutors in Mr. Berman’s office are investigating the business dealings of Mr. Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, including whether he failed to register as a foreign agent, according to media reports.
The office prosecuted Mr. Trump’s former fixer and now foe Michael Cohen, who served a brief prison sentence for lying to Congress and violating campaign-finance laws.
Mr. Berman also oversaw the prosecution of two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were charged in October with campaign finance violations, including funneling foreign money into U.S. elections.
Mr. Berman’s office is also probing the Turkish financial institution Halkbank for allegedly violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran in order to free a U.S. pastor imprisoned in Turkey.
In his upcoming tell-all book, former national security advisor John Bolton claims Mr. Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan he would block the probe in exchange for releasing the American pastor.
It’s unclear whether any of those investigations angered the president enough to ax Mr. Berman. The attorney general has not publicly explained the decision.
Speaking with reporters Saturday, Mr. Trump appeared to distance himself from the decision to terminate Mr. Berman.
“Well, that’s up to the attorney general,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s his department, not my department. But we have a very capable attorney general so that’s really up to him. I’m not involved.”
The firing capped a wild Friday night and Saturday afternoon at the Justice Department in which Mr. Barr said he was replacing Mr. Berman, who fired back late Friday that he had no intention of resigning. The standoff ended Saturday afternoon after Mr. Barr wrote a letter to the powerful federal prosecutor telling him he had been terminated by the president.
“Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service,” Mr. Barr wrote in a letter obtained by The Washington Times.
“Because you have declared that you have no intention of resigning, I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so,” the letter continued.
Shortly after Mr. Barr’s letter, Mr. Berman announced he would resign.