Something is rotten with the firing of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman by Attorney General William Barr and President Trump, Chuck Schumer alleges in a new letter to the Department of Justice.
Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the high-profile Southern District of New York, got the boot Friday, with Barr implying that Berman was resigning, saying in a statement that Berman was "stepping down."
Berman at first refused, but then acquiesced over the weekend.
Senate Minority Leader Schumer wants the Department of Justice inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility to immediately launch a joint probe of the dismissal.
"I ask that you review the reason for the removal of the U.S. Attorney Berman and whether he was removed for partisan political purposes, to influence an investigation or prosecution, or to retaliate for his actions in any specific investigation or prosecution," Schumer writes.
Berman's office was reportedly investigating Trump friend and lawyer Rudy Giuliani over his dealings in Ukraine with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who now stand indicted for funneling foreign cash into U.S. elections.
Although Berman was recused, his office earlier landed the conviction of Trump's other lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen over his hush money payoffs to Stormy Daniels and another woman. Berman's team also indicted a Turkish government-owned bank that Trump, according to former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton's new book, wanted to spare. (Ben Wittes has the passage here.)
There is precedent for a DOJ probe along the lines of what Schumer seeks -- one was launched after the Bush administration summarily dismissed a group of U.S. attorneys in 2006.
As Schumer notes in his letter, the ensuing investigation "found that the removal of these U.S. Attorneys and the controversy it created severely damaged the credibility of the Department of Justice and raised doubts about the integrity of Department prosecutive decisions."
Those firings were a major scandal at the time, even though the most obvious clue that they might be politically motivated was that one of the proposed replacements was a protege of President Bush's political mastermind, Karl Rove.
In this case, with a president who impeached for seeking political investigations and has fired numerous government officials who investigated his administration, there's already a lot more smoke in the air. Beyond that, the replacement Barr proposed is SEC Chair Jay Clayton. Trump likes Clayton, and played golf with him recently, according to The New York Times.
Then there was Barr's oddly carried out firing of Berman, when he claimed that Berman stepped down, when he hadn't. Berman made clear that Barr's public statement was the first he'd heard of it.
To Schumer, that raises more suspicion.
"As the Attorney General was not truthful when he initially represented that U.S. Attorney Berman was 'stepping down,' this corrupt firing cannot be explained by cause and gives the impression that the President interfered in ongoing criminal investigations into himself and his associates," Schumer says in his letter.
"To help restore confidence in and prevent further abuses to the administration of justice, the American people deserve to know the truth," he concluded.
An answer was not immediately forthcoming.