Berman book prompts Senate panel to investigate Trump DoJ interference

Judiciary committee notifies justice department of investigation into claims made by fired US attorney Geoffrey Berman

The US Senate judiciary committee has said it will investigate claims made in a recent book that allies of Donald Trump politically interfered with a prominent US attorney’s office.

William Barr, Donald Trump’s second attorney general, fired Geoffrey Berman from the powerful southern district of New York (SDNY) five months before the 2020 election. In a memoir – Holding the Line: Inside the Nation’s Preeminent US Attorney’s Office and its Battle with the Trump Justice Department – which is published in the US on Tuesday, Berman alleges interference both on behalf of Trump allies and against Trump enemies.

As reported by the New York Times and the Guardian last week, the book outlines numerous alleged instances. These include the Halkbank investigation into a Turkish bank’s operations in regard to Iran, and an ultimately stymied investigation of John Kerry, Barack Obama’s former secretary of state, for conversations with Iranian diplomats after leaving his post.

According to the New York Times, the No 2 Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, announced the judiciary committee investigation in a Monday letter to Merrick Garland, the current attorney general. Garland acknowledged receipt of the letter, the paper said.

The Guardian has contacted Berman for comment. He told MSNBC that at the time of his firing, the SDNY “was working on a couple politically sensitive cases. One of those cases is the Steve Bannon We Build the Wall case”, in which Trump’s former White House strategist was ultimately charged with fraud.

“And we were very close to indicting that case around the time I got fired and Barr knew about the case.

“And that case was indicted by the SDNY by Audrey Strauss, who took over as acting US attorney after I was fired, and she brought that prosecution. And then President Trump pardoned Steve Bannon, which was an outrageous pardon. But … we were very close to indicting.”

Last week, Bannon was indicted on New York state charges. He pleaded not guilty.

Berman continued: “The other case was the Ukraine investigations arising out of the Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman indictments and that was something that we had been investigating for quite a while and then we continued to investigate for quite a while.”

Parnas and Fruman worked with Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor turned Trump attorney, to try to extract political dirt from the government of Ukraine – efforts which led to Trump’s first impeachment.

On MSNBC, Berman was asked why he saved his allegations for his book.

He said: “There are rules, laws and statutes and regulations that prohibit Department of Justice employees and former employees from talking about ongoing cases and investigations, as well as internal conversations relating to those cases. And we are bound by that.”

In July 2020, four months before election day, Berman testified in Congress.

He said: “When I gave congressional testimony … I went to the ethics office of the SDNY and the ethics office at Main Justice, and I said, ‘What can I talk about? Because there were ongoing investigations that were politically sensitive at the time I got fired. And Barr knew about them. And, you know, can I talk about it?’

“And the ruling that came down and I respected it, was that ‘You can’t talk about any ongoing investigations because they might be jeopardised. You can’t talk about any other cases that went on. You can’t even talk about the conversations that you had with other DoJ employees, except for the two days before you got fired. You can talk about Bill Barr.’”

That, he said, “was frustrating, because I couldn’t tell the whole story and the whole story needed to be told”.

The memoir, Berman said, was subjected to DoJ pre-publication review and “entirely vetted” to ensure he was behaving in “an ethical manner”. In it he calls Barr a bully, a thug and a liar.

Contributor

Martin Pengelly in New York

The GuardianTramp

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