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Top US Attorney refuses to step down — but AG Barr has already announced his replacement

Controversy erupted late Friday when Geoffrey Berman, the powerful U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York, refused to step down despite Attorney General William Barr announcing his replacement.

Barr abruptly announced Friday that President Donald Trump would replace Berman with Jay Clayton, current chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Berman has served in his capacity since April 2018, and his office has conducted investigations into top Trump allies, including Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani.

Barr stated in a press release:

I thank Geoffrey Berman, who is stepping down after two-and-a-half years of service as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. With tenacity and savvy, Geoff has done an excellent job leading one of our nation’s most significant U.S. Attorney’s Offices, achieving many successes on consequential civil and criminal matters. I appreciate his service to the Department of Justice and our nation, and I wish him well in the future.

Berman responded by saying that he would not step down.

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“I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney,” Berman said.

“I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position,” he announced, “to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.”

Berman explained that he will only step down once “a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate.”

“Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption,” he said

At issue is whether Trump can summarily dismiss Berman when Berman was appointed to the position by federal judges in the southern district of New York. The judges were legally obligated to fill the position because Trump left it vacant without a Senate-confirmed attorney for more than one year.

Trump is allowed to replace Berman — but only after the Senate confirms a replacement. Until then, Berman, as he indicated in his statement, is allowed to remain in his role.

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