Trump says SEC chief Jay Clayton to replace SDNY head Geoffrey Berman

Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, attends a press conference at the U.S. Attorneys office of Southern District of New York on October 10, 2019 in New York City.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

In stunning Friday night statements, President Donald Trump said he will nominate Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton to replace Geoffrey Berman as the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan — but Berman promptly said he will not leave until a successor is confirmed by the Senate.

The extremely unusual standoff involves high stakes, as Berman has shown a willing to investigate associates of Trump, including two of the president’s own lawyers.

“I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney,” Berman said in a written statement that also was posted by his office’s Twitter account.

“I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York,” he said. “I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate.”

“Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption. I cherish every day that I work with the men and women of this Office to pursue justice without fear or favor – and intend to ensure that this Office’s important cases continue unimpeded.”

There had been no previous indication that Berman was leaving the prestigious post of the SDNY U.S. attorney, voluntarily or otherwise.

Many legal observers were stunned late Friday when Attorney General William Barr said Berman was “stepping down,” and that Trump would nominate Clayton to replace him.

Jay Clayton, Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, testifies during the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on “Oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission” on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Bill Clark | Getty Images

Berman’s denial of that claim raises the question of whether he can actually hold on to his job, and who can get rid of him.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called for Clayton to withdraw his name from consideration Saturday and asked the Justice Department Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate the reasons behind the Trump administration’s attempt to force Berman out. 

Berman was first appointed as acting U.S. Attorney for the SDNY by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in early 2018. He later was appointed to the post by the judges in the Southern District, removing his interim, “acting” status. That unusual move came after Trump failed to formally nominate Berman to the job, for a variety of possible reasons.

A 41-year-old opinion by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel says that a president has the power to remove a United States attorney who was…

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