President Donald Trump has fired by directly Geoffrey Berman, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan whose office is investigating Trump’s attorney Rudolph Giuliani.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr revealed this on Saturday after Berman publicly refused to step down from his post.
In a letter to Berman, Barr said he was “surprised and quite disappointed” by Berman’s statement late on Friday night in which he refused to quit his job, saying Berman had chosen “public spectacle over public service.”
“I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so,” Barr said, adding that the Deputy U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss for the Southern District on New York, will become the Acting U.S. Attorney until a permanent replacement is installed.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment on whether Berman would leave the post.
Speaking to reporters as he left the White House for a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Trump appeared to contradict Barr’s letter, saying Berman’s firing was a matter for Barr and was not his “department.”
“Attorney General Barr is working on that. That’s his department, not my department… that’s really up to him. I’m not involved,” Trump said.
Berman’s termination marks another remarkable development in an escalating crisis at the Justice Department that started on Friday night, when Barr unexpectedly announced that Berman was stepping down and would be replaced by U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton.
Berman, however, issued a statement of his own, saying he had no intention of stepping down until the Senate confirms his successor, and that his office’s investigations would continue.
The standoff follows the latest in a series of unusual moves by Barr that critics say are meant to benefit Trump politically and undermine the independence of the Justice Department.
It also comes as Trump seeks to purge officials perceived as not fully supporting him. In recent weeks he has fired a series of agency watchdogs, including one who played a key role in Trump’s impeachment earlier this year.