New Trump investigation to focus on prosecutions
Book claims efforts of his DOJ officials driven by politics
The Senate Judiciary Committee will investigate allegations that the Justice Department under President Donald Trump sought to use the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan to support Trump politically and pursue his critics, the committee’s chairman said.
The allegations are in a new book by Geoffrey Berman, who was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2018 through June 2020, when he was fired by Trump.
The chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, made the announcement late Monday in a letter sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland, which cited a New York Times report Thursday detailing the book’s allegations.
The book, “Holding the Line,” was obtained by the Times in advance of its scheduled publication Tuesday.
Berman’s book portrays
Trump Justice Department officials as motivated by partisan concerns as they tried to initiate criminal investigations or block them, the Times reported.
Durbin said in his letter, “These reported claims indicate astonishing and unacceptable deviations from the department’s mission to pursue impartial justice, which requires that its prosecutorial decisions be free from political influence.”
He added that the allegations “also compound the already serious concerns” raised by then-Attorney General Bill Barr’s efforts in 2020 “to replace Mr. Berman with a Trump loyalist.”
Berman’s dismissal came after he refused Barr’s request to resign. Barr had sought to replace him with an ally of the administration.
Anthony Coley, a spokesperson for Garland, confirmed the receipt of Durbin’s letter and declined to comment.
Barr did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did a spokesperson for Trump.
“As anyone who reads my book will know, I believe in proper process. I am happy to cooperate with any congressional inquiry,” Berman said Monday.
Durbin, in his letter, points to several claims of political interference by department officials that Berman made.
In one case, Berman describes how Barr, after taking office in February 2019, suggested that the conviction of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, for violating campaign finance laws be reversed. Barr also sought to stop related investigations into possible campaign finance violations, the book says.
A Southern District official later convinced Barr that there was no basis to drop any charges against Cohen and that the investigations should be completed, the book says. The inquiry ended without additional charges being filed.
In another case, Berman writes that department officials pressured the Southern District to prosecute former secretary of state John Kerry, and when Berman’s office investigated and declined to bring charges, the department sent the matter to another U.S. attorney’s office, which also declined to prosecute.
In yet another episode,
Berman writes that in September 2018, a department official called Berman’s deputy two months before the November midterms. After citing the recent prosecutions of two prominent Trump loyalists, the official said the office, which had been investigating Gregory Craig, a powerful Democratic lawyer, should charge him — and do so by Election Day.
“It’s time for you guys to even things out,” the official, Edward O’Callaghan, the principal associate deputy attorney general, told Berman’s deputy, according
to the book.
In a brief interview last week, O’Callaghan, after being told of the statements attributed to him, called them “categorically false.”
When Berman’s office declined to prosecute Craig, the department sent the investigation to federal prosecutors in Washington, where Craig was indicted and tried on a single count of making false statements. He was acquitted by a jury in less than five hours.
Durbin, in his letter to Garland, asked the department to provide the Judiciary Committee with all
documents and communications between the department and the Southern District related to the Cohen, Kerry and Craig episodes detailed in the book.
Meanwhile, the House Jan. 6 committee investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection, said that members met Tuesday to discuss the panel’s next steps. The nine-member panel seven Democrats and two Republicans interviewed witnesses through all of August, and they are hoping to have at least one hearing by the end of the month.