Baltimore Sun

New Trump investigat­ion to focus on prosecutio­ns

Book claims efforts of his DOJ officials driven by politics

- By Benjamin Weiser

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.

 ?? HIROKO MASUIKE/THE NEW YORK TIMES 2020 ?? A book by Geoffrey Berman, a former U.S. attorney, portrays Trump Justice Department officials as motivated by partisan concerns.
HIROKO MASUIKE/THE NEW YORK TIMES 2020 A book by Geoffrey Berman, a former U.S. attorney, portrays Trump Justice Department officials as motivated by partisan concerns.

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