Top US prosecutor blocks attempt to oust him

A top federal prosecutor has issued a statement saying he has not resigned, despite the US Justice Department announcing he was stepping down.

Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney in Manhattan, said he learned he was “stepping down” in a press release issued by US Attorney-General William Barr on Friday evening.

Mr Barr gave no reason for the move.

Mr Berman has overseen the prosecution of a number of President Donald Trump’s associates during his time in office.

They include President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen who has served a prison sentence for lying to Congress and campaign finance fraud. The department has also been investigating the conduct of Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump’s current lawyer.

Mr Berman is also the prosecutor in charge of the investigation into sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and has previously expressed frustration over the Duke of York’s role in the inquiry.

Earlier this month, Mr Berman said Prince Andrew – a former friend of Epstein – had “repeatedly declined our request” to schedule an interview. The duke’s lawyers reject claims he has not co-operated.

The latest row comes days after former National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a book that President Trump had pressed Mr Berman’s office to halt an investigation into the Turkish Halkbank in a bid to make a deal with Turkey’s president.

In his statement, William Barr – a close ally of the president – said Mr Trump intended to nominate as Mr Berman’s successor the current chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Jay Clayton, a man who has never served as a federal prosecutor.

Writing on Twitter, Mr Berman’s predecessor, Preet Bharara, said that the timing and manner of the move to replace Mr Berman was strange.

“Why does a president get rid of his own hand-picked US Attorney in SDNY (Southern District of New York) on a Friday night, less than five months before the election?” Mr Bharara said.

In his statement, Mr Berman said: “I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney. I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position.”

He said he would only step down when a presidentially appointed nominee was confirmed by the Senate.

Mr Berman added: “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 favour – and intend to ensure that this office’s important cases continue unimpeded.”

Geoffrey Berman was appointed in January 2018 after Mr Trump fired Mr Bharara, who had refused to resign. Mr Berman is a long-time Republican donor, including to Mr Trump’s presidential campaign.

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