Some Senate Republicans on Monday offered a muted response to President Trump’s ouster of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, the top federal prosecutor in New York, dismissing calls for a probe into the matter.
Under Berman, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has managed a number of sensitive investigations involving people close to Trump, including his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Attorney General William P. Barr announced Saturday that Trump had fired Berman, ending an unprecedented standoff after Berman had resisted being removed from his post the previous day. Democrats reacted to the news with alarm, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has said his panel will open an investigation into the episode and seek to secure Berman’s testimony.
But on Monday, some Senate Republicans responded to the news of Berman’s firing with little more than a shrug.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told reporters at the Capitol that he was not concerned by Berman’s dismissal, describing the matter as a “sideshow” and “another tempest in the teapot.”
“Clearly, the attorney general and the president were within their rights,” Cornyn said.
Asked whether he thinks the public has a right to know why Berman was fired, Cornyn replied that “the best person to provide that answer is not me, it’s Mr. Barr.” But Cornyn declined to say whether he would press Barr for answers.
“I feel like I’ve got more important things to do, like pass police reform,” he said.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) similarly played down the significance of Berman’s ouster.
“Well, it’s kind of like previous firings I would say, but, these people all serve at the pleasure of the president,” Thune told reporters. “My assumption is that whatever investigations are underway, it will be continued by the career staff there, so the show will go on.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said earlier Monday that the investigations being handled by Berman’s office will continue. “As I noted earlier, and A.G. Barr noted, this will not disrupt the cases being handled by the district, which will proceed as normal,” she said at a White House news briefing.
Berman’s ouster sparked deep unease among rank-and-file Justice Department employees, and it remains unclear why Barr moved against him just five months before the presidential election.
Three people familiar with matter told The Washington Post on Saturday that they believed Barr could have been spurred by long-standing tensions between the New York office and main Justice in Washington, moving to rein in a prosecutor perceived as too independent.
McEnany said Monday that Berman was removed because Trump wanted the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Jay Clayton, to take over the job. Clayton, however, has never worked in the office or served as a federal prosecutor.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally whose panel oversees U.S. attorney nominations, said he had not been consulted about the move and would follow Senate tradition by essentially giving New York’s two senators veto power over the nomination.
The two Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, both said that Clayton should not be considered for the job.
In a scathing Senate floor speech Monday afternoon, Schumer said he has demanded that the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility work with the department’s inspector general to determine whether “corrupt motives” were behind Berman’s ouster — and, if so, to “discipline the officials involved, no matter who they are or how high up they go.”
Schumer also called for Graham’s committee to investigate.
“After all, the abject refusal of Senate Republicans to hold President Trump accountable for his assault on the rule of law in the country is what got us here in the first place. … Every time the president breaks a window, the Senate Republican majority dutifully sweeps up the glass,” Schumer said.
Rosalind S. Helderman and Paul Kane contributed to this report.
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