Geoffrey Berman’s explosive claims about Trump’s DOJ

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From virtually the moment we learned that the FBI had searched former president Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago last month, he and his allies have decried the search as symptomatic of a “weaponized” Justice Department. The charge was lodged even as we knew next to nothing about what undergirded the search or what materials Trump actually had — which we’ve now found out included many classified documents and even highly sensitive information on the nuclear capabilities of a foreign country.

Now comes a timely reminder of just how rich that claim is, coming from Trump and Co., according to the people who witnessed the actions of his own Justice Department firsthand.

Former U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman is releasing a new book that details his jousting with political appointees at the Trump Justice Department — including then-Attorney General William P. Barr, whom he casts as repeatedly pushing Trump’s line in prosecution decisions with political implications. A leaked copy of the book, “Holding the Line,” was obtained by the New York Times and the Guardian.

Berman, who worked for Trump in 2016 and served on his transition team, was a central figure in many key events by virtue of leading the second-most prominent district in the country, based in New York City. But he has rarely spoken publicly — including about the ugly 2020 dispute between him and Barr that marked the end of his tenure.

That’s changed, and now Berman isn’t holding back much.

“Throughout my tenure as U.S. attorney,” Berman wrote, according to the Times, “Trump’s Justice Department kept demanding that I use my office to aid them politically, and I kept declining — in ways just tactful enough to keep me from being fired.”

A case in point Berman raises is a request he received in 2018, when he said a Trump political appointee asked him to charge a prominent Democratic lawyer, Gregory Craig, and to do so before the midterms. Berman’s office had prosecuted former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and Trump-allied Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.). “It’s time for you guys to even things out,” Berman recalls the official telling him.

The official identified by Berman, Edward O’Callaghan, who was then the principal associate deputy attorney general, called the statements attributed to him “categorically false,” according to the Times. O’Callaghan declined to comment further when reached by The Washington Post.

Berman also reportedly expounds on the clash with Barr that led to Berman’s exit.

In summary: Berman’s office had prosecuted multiple Trump allies and had been investigating Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani; Barr claimed Berman was resigning and said he would appoint a new interim U.S. attorney; but Berman denied it and returned to work. Ultimately, Berman forced Trump to fire him — which meant Berman’s deputy would take over the top job, rather than Barr’s pick.

Barr’s botched effort to remove a prosecutor who probed Trump allies

In later testimony, Berman was tight-lipped about Barr’s motivations. But he writes in his book: “The reason Barr wanted me to resign immediately was so I could be replaced with an outsider he trusted.”

Berman also details several other instances of politics apparently seeping into the Trump DOJ’s work:

  • He says that, after he declined to prosecute Craig, the case was “peddled” to the U.S. attorney in Washington. That office in 2019 prosecuted Craig for alleged false statements but lost the case after a brief jury deliberation.
  • He discloses a previously unknown investigation of former secretary of state John F. Kerry for allegedly violating the Logan Act, which Trump had pressed for publicly. Berman says his office was charged with investigating the matter two days after Trump tweeted about it. He also says the pressure repeatedly ramped up whenever Trump weighed in — a “clear” and “outrageous” pattern.
  • He says a Justice Department official pressured his deputy, Robert S. Khuzami, to remove all references to Trump in a charging document detailing Cohen’s crimes. (Trump was listed in the document as “Individual-1,” but his identity was obvious, and the document implicated him in the scheme.)
  • He says Barr stifled campaign finance investigations emanating from the Cohen case and even floated seeking a reversal of Cohen’s conviction — just like Barr would later do with another Trump ally, Michael Flynn. (Barr also intervened in the case of another Trump ally, Roger Stone, to seek a lighter sentence than career prosecutors wanted.)
  • He says Barr took a keen, unusual and problematic interest in the Halkbank case, which involved Turkish bankers and government officials close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At the time, Trump was close to Erdogan, who decried the probe. Berman says Barr “appeared to be doing Trump’s bidding” by pushing for the charges to be dropped, according to the Guardian.

Similar to many of these, significant concerns about political influence in the Halkbank case have been raised before. And these examples don’t include the many other instances in which Trump leaned on the Justice Department (an extensive list is here). Sometimes, this involved extraordinary actions by Barr himself and officials or prosecutors like Berman objecting. Example A-1 is arguably Trump pushing the Justice Department to validate his baseless attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

But Berman brings his front-row perspective to these matters, given his involvement in many high-profile incidents. And despite his spat with Barr, his version of events has long been regrettably incomplete, leading to the incident to fall by the wayside.

“I walked this tightrope for two and a half years,” he writes, according to the Times. “Eventually, the rope snapped.”

None of this means that the search of Mar-a-Lago is suspicious — a federal magistrate signed the warrant, meaning he decided there was probable cause — or that it would be okay for subsequent Justice Departments to act in political ways because the other side did it.

But the allegation that that’s what happened with the Mar-a-Lago search is currently far less substantiated — and far more speculative — by virtue of how little we know. And when you spend four years meddling in Justice Department matters that have clear political and personal implications for you — something even Barr, at one point, publicly said he objected to — it makes your objections ring a little more hollow.

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