You think you’ve had skeevy managing partners? PFFFFT. Former SDNY head Geoffrey Berman has got you beat in a walk. Here’s how he described getting fired by Bill Barr in his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee this afternoon.
On June 18, 2020, I received an email from a member of the Attorney General’s staff stating that the Attorney General wanted to meet me the next day at the Pierre Hotel in New York. I was not told the purpose of the meeting.
Summoned to meet your boss in his hotel room? Hello, HR …
During a tense 45-minute lunchtime meeting in which nobody touched the tray of sad sandwiches, Barr told Berman that “he wanted to make a change in the Southern District of New York,” and that change was to promote Berman out of there ASAP.
He said that there was an opening in DOJ’s Civil Division created by the recently announced departure of Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt. He asked me to resign my position and take that job, saying that it would create an opening for SEC Chairman Jay Clayton to be nominated for U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Berman protested that he “loved” his job at SDNY, and Barr assured him that he was “not at all dissatisfied” with Berman’s performance. Nonetheless, it was imperative to replace him immediately with U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Craig Carpenito pending Clayton’s confirmation. A confirmation which would take place never, since it would require the signoff of both Democratic senators from New York, an event slightly less likely than Donald Trump going an entire day without Tweeting.
I told the Attorney General that I knew and liked Jay Clayton but he was an unqualified choice for U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York because he was never an AUSA and had no criminal experience.
It was at this point, after he’d already offered him the job as head of the Civil Division, that Barr asked Berman if he actually had any civil experience, suggesting that the promotion would help Berman “build his book” for when he returned to private practice.
The Attorney General pressed me to take the Civil Division position, saying that the role would be a good resume builder. He said that I should want to create a book of business once I returned to the private sector, which that role would help achieve. He also stated that I would just have to sit there for five months and see who won the election before deciding what came next for me. As part of this exchange he asked if I had done civil work at my prior law firm. I confirmed that I had indeed done civil work but that I did not want to lead the Department’s Civil Division.
But Berman said that he wasn’t leaving until his successor was confirmed by the Senate. He wasn’t going to be shoved out like Jessie Liu, the former U.S. Attorney for D.C. whose career got blown up so Barr could bypass congressional confirmation and put his pal Timothy Shea in there to ratf*ck the Roger Stone and Michael Flynn cases.
The Attorney General repeatedly urged me to take the Civil Division position. At one point I compared his request for my resignation to what happened with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia where the U.S. Attorney resigned and was replaced with someone from outside that office instead of the First Assistant. By referring to that resignation I intended to signal the Attorney General that I was not going to resign so that he could disregard normal procedure and appoint someone from outside the Southern District as acting head instead of our Deputy U.S. Attorney.
Barr offered him several other positions in the administration, but when Berman refused to budge, Barr threatened to fire him and tank his career: “He added that getting fired from my job would not be good for my resume or future job prospects.” Which is better than threatening to break both his knees with a baseball bat … marginally.
So Berman left the meeting and immediately called his own lawyer, since he knew he was about to get shivved. And after one more phone call offering to let Berman switch jobs with Clayton and move over to the SEC, Barr tried to force his hand by announcing late that Friday night that Berman was resigning. Which provoked one of the batshittier news cycles in an administration that produces guano by the ton.
And all that was just in Berman’s opening statement! His testimony took place behind closed doors, but it should probably leak right about …. NOW.
Opening Statement of Geoffrey S. Berman Before the House Judiciary Committee (via Politico)
Elizabeth Dye (@5DollarFeminist) lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.