A remarkable series of events transpired Friday night and Saturday as Attorney General William Barr tried and failed to quietly push out Geoffrey Berman, the head of the powerful federal prosecutor's office in Manhattan. Barr announced Friday night that Berman was "stepping down," and Berman said he wasn't, had "no intention of resigning," and Barr could not legally force him out. Berman showed up to work on Saturday, and Barr subsequently released a statement saying Trump had fired him. Trump told the press it was Barr's decision and he was "not involved."
"We spent very little time talking about it," Trump told Fox News on Saturday. "But the president has to sign a document or I guess give the okay."
So why did Barr want Berman, a Republican appointed by Trump, to leave? He didn't give a reason, but "Barr's critics have suggested his attempt to bring in Craig Carpenito, the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, was motivated by a desire to curtail the New York office's independent streak," The Washington Post reports, and "by long-simmering frustrations" over the Southern District of New York's pursuit of investigations targeting "Trump's interests and members of his inner circle," including personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Berman did step down Saturday afternoon, but only after Barr had agreed that his deputy, Audrey Strauss, would take over as acting U.S. attorney, at least until the Senate confirms a replacement. Barr said Trump would nominate Jay Clayton, Securities and Exchange Commission chairman, but Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested he would allow New York's two Democratic senators to quash Clayton's nomination.
"As attempted power plays go, this was an abject failure and served only to further undermine the credibility of both the attorney general and the president," Greg Brower, a former federal prosecutor, tells The New York Times. "The Southern District of New York continues to investigate whatever it is investigating, and Barr's preferred new United States attorney doesn't actually get the job."
Between the Berman debacle, Barr's leadership of Trump's pre-photo op protest crackdown in Lafayette Square, and newly un-redacted sections of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report suggesting Trump lied, the Times says, Barr's "efforts this month to play presidential intimate have backfired, embarrassing both him and his boss."