The White House on Monday admitted that President Donald Trump was involved in the removal of US Attorney Geoffrey Berman after Trump had claimed he was “not involved” in the process this weekend.
Speaking at the White House Monday, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump was “involved in the sign-off capacity” as she sought to explain the removal of Berman as a simple swap that would allow Jay Clayton, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to take the post.
Clayton and Trump also discussed the job, which leads the powerful Southern District of New York office.
During a recent meeting, Trump asked Clayton if he was interested in a job during a potential second term, according to a person close to the situation.
Clayton, who has never been a litigator or prosecutor, said he wanted to move back to New York and expressed interest in the SDNY position with the expectation it would be in a second term. Clayton was then told that it was accelerating and would be announced.
On Monday, however, McEnany wasn’t able to fully explain why Berman was dismissed before Clayton was confirmed by the Senate, saying only that there would be an interim US attorney in the post.
“The hope is Clayton will be confirmed,” she said.
Berman’s departure came a day after he refused Attorney General William Barr’s request that he resign. In a curt letter to Berman on Saturday, Barr told him Trump had agreed to remove him and conceded that Berman’s deputy would succeed him.
“Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service,” Barr wrote in his letter to Berman. “Because you have declared that you have no intention of resigning, I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so.”
He provided no justification for pushing out Berman.
Speaking to reporters shortly after Barr’s letter was made public, however, Trump said, “That’s his department, not my department.” He added: “I’m not involved.”