No Matter How Corrupt You Thought They Were, It Was Worse, Says Former SDNY Head Geoffrey Berman
We do not need former US Attorney Geoffrey Berman's book to convince us that everyone in Donald Trump's orbit was ass-deep in corruption. We've seen it with our own eyes lo these seven long years. And yet! Details from the former Southern District of New York head's upcoming book, Holding the Line: Inside the Nation's Preeminent US Attorney's Office and Its Battle with the Trump Justice Department, are starting to come out, and hooboy!
Turns out Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden weren't the only political enemies Trump's goons tried to do LOCK HER UPs to. And conversely, Roger Stone and Mike Flynn weren't the only Trump allies to get preferential treatment from Trump's craven lapdog Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr.
The New York Times got its hands on an advance copy of Berman's book in which he describes a delicate balancing act trying to run his famously independent office while fending off political interference from the White House and Main Justice.
“Throughout my tenure as U.S. attorney, 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," he writes.
“I walked this tightrope for two and a half years. Eventually, the rope snapped,” he said, apparently referring to Barr's infamous efforts to Saturday Night Massacre SDNY and replace Berman with Jay Clayton, then head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a mergers and acquisitions lawyer with exactly zero criminal prosecutorial experience. Berman refused to resign quietly, and OMG this tweet is still up.
Berman's public screaming boned Barr's plans to ratfuck the office, ensuring that Audrey Strauss, his deputy and a career prosecutor with a sterling reputation, would take over as acting US attorney for the last seven months of the Trump administration. And his public statements since made it clear he had stories to tell.
Stories about Sessions and Barr trying to fuck up the prosecution of Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer/fixer, first by trying to get references to "Individual-1" deleted from Michael Cohen's plea agreement. How were they supposed to describe the campaign finance crime of paying off a former pornstar so she wouldn't talk about having sex with a presidential candidate without describing said candidate, even pseudonymously? Well, what if Michael Cohen's crimes weren't crimes, wondered Bill Barr. Had Geoff Berman thought of that?
In late February, he writes, Mr. Barr summoned the Southern District deputy, Mr. Khuzami, who was overseeing the inquiry, to challenge the legal basis for Mr. Cohen’s plea and “the reasoning behind pursuing similar campaign finance charges against other individuals.”
His office was ordered to pause all investigative steps, Mr. Berman writes. “Not a single document in our possession could be reviewed,” he says. Mr. Barr assigned the department’s Office of Legal Counsel to study the issue.
Berman has implied that he was warned off of investigating or charging Rudy Giuliani, so ... can't wait to read this one.
But even more hair-raising is the ways the DOJ tried to weaponize his office to harm Trump's enemies.
"Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff," he snarked.
So Sessions turned around and told Berman to prosecute Greg Craig, a former White House lawyer in the Obama administration, for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act years before in his work for the Ukrainian government. And he wasn't subtle about connecting the two events.
A short time later, around mid-September, Mr. Berman writes, his deputy, Robert S. Khuzami, walked into his office and said he had just gotten a call from Edward O’Callaghan, the principal associate deputy attorney general, a political appointee. Mr. O’Callaghan, the book says, asked that the office “even things out” by charging Mr. Craig before Election Day.
In that conversation, Mr. Berman writes, Mr. O’Callaghan kept reminding Mr. Khuzami that the Southern District had just prosecuted Representative Collins and Mr. Cohen.
Berman said the charge was bullshit, and he didn't think a jury would convict Craig for making false statements to the FBI. Which turned out to be dead on the money, since Barr eventually got the US Attorney's Office in DC to charge Craig, and a jury only took five hours to acquit him. Let us pause to note that Jesse Liu, the US Attorney in DC who brought the charge against Craig, got unceremoniously booted out on her ass for failing to ratfuck the Flynn and Stone prosecutions enough. Wages of sin, etc. We'd also note that O'Callaghan denies these allegations.
Similarly, Trump's frequently expressed ire at John Kerry, who criticized him for blowing up the Iran nuclear deal, appears to have precipitated pressure to investigate the former secretary of State for something, anything, to placate the old man.
"Kerry & [Senator Chris] Murphy illegally violated the Logan Act. This is why Iran is not making a deal. Must be dealt with strongly!" Trump screeched into the ether on February 19, 2020, followed the next day by "John Kerry and Senator Chris Murphy grossly violated the Logan Act with respect to Iran. If a Republican did what they did, there would be very serious ramifications!"
And in May, Main Justice ordered Berman to investigate Kerry for violating the Logan Act, a statute from 1799 that criminalizes unauthorized civilian negotiations with foreign governments. There has never been a successful prosecution under the Logan Act, and anyway John Kerry was doing nothing of the kind. Nevertheless, Berman was told to huddle up with the FBI and make it happen, and was even scolded for not getting toll information on Kerry's email and cell phones.
“No one needed to talk with Trump to know what he wanted. You could read his tweets,” Berman writes.
And when Berman said there was nothing there, Barr tried shopping the Kerry stuff to a US Attorney in Maryland. Which is exactly what you'd expect Barr to do. We are, after all, talking about someone who only closed the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails in January, 2020.
So, file this book under shocking, but not surprising. Meanwhile, MAGAworld is screaming bloody murder that President Biden is weaponizing the Justice Department by refusing to let Trump keep nuclear secrets in his pool locker. Every accusation is a confession, part eleventy hundred million.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.