Meanwhile At The Justice Department, Everything Is ON FIRE
Could these fuckers just give us one Friday night in peace? One day of rest where we don't have to check Twitter every five minutes to make sure the Trump administration hasn't declared martial law and invaded New Mexico? The answer is NO, of course. Every weekend for the rest of the year will start off with a Friday News Dump "Happy" Hour, featuring two nervous breakdowns for the price of one. Hooray!
Now it is time for your Justice Department Dumpster Fire Lawsplainerpalooza. Ready?
Barr Shivs Berman
Last night at 9:30, Attorney General Bill Barr announced that Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, was stepping down. Trump would be nominating Jay Clayton, the current head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a mergers and acquisitions lawyer with exactly zero experience running criminal prosecutions, to replace Berman. And pending Clayton's Senate confirmation, sitting US Attorney for the District of New Jersey Craig Carpenito would take over SDNY from Berman.
Carpenito, who represented Chris Christie in the "Bridgegate" scandal, knows how to run a federal prosecutors' office the way Barr likes it. He's the last guy you want in charge of a whole raft of investigations involving Trump and his allies, including Rudy Giuliani's possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman who are in deep shit for illegal contributions to Trump's PAC, and the potential charges against Turkey's Halkbank — the very ones Trump promised Turkish President Recep Erdogan he would make disappear when he got his own guys installed at SDNY, according to John Bolton.
Berman Stabs Back
At 11:15, the US Attorney's Office SDNY posted this statement from Berman to its Twitter feed.
https://t.co/hFNvQs5orV— US Attorney SDNY (@US Attorney SDNY)1592622857.0
"I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was 'stepping down' as United States Attorney," he wrote. "I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate. Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption."
OH, SHIT! Apparently, Barr tried to get Berman to leave, even offering him plum jobs at DOJ — so much for whatever bullshit they're about to spew about him being a disloyal incompetent who got fired for cause — but Berman told the AG to get bent.
Tell 'em, CNN:
A Justice Department official told CNN that Berman was offered other positions at Justice, including the head of the civil division, where assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt abruptly announced his departure this week. Berman declined.
A second source with knowledge of the matter said Berman was asked to resign and refused. Barr asked Berman to resign in an in-person meeting in New York on Friday, the source said.
Wait, Can Berman Do That?
Well, it's complicated. See that part of Berman's statement about being "appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York"? Donald Trump never officially sent Berman's nomination to the Senate for confirmation, but the judges in the Southern District confirmed him when his temporary 120-day appointment was about to expire, and he's been there ever since. And he did a pretty good job, too, fending off the White House to indict Michael Cohen and investigating the National Enquirer for burying stories to protect Trump's campaign.
But now there's some dispute between dueling statutes as to who has the authority to fire Berman and under what circumstances. If you want to nerd out on this issue, check out this twitter exchange and watch constitutional law professor Steve Vladeck lay it out on CNN
Here's video of my chat with @smerconish this morning on whether Barr can fire Berman (no); whether the President c… https://t.co/hfcMkovUUJ— Steve Vladeck (@Steve Vladeck)1592669230.0
The answer is ... WHO THE FUCK KNOWS.
Wait, Can Barr Do That?
Well, let's assume that Trump can fire Berman. Barr certainly can't nominate SEC head Clayton himself as Berman's replacement, and his announcing the nomination won't make it so. More to the point, Clayton's name is dead on arrival in the Senate, where the Judiciary Committee still allows "blue slips" for federal district court officials below the level of appellate court nominees. In plain English, this means that both "home state" senators have to sign off — i.e. return the "blue slip" — for a local applicant's name to be considered by the Committee.
Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham confirmed this morning that Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who have no intention of helping Barr defenestrate Berman, will be allowed to nix Clayton's name. So clearly this nomination is going nowhere, as Barr knew damn well from the jump. (And Lindsey Graham, Trump's new BFF, was pretty quick with that announcement. Almost like he'd coordinated it with the White House.)
So why did Barr announce Clayton's nomination? And why did CNN and the New York Times immediately run stories saying that Clayton wanted to leave his SEC job and go back to New York, and he "expressed interest in the SDNY job" to Barr?
Are we really supposed to believe that Clayton called up his old pal Bill and said, "Hey, I miss the Big Apple. How about you give me one of the top jobs at the Justice Department, despite my having no criminal experience at all?" And Barr said, "Great plan! I'll just fire the guy there now, and the position is all yours! It might take six months to get you confirmed, but that will give you like five whole weeks in the job before Biden takes over in January."
It's bullshit. Barr never intended Clayton to take over, he just wants Berman out and Carpenito in. And he wants it bad enough that he's willing to burn down the entire Justice Department to make it happen. You know all those people who insist that Trump has some grand plan? The ones who shout "This is a distraction!" whenever the president does something super crazy, like there's some nine-dimensional chess game happening? Well, this time, they're sort of right. Clayton's nomination is a distraction from Barr's real objective, which is to get rid of Berman STAT.
Why does Bill Barr do anything? To protect Trump, of course. He's already intervened in the Flynn and Stone cases, fought tooth and nail to stop Trump's tax returns and business records from coming out, launched multiple investigations of the Russia inquiry, tried to bury the Ukraine whistleblower report, and done his best to torpedo the Mueller investigation. If he's desperately trying to jam Chris Christie's pal Carpenito into the top job at SDNY, and right fucking now, next week is too late, it's because SDNY is about to drop something that Trump doesn't want. (My money's on an indictment of Rudy, but who the hell even knows!)
Maybe we'll find out what it is on Wednesday when two other former DOJ lawyers, Aaron Zelinsky and John Elias, tell the House Judiciary Committee exactly what went down when Bill Barr intervened in the Roger Stone case to help Trump's best buddy.
"America is right to expect the worst of Bill Barr, who has repeatedly interfered in criminal investigations on Trump's behalf," Chairman Jerry Nadler said last night. "We have a hearing on this topic on Wednesday. We welcome Mr. Berman's testimony and will invite him to testify."
Don't get your hopes up, though. The odds of Berman testifying while still a Justice Department official are slim to none. He showed up to work today, telling reporters, "I issued a statement last night, I have nothing to add to that this morning. I'm just here to do my job."
Speaking of Roger Stone, though, that weaselly fucker is due to report to jail at the end of this month. Which leaves just one more Friday Night News Dump for Trump to drop that pardon he promised. Something for us all to look forward to!
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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.