Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman testified Thursday that Attorney General Bill Barr pressured him to step down from his post and, instead, accept a position in the Justice Department's Civil Division, before his firing last month.
Berman arrived on Capitol Hill Thursday before noon and testified behind closed doors before the House Judiciary Committee as part of the panel's investigation into his removal.
In his opening statement delivered to congressional investigators Thursday, obtained by Fox News, Berman described a meeting with the attorney general which took place on June 19 "at the Pierre Hotel in New York.”
“I was not told the purpose of the meeting,” Berman told congressional investigators, according to his opening statement. Berman said the meeting took “roughly 45 minutes and was held in the attorney general’s suite.”
“The Attorney General began the meeting by saying that he wanted to make a change in the Southern District of New York,” Berman said. “He said that there was an opening in DOJ’s Civil Division created by the recently announced departure of Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt.”
Berman said Barr then “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.”
“I responded that I loved my job and my colleagues at the Southern District and that I was thankful every day for the privilege of being part of that office,” Berman said, noting he then asked the attorney general if he was “dissatisfied” with his performance.
Berman said that Barr told him “he was not in any way dissatisfied with my performance as U.S. attorney," and that the move was “solely prompted by Jay Clayton’s desire to move back to New York and the administration’s desire to keep him on the team.”
Berman testified that he told Barr he “liked” Clayton, but that he felt “he was an unqualified choice” for U.S. attorney because “he had no criminal experience.”
Berman testified that he told Barr he “was not interested in overseeing the DOJ’s Civil Division or in resigning.” Berman testified that Barr pressed him to take the position, and that “the role would be a good resume builder.”
“I told the Attorney General that there were important investigations in the Office that I wanted to see through to completion. I also said that I wanted to help lead the Office through the COVID crisis and get the office back to normal functioning,” Berman testified.
Berman said he continued to “signal” that he was “not going to resign.”
“The Attorney General said that if I did not resign from my position I would be fired,” Berman testified, adding that Barr said “getting fired from my job would not be good for my resume or future job prospects.”
Berman said Barr then tried to think of other roles in the administration that he could be interested in, but that he said “there was no other job offer that would entice me to resign from my position.”
Berman told investigators that after the meeting with Barr, he called his staff and attorneys to represent him in a private capacity in case he was fired.
Berman noted that he “became aware” of the Justice Department’s press release, issued late on a Friday night, that he would be “stepping down.”
Berman went on to note that he “decided to step down and not litigate my removal,” noting that his “sole concern” was the interests of the office at SDNY.
Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., vowed last month that his panel would “immediately open an investigation” into Berman’s ouster.
President Trump fired Berman after he refused to step down, though the president had distanced himself from the process.
“Attorney General Bill Barr told us that Geoffrey Berman of the SDNY had resigned – which was untrue,” Nadler said in a statement last month. “Barr told us that the president asked him to fire Mr. Berman –which may also be untrue, given that the president says he had nothing to do with the decision.”
Nadler added: “The whole thing smacks of corruption and incompetence, which is what we have come to expect from this president and his attorney general.”
Nadler noted that neither the White House nor the Justice Department offered an explanation for Berman’s removal.
The calls to probe Berman’s ouster come after Barr announced last month that Berman would be stepping down from his post at SDNY. Barr and the White House then announced that the president would nominate Jay Clayton, the current chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to replace him.
But Berman put out a statement saying he learned of his “departure” from Barr’s press release and had no intention of leaving the job.
The following day, Barr informed Berman in a letter that the president had removed him from his post. Barr wrote that he asked Trump to fire Berman after his Friday night statement.
The Southern District has pursued a number of Trump associates, including the president's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who served a prison sentence for lying to Congress and campaign finance crimes. The office is also believed to have been investigating Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s business dealings, including whether he failed to register as a foreign agent.
Berman recused himself from directly overseeing the Cohen investigation for reasons that were never disclosed.
Berman has also overseen the prosecution of two Florida businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were associates of Giuliani and tied to the Ukraine impeachment investigation. The men were charged in October with federal campaign finance violations, including hiding the origin of a $325,000 donation to a group supporting Trump’s reelection.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee is leading an investigation into the “unprecedented politicization” at the DOJ under Barr’s leadership.
Barr accepted an invitation to appear before the committee, and is expected to testify in public for a “general oversight hearing” on July 28, the Justice Department confirmed.
Fox News’ Marisa Schultz, Jake Gibson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.