Justice Department replaces federal prosecutor Berman with SEC Clayton

Jay Clayton, Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, testifies during the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on “Oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission” on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Bill Clark

In a stunning Friday night announcement, the U.S. Justice Department said it will replace the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, with the current Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton.

There had been no previous indication that Berman was leaving as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, voluntarily or otherwise.

Attorney General William Barr, Berman’s boss, said the prosecutor was “stepping down” as he announced that President Donald Trump would nominate Clayton to replace him.

Berman, who had been in that post for two-and-a-half years, was still reportedly overseeing a criminal investigation into Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, and himself the former U.S. attorney for the SDNY. Giuliani was being eyed 

Berman last year lodged child sex trafficking charges against the wealthy investor Jeffrey Epstein, a former friend of Trump who less than two months after his arrest killed himself in a Manhattan federal jail. And he previously obtained guilty please from Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in connection with multiple financial crimes.

Preet Bharara, whom Berman replaced after being fired by Trump, in a tweet asked, “Why does a president get rid of his own hand-picked US Attorney in SDNY on a Friday night, less than 5 months before the election?”

Bharara later wrote in another tweet, “Let me be stronger here. Berman ‘stepping down’ is bull—-. He was fired.”

The Southern District of New York is considered one of the top — if not the top — federal prosecutors’ offices in the United States, due to is handling of significant criminal cases involving terrorism, financial institutions, and high-profile criminal defendants. The office prosecutes federal offenses committed in Manhattan, The Bronx, Westchester County, and five other counties just north of New York City.

Geoffrey Berman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, points to a photograph of Jeffrey Epstein as he announces the financier’s charges of sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, in New York, U.S., July 8, 2019.

Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

Trump has appointed the current U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, to serve as the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, while the Senate considers the president’s nomination of Clayton.

In a statement Friday, Barr said of Clayton, “For the past three years, Jay has been an extraordinarily successful SEC Chairman, overseeing efforts to modernize regulation of the capital markets, protect Main Street investors, enhance American competitiveness, and address challenges ranging from cybersecurity issues to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“”His management experience and expertise in financial regulation give him an ideal background to lead the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and he will be a worthy successor to the many historic figures who have held that post.”

“On behalf of the President, I thank Jay for accepting this nomination, and I look forward to working with him soon.”

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