- A new New York Times report claims that Attorney General William Barr tried to undermine the US Attorneys Office for the Southern District of New York.
- According to The Times, Barr questioned prosecutors over Cohen’s conviction.
- Cohen was President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and personal “fixer.”
- Cohen was convicted and sentenced for tax evasion, bank fraud, and campaign-finance violations, and making false statements to Congress in 2018 before Barr was even sworn in as Attorney General.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The tension between the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and Attorney General William Barr allegedly started due to the conviction of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, and personal “fixer,” The New York Times reported.
According to The Times, not long after becoming attorney general, Barr questioned prosecutors on why they charged Cohen with violating campaign finance laws.
The conviction and Cohen pleading guilty predated Barr’s tenure as attorney general. The case implicated Trump (“Individual-1”) without explicitly naming him. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to tax evasion, bank fraud, and campaign-finance violations, as well as making false statements to Congress. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison. The circumstance around Cohen’s conviction — he pleaded guilty to paying hush money to adult film star who said she had an affair with Trump — upset the president.
As The Times wrote, sources told the outlet that Barr “instructed Justice Department officials in Washington to draft a memo outlining legal arguments that could have raised questions about Mr. Cohen’s conviction and undercut similar prosecutions in the future,” which New York prosecutors pushed back against. Barr, The Times said, disputed “the legal theory of the campaign finance charges” when applied to paying to hush up dirt during a campaign.
Now-former US Attorney of the SDNY Geoffrey Berman was fired over the weekend — in an initially botched ousting on Friday night. Barr said Trump requested the firing of the Manhattan US attorney, Business Insider previously reported. Trump later that day, claimed that he was not involved in the firing.
Barr had abruptly announced late Friday that Berman would be “stepping down” from his role. However, Berman said he won’t step down until the Senate confirmed a presidentially nominated successor in a statement.
Berman said he only learned that of his apparent intent to step down from Barr’s announcement.
“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,” Berman said on Friday night.
“I was surprised and disappointed by the press statement you released last night,” Barr said in a letter to Berman on Saturday. “As we discussed, I wanted the opportunity to choose a distinguished New York lawyer, Jay Clayton, to nominate as United States Attorney and was hoping for your cooperation to facilitate a smooth transition.”
The SDNY is conducting multiple investigations into Trump associates and other interests linked to the president.
The office is investigating Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, over his business dealings in Ukraine and whether he failed to register as a foreign agent, and charged two of Giuliani’s Ukrainian business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, with conspiring to violate straw and foreign donor bans.
According to Business Insider, Barr and Berman also clashed over the office’s indictment of Turkish state-owned bank Halkbank. Former national security adviser John Bolton wrote in his memoir that Trump assured Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he would intervene to stop the SDNY’s Halkbank investigation.
The Times highlighted several other incidents where Barr appeared to intervene in the prosecution of other Trump associates.
According to The Times, Barr ordered Washington prosecutors to drop the case against Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about phone calls with Russia. He also reportedly overruled the sentence recommendation for Roger Stone, who was convicted for lying to Congress, among other crimes. Barr viewed the sentence recommended by career prosecutors as “excessive,” The Times reported.
Despite multiple instances of Barr’s involvement in cases involving Trump associates, he told NPR on Thursday that he was not promoting Trump’s agenda.
“Well, I’d say that there is no such pattern. I would say that that is a media narrative that has been adhered to, where things that happen all the time in the Department of Justice are misrepresented to the public and cast is somehow suspicious,” Barr said.
Sonam Sheth contributed to this report.