By BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York fired by President Donald Trump, told House lawmakers on Thursday that Attorney General Bill Barr repeatedly asked him to resign in a private meeting before his removal, and warned that his firing could damage his reputation.
“The Attorney General said that if I did not resign from my position I would be fired,” Berman said in an opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee obtained by ABC News. “He added that getting fired from my job would not be good for my resume or future job prospects.”
“I told him that while I did not want to get fired, I would not resign,” he said, adding that the effort to replace him “would have been unprecedented, unnecessary and unexplained.”
The account – shared with lawmakers as part of their investigation into Berman’s firing and the politicization of the Justice Department — raises new questions about the extraordinary June standoff between one of the nation’s most prominent federal prosecutors and the attorney general.
On Friday, June 19, Barr announced that Berman had resigned, and would be replaced by the U.S. attorney in New Jersey in an acting capacity until the Senate confirmed Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton for the post.
Berman fired back in a statement of his own, denying that he had resigned and claiming that he had learned of the change from the Justice Department’s press release. The standoff eventually led President Trump to formally fire Berman, and replace him with his deputy, Audrey Strauss.
In his statement to lawmakers, Berman said that Barr was not unhappy with his performance, and only said he wanted him to step down from the post “because the Administration wanted to get Jay Clayton into that position.”
“I told the Attorney General that there were important investigations in the Office that I wanted to see through to completion,” he said.
Barr and the administration faced intense criticism over Berman’s removal, given the number of high profile and politically-sensitive investigations he supervised at the Southern District.
Under his leadership, the office prosecuted the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, and continues to investigate Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
The Southern District of New York has also investigated fundraising for the president’s inauguration, and Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who, like the former New York City mayor, featured in events related to Trump’s impeachment. Parnas and Fruman were charged with campaign finance violations in October 2019.
Democrats are investigating what they say is a pattern of actions from Barr and the Justice Department that are overtly political and in service of the president’s personal interests.
In June, the committee heard testimony from two whistleblowers who alleged that Justice Department leadership inappropriately intervened in typically-sensitive law enforcement matters – related to the sentencing of Trump ally Roger Stone, and antitrust investigations into the marijuana industry – for political reasons and to benefit Trump’s interests.
Democrats plan to release a transcript of the interview with Berman in the coming weeks.
Barr, in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, said Berman’s firing “was not a question of removing him because of any deficiency on his part,” and said it was “ludicrous” to suggest that the move was an effort to exert influence over the office’s investigations.
“Anyone who knows the department knows that even if one were interested in trying to influence a case you wouldn’t do it by removing the head of the office,” he said.
“That’s simply not how the Southern District of New York or the department as a whole operates,” he continued. “So it’s actually ludicrous, and I felt it was just simply not a plausible basis for not making a change there.
Barr is scheduled to testify before the panel on July 28.
ABC News’ Katherine Faulders contributed to this report.
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