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House Judiciary Chair Accuses AG Barr of Engaging in a ‘Quid Pro Quo’ That Was ‘Awfully Close to Bribery’

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 08: Attorney General William Barr looks on as U.S. President Donald Trump makes remarks as he participates in a roundtable with law enforcement officials in the State Dining Room of the White House, June, 8, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) Geoffrey Berman told Congress on Thursday that Attorney General William Barr pressured him to resign in June. The ex-SDNY head said that Barr, while trying to convince him to accept other coveted government positions, warned that being fired would ruin Berman’s future job prospects. Following the House Judiciary Committee hearing, Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) suggested that Barr’s conduct in orchestrating Berman’s ouster was close to criminal.

“What we don’t know yet is if the attorney general’s conduct is criminal, but that kind of quid pro quo is awfully close to bribery,” Nadler told reporters following Berman’s interview. He added that Berman’s exit would undoubtedly cause “delays and disruptions” with SDNY’s cases, though no specific cases were discussed.

During the hearing, the former U.S. Attorney testified that Barr summoned him to a hotel in mid-June where he was told that he could either resign or be fired.

“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,” Berman said in his opening statement. “The Attorney General pressed me to take the Civil Division position, saying that the role would be a good resume builder. He said that I should want to create a book of business once I returned to the private sector, which that role would help achieve. He also stated that I would just have to sit there for five months and see who won the election before deciding what came next for me.”

Citing Barr’s attempts to entice Berman’s departure, Nadler said the Committee “will certainly have a lot to discuss with Mr. Barr” when he appears before the committee next month.

New York City attorney and former prosecutor Daniel R. Alonso pointed to the attorney general’s multiple references to Berman’s post-government work as something only seen on television.

“Note how Barr refers twice to Berman’s future business prospects in private practice, including how heading Civil Division would help him generate business,” he wrote. “I’ve seen that sort of talk on the TV show Billions, but in real life it is really icky. (That is a technical legal term.)”

Former SDNY federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah said Barr’s behavior was “mafia-like.”

“It’s all so mafia-like,” Rocah wrote on Twitter. “Try to get someone to go along with your program whatever the reason or motivation & when they don’t agree –  just do it anyway. Thank goodness for people like Berman & others at DOJ who have refused to be steamrolled by this thug.”

Former DOJ lawyer Sasha Samberg-Champion told Law&Crime earlier on Thursday that he found the attorney general’s words to be “crass.”

“While the revolving door between business and government is always potentially problematic, you rarely see government officials describe the monetization of government service in such crass terms,” he said. “As a former DOJ lawyer, I was really taken aback by this.”

[Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.