- Jan 13, 2012
Trump Pushed Officials to Prosecute His Critics, Ex-U.S. Attorney Says
Geoffrey S. Berman, who headed the Manhattan office, says in a book the Justice Department pushed cases, against John Kerry and others, to help Mr. Trump.
Credit...Emil Lippe for The New York Times
A book by a former top federal prosecutor offers new details about how the Justice Department under President Donald J. Trump sought to use the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan to support Mr. Trump politically and pursue his critics — even pushing the office to open a criminal investigation of former secretary of state John Kerry.
The prosecutor, Geoffrey S. Berman, was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York for two and a half years until June 2020, when Mr. Trump fired him after he refused a request to resign by Attorney General William P. Barr, who sought to replace him with an administration ally.
A copy of Mr. Berman’s book, “Holding the Line,” was obtained by The New York Times before its scheduled publication Tuesday.
The book paints a picture of Justice Department officials motivated by partisan concerns in pursuing investigations or blocking them; in weighing how forthright to be in court filings; and in shopping investigations to other prosecutors’ offices when the Southern District declined to act.
The book contains accounts of how department officials tried to have allusions to Mr. Trump scrubbed from charging papers for Michael D. Cohen, his former personal lawyer, and how the attorney general later tried to have his conviction reversed. It tells of pressure to pursue Mr. Kerry, who had angered Mr. Trump by attempting to preserve the nuclear deal he had negotiated with Iran.
And in September 2018, Mr. Berman writes, two months before the November midterms, a senior department official called Mr. Berman’s deputy, cited the Southern District’s recent prosecutions of two prominent Trump loyalists, and bluntly asserted that the office, which had been investigating Gregory B. Craig, a powerful Democratic lawyer, should charge him — and should do so before Election Day.
“It’s time for you guys to even things out,” the official said, according to Mr. Berman.
The book comes as Mr. Trump and his supporters have accused the Biden administration and Attorney General Merrick Garland of using the Justice Department as a weapon after a judge authorized FBI agents to search his Florida house for missing classified records. Mr. Trump, who is a likely presidential candidate in 2024, has suggested without evidence that President Biden is playing a role in that investigation.
However, Mr. Berman’s book says that during Mr. Trump’s presidency, department officials made “overtly political” demands, choosing targets that would directly further Mr. Trump’s desires for revenge and advantage. Mr. Berman wrote that the pressure was clearly inspired by the president’s openly professed wants.
In the book, Mr. Berman, who as U.S. attorney did not give news interviews, offers new details about the high-profile prosecutions of defendants like Mr. Cohen; Chris Collins, a Republican congressman from New York; Michael Avenatti, the celebrity attorney and Trump antagonist; and Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier.
He says there were cases his office pursued without pressure from Washington, but in others, he makes clear his greatest challenges did not always have to do with the law.
“Throughout my tenure as U.S. attorney,” Mr. Berman, 62, writes, “Trump’s Justice Department kept demanding that I use my office to aid them politically, and I kept declining — in ways just tactful enough to keep me from being fired.”
“I walked this tightrope for two and a half years,” writes Mr. Berman, who is now in private practice. “Eventually, the rope snapped.”
Credit...Johannes Eisele/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Mr. Berman, who in the book describes himself as a Rockefeller Republican, had been a federal prosecutor in the Manhattan office from 1990 to 1994, and went on to become a co-managing partner of the New Jersey office of the law firm Greenberg Traurig.
During the 2016 presidential primary season, Mr. Berman volunteered for Mr. Trump’s campaign and later for his transition committee. Originally believing he might be named U.S. attorney for New Jersey, he was instead tapped to lead the Southern District, the most prestigious prosecutor’s office outside Washington. It handles Wall Street crime, international terrorism, political corruption and complex frauds.
Mr. Berman met briefly with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office in June 2017, where the president did most of the talking, he writes. Mr. Berman, a Princeton resident, said he would need to move into the city. Mr. Trump recommended he live in downtown Manhattan, near the Southern District’s offices, ahead of what could be a dicey confirmation hearing.
“Make it a rental,” Mr. Trump said.
Credit...Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times
In March 2018, some two months after Mr. Berman assumed the post, the Justice Department, then headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, referred to the Southern District the investigation of Mr. Craig.
The allegations focused on whether Mr. Craig, a White House counsel under President Barack Obama, had concealed work he had done years earlier for the government of Ukraine in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and whether he had lied to the Justice Department when questioned about it.
After months of investigation, the Southern District and Justice Department met with Mr. Craig’s lawyers, who made a presentation on his behalf. After his lawyers left and prosecutors voiced their opinions, Mr. Berman said he believed Mr. Craig was innocent of the FARA charge and so a jury would be unlikely to convict him on a false statement count.
A short time later, around mid-September, Mr. Berman writes, his deputy, Robert S. Khuzami, walked into his office and said he had just gotten a call from Edward O’Callaghan, the principal associate deputy attorney general, a political appointee. Mr. O’Callaghan, the book says, asked that the office “even things out” by charging Mr. Craig before Election Day.