- President Donald Trump personally interviewed Geoffrey Berman to be the US attorney for the Southern District of New York.
- Berman has recused himself from the investigation into Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney whose office and residences were raided on Monday by the FBI.
- That’s exactly the kind of thing Trump was most likely looking to avoid.
It appears as if President Donald Trump‘s plan to protect himself in New York just backfired.
ABC News reported Tuesday that Geoffrey Berman, the interim US attorney for the Southern District of New York, recused himself from the investigation into Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Two sources told ABC News that Berman was not involved in the decision to raid Cohen’s office and residences on Monday because of that recusal, which Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein approved.
Other attorneys in the Southern District handled the FBI raid, which a federal judge approved, ABC News said.
The report said Trump interviewed candidates for the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of New York, as well as for Washington, DC – three locales that could prove instrumental in any investigation involving the president.
Politico reported that Trump had not personally interviewed candidates for any other jurisdiction.
“I never heard of a president interviewing a US attorney candidate,” Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who was President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer, told Business Insider in October.
Berman, meanwhile, worked at the same law firm as Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who’s a close ally of Trump’s, and donated to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Berman to be interim US attorney for the district after Trump interviewed him.
- Thomson Reuters
During the presidential transition, Trump told Preet Bharara, at the time the US attorney for the district, that he could stay in his post. But Trump fired him in March 2017, along with dozens of other US attorneys.
After the Politico story, Bharara tweeted that it was “neither normal nor advisable for Trump to personally interview candidates” for US attorney, particularly in the Southern District of New York.
In a statement at the time, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned why Trump would meet with candidates for those vacancies.
“The US attorney for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York – like the US attorney for Washington, DC -would have jurisdiction over many important cases, including those involving President Trump’s personal and family business interests,” she said.
“There’s no reason for President Trump to be meeting with candidates for these positions, which create the appearance that he may be trying to influence or elicit inappropriate commitments from potential US attorneys. US attorneys must be loyal to the Constitution – not the president.”
The White House defended the interviews, saying Trump had the authority to do so.
“These are individuals that the president nominates and the Senate confirms under Article II of the Constitution,” a White House official told Politico. “We realize Senate Democrats would like to reduce this president’s constitutional powers. But he and other presidents before him and after may talk to individuals nominated to positions within the executive branch.”
Painter, who said he could not recall such an interview taking place in the Bush administration, also questioned by Trump was interviewing only in those districts.
“That’s highly peculiar,” he said. “And it suggests that he has an interest in the outcome of the US attorneys who work in these districts. That is very problematic, because we’re looking at a situation where he could be trying to get a promise of loyalty from a US attorney. He’s probably not going to be stupid enough to ask, but he’s probably going to be interviewing somebody who is not going to prosecute certain cases.”
During the Cohen raids on Monday, the FBI took records related to several topics, including the $130,000 hush-money payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 presidential election, as well as emails, tax documents, and business records, The New York Times reported.
Federal prosecutors obtained a search warrant after the special counsel Robert Mueller sent a referral, said Stephen Ryan, Cohen’s lawyer.
The Washington Post reported that investigators were looking into whether Cohen committed bank fraud or violated campaign finance law. The Times said the raid did not appear to be directly connected to Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election but that the information he provided was most likely uncovered as part of it.
Agents were also looking for records of payments to two women who say they had affairs Trump and for information on the role of the publisher of the National Enquirer in keeping one of the women quiet, The Times reported Tuesday.
Trump lashed out about the raid on Monday, telling reporters at the White House that it was a “disgraceful situation” and “an attack on our country” and “what we all stand for.”