New details are being offered in a book by a former top federal prosecutor, about how the Justice Department under President Donald J. Trump sought to use the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan to support Trump politically and pursue his critics, even pushing the office to open a criminal investigation of former secretary of state John Kerry.
For two and a half years until June 2020, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York was the prosecutor Geoffrey S. Berman, when 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.
The New York Times obtained a copy of Berman’s book, “Holding the Line,” before its scheduled publication. Details can be found in the book about the Justice Department officials motivated by partisan concerns in pursuing investigations or blocking them; in shopping investigations to other prosecutors’ offices when the Southern District declined to act; and in weighing how forthright to be in court filings, reported the NY Times.
Accounts of how department officials tried to have allusions to Trump scrubbed from charging papers for Michael D. Cohen, his former personal lawyer, are also contained in the book, and how the attorney general later tried to have his conviction reversed. Also, the book tells of pressure to pursue Kerry, who had angered Trump by attempting to preserve the nuclear deal he had negotiated with Iran.
Berman writes in September 2018, two months before the November midterms, that a senior department official called the deputy of Berman, cited the Southern District’s recent prosecutions of two prominent Trump loyalists, and asserted bluntly that the office, which had been investigating a powerful Democratic lawyer, Gregory B. Craig, should charge him, and should do so before Election Day. According to Berman, the official said: “It’s time for you guys to even things out.”
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The book comes as the Biden administration and Attorney General Merrick Garland were accused by Trump and his supporters of using the Justice Department as a weapon after a judge authorized FBI agents to search his Florida house for missing classified records.
The likely presidential candidate in 2024, Donald Trump has suggested without evidence that President Biden is playing a role in that investigation. Berman’s book says however, that department officials made “overtly political” demands during Trump’s presidency choosing targets that would directly further Trump’s desires for revenge and advantage. He wrote that clearly, the pressure was inspired by the president’s openly professed wants.
Berman, who as U.S. attorney did not give news interviews, offers new details in the book, 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.
“Throughout my tenure as U.S. attorney, 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,” Berman wrote. “I walked this tightrope for two and a half years. Eventually, the rope snapped,” wrote Berman, who is now in private practice.