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What’s next in the Barr-Berman standoff?

Manhattan’s U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who is investigating President Trump’s key associates, is refusing to step down, hours after the Justice Department moved to oust him.The standoff comes as a new book by former White House National Security Adviser, John Bolton goes on sale. Ryan Goodman, a professor at New York University’s School of Law and co-editor-in-chief of Just Security joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on this developing story, I spoke with Ryan Goodman, a professor at the NYU School of Law and the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Just Security blog.

    Ryan, at the very core of this, does the attorney general have the authority to fire someone?

  • Ryan Goodman:

    So the Attorney General almost definitely does not have the authority to fire the court appointed U.S. attorney. So he does not have the authority to fire Mr. Berman. And that's actually, according to the Justice Department's own settled view on this. There's an Office of Legal Counsel opinion in 1979. It squarely says the president can do it, but the Attorney General can not.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So is this, are we just literally waiting for the other shoe to drop for the president to either tweet or announce that he wants somebody else in the job?

  • Ryan Goodman:

    I think that's exactly the way I was thinking about it as well, which is that we should be intensely focused on that being the next move. It's up to the president to decide whether or not he's going to do this. And according to the Justice Department, he has the power. There are three federal court opinions including one of them happening to be from the very same district, the Southern District of New York, that says the president has the power to do it, so he can do it. It's up to him. But then he has to pay the political price for it being on his shoulders.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Now, Mr. Berman's position is, is I'm going to stick around until you guys officially get a replacement so you can have an interim person in the position if he is fired by the president. But really, the vacancy that has to be filled has to go through the Senate.

  • Ryan Goodman:

    So that's the part that's a little bit more complex and it's unsettled what the law would say about who gets to replace Mr. Berman if he's fired. And what's remarkable is that the Office of Legal Counsel actually has two separate opinions that differ with each other. But the one opinion that says that the attorney general can not pick Mr. Berman's replacement. It would have to be the Senate or the district court again is actually written by Justice Samuel Alito when he was at the Justice Department in the mid 1980s.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Mr. Berman is in a court appointed position. Let's go backwards in this sort of history here. This year, this spot hasn't had a Senate confirmed appointee in a number of years.

  • Ryan Goodman:

    That's right. So it's almost like a spot that's remained vacant. And there were many concerns about the fact that Mr. Berman was potentially associated with Mr. Trump in a way in which he was then installed into the position.

    So this is not a person who's being thought of as being rogue or democratically appointed, if you want to think about in those terms. He was put in place by the president after the president specifically interviewed him for the job, which is also very unusual.

    So much so that Mr. Berman actually had to recuse himself from one of the investigations that potentially implicate President Trump. And that's the strange limbo situation that we've been in for a long period of time.

    So that's why it ended up triggering this unusual provision in federal statute that requires the court to appoint the person. So they approved Berman staying in the position.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So there's at least a half dozen different investigations that the SDNY has on either associates of the president, or people who could implicate the president in different things and then you've also got now John Bolton, who says in his book that he told Attorney General Barr about conversations that the Department of Justice and Attorney General Barr have said on the record previously that they never knew about.

  • Ryan Goodman:

    That's right. So there are other multiple allegations in the Bolton book that would implicate Barr in different ways. And one of them is also going circling all the way back to the Ukraine affair, where the attorney general and the Justice Department said that it was a total shock to the attorney general that he was mentioned on the call and that it came to him weeks later when there was a criminal referral of the call to the Justice Department.

    Ambassador Bolton says that's wrong. That he himself Ambassador Bolton with direct evidence, told Attorney General Barr about the call. And then he was mentioned on the call as the person who would be running along with Rudy Giuliani as the as the point of contact for working with Ukraine on the Biden matter.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Ryan Goodman of NYU and the Just Security blog. Thanks so much.

  • Ryan Goodman:

    Thank you.

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