Attorney General William Barr announced on Friday, via the Department of Justice website, that he recommended that President Trump nominate Jay Clayton, (currently the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission), to serve as the next United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. This appointment would be effective July 3rd. Barr stated in his letter, “I thank Geoffrey Berman, who is stepping down after two-and-a-half years of service as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. With tenacity and savvy, Geoff has done an excellent job leading one of our nation’s most significant U.S. Attorney’s Offices, achieving many successes on consequential civil and criminal matters. I appreciate his service to the Department of Justice and our nation, and I wish him well in the future”.
Geoffrey S. Berman was the current U.S. Attorney for that District. Upon the announcement of Clayton by Barr, Berman stated “I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate”.
— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) June 20, 2020
Attorney General Barr sent a letter to Berman on Saturday terminating him from his position effective immediately. “I was surprised and quite disappointed by the press statement you released last night”. He continued, “I had understood that we were in ongoing discussions concerning the possibility of your remaining in the Department or Administration in one of the senior positions we discussed including Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division and Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission“.
The letter went on to say, “Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service. Because you have declared that you have no intention of resigning, I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so”. He continued, “By operation of law the Deputy United States Attorney, Audrey Strauss, will become Acting United States Attorney and I anticipate that she will serve in that capacity until a permanent successor is in place. See 28 U.S.C 541(c)”
Berman became a household a name for his lead on the Jeffrey Epstein investigation, an ongoing probe by his office. Other high profile cases handled by his office include the Michael Cohen case, President Trump’s former attorney, as well as an investigation into former Mayor Guiliani’s associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.
Barr also did an interview with Maria Bartiromo on her Fox News show, Sunday Morning Futures. She asked how, as the number one law enforcement official in the country, he is going to bring back law and order in light of the situation in Seattle and the rioting, looting and arson happening now in cities throughout the US. He responded “All of these situations really involve two dimensions of the rule of law. One is the individual case that is precipitated demonstrations and so forth, it’s the job of the Department of Justice to meet out justice fairly and even-handedly in that particular case and not be influenced by the mob. The second aspect is these demonstrations, which are fine, protests and demonstrations are fine, but when they become mob violence, we need to restore order”. He continued, “We can’t be ruled by mobs, we have to be ruled by the legal process. In this particular situation, there is obviously legitimate demonstrators raising concerns about police abuse but a lot of these demonstrations have been hijacked by essentially anarchist groups and professional agitators who are really in it just for the violence and the confrontation. So I do make a distinction between the legitimate peaceful demonstrators and these violent agitators who are involved throughout the country.
Barr went on to say that the responsibility of the local and state officials is to protect the rights of their citizens. “At the end of the day, the federal government does have a responsibility to make sure citizens are not deprived of their federal rights“. Barr would not go into specifics as to what the federal government would do in the case of the CHOP situation in Seattle, but mentioned they are keeping a close eye on it and said, “We can’t let it go on indefinitely“.
Because of the call from demonstrators and progressive leaders and politicians across the country to defund the police, Barr said that he spoke out recently stating, “The job of being a policeman now, is the toughest job in the United States. They are under a lot of pressure and I was concerned even before these pressures that we were having difficulty maintaining the levels of police we need in our cities, retaining them. This environment where they are demonized will deter a lot of people to continue in the service of the police“. He added, “I’m also concerned of the effect that they may pull back some of there enforcement activities and not take those risks. So, I think it could lead to an increase in violent crime and more deaths“. He continued, “I understand Minneapolis and why it struck such a chord in the African American community there has been long-standing mistrust of law enforcement and that partly comes out of the fact that for much of our history our laws were explicitly discriminatory and for the past few decades we have been reforming our institutions to make sure they reflect our values and the police have been engaged in that. We shouldn’t let this incident and the actions of a bad few obscure the fact that the police made a lot of progress. Instances of shooting black unarmed males have been dropping, it was 38 five years ago and last year it was 10 in the nation and 6 of those were [as a result] of attacking a police officer at the time they were shot”. He added, “While any death is too many the fact is that in proportion it’s relatively small. There are roughly 8,000 homicides of African Americans in our country every year, 10 of them were due to shooting an unarmed black male [by police]. So we have to keep that in perspective”.
Police departments across the country are working hard at reform, and Barr said he wants it to continue, however it needs to be fair reform. He also stated that police should have qualified immunity, which means that the law permits some lawsuits against them in egregious cases. He said, “most police officers would not take the job without qualified immunity, so we essentially would be doing away with our police department [without it]”.
“It’s the job of the Attorney General not to be influenced by the mob” Barr said.
In the case of the Rayshard Brooks incident, Attorney General Barr could not comment because he might have to pass judgment on the case, noting there may be civil action at some point, but he did say “I certainly would’ve liked to have seen the Georgia Bureau of Investigations complete their investigation before charges were brought in the case and also the use of the grand jury process provides some protection to have the citizens in a group decide [whether or not] there has been a crime committed. There was no grand jury used in this case. So I think it’s important to go through the right processes before charging someone. There was also a fundamental difference between what happened in Atlanta and what happened in Minneapolis“.
Barr made mention of John Durham when discussing how the Russia investigation started. The Durham investigation has slowed down due to coronavirus concerns and Barr would not say whether a grand jury has been selected. Barr commented, “In terms of the future of Durham’s investigation, you know he’s pressing ahead as hard as he can, and I expect that we will have some developments hopefully before the end of the summer. He is working on other matters that haven’t been affected by the pandemic“. He stated there was an inability to interview people and people have been reluctant to travel. He also stated that this is the closest we’ve come to an organized effort to push a President out of office.
Barr was asked what would happen if we didn’t have results in the Durham investigation prior to the election, and Donald Trump loses. Bartiromo expresses concern that we wouldn’t hear any more about the investigation and it may go by the wayside. Barr responded “His investigation will continue, it’s not going to stop because of the election. What happens after the election may depend on who wins the election“.
When asked about leaking during Trump’s first 126 days, and whether or not we will see indictments for those 125 incidents where classified information was leaked, he said, “Leaking national defense information and unauthorized disclosure of that information is a felony. I have tried to strengthen our efforts to investigate leaks, they are very difficult to investigate. Especially where a lot of people had access to the information. He continued, At the end of the day, you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a particular person who did it. Also because the news organizations don’t cooperate in those investigations obviously. But we are pursuing leaks aggressively, we think there is a [real] possibility that we could find out who it is. We have a lot of leak investigations underway. If we get the evidence that is necessary we will prosecute them.
The DOJ made a statement on June 17th recommending reform of Section 230. Barr spoke about the legal protection for Tech Companies under Section 230. “The basic idea is that if you are acting as essentially a bulletin board and you are open to all comers and third parties can post their content on your website and you’re not being selective about it, it’s open to all comers, then you shouldn’t be deemed a publisher. Because we want to encourage that type of forum for third party views. In the early days of the internet, we wanted to encourage platforms to take off obscene material, harassing material or other kinds of offensive material like that, so we said was if you take that down it doesn’t make you a publisher under Section 230, if you take down objectionable material like that. Unfortunately, they started taking down viewpoints and started really being selective based on whether or not they agreed with a viewpoint or not. Taking it down should make them a publisher, but they said under Section 230 they weren’t. That was one of the problems that was arising under Section 230. So we’ve proposed a change to address that. What we’ve said is you can take down stuff that is unlawful and you can’t take down stuff that does not accord with your terms of service but you have to make your terms of service clear. You have to have a reasonably based reason for taking it down, that particular content, and show that it violated your terms of service. And you need to give someone notice and a process where they can dispute that.
He continued, “There is something very disturbing about what is going on. There is a bait and switch over the past couple of decades. These companies held themselves as open to all comers, that is how they built up their membership and their networks and that is what led people to join it and then get the strong market position they have…then they’ve switched. Now, they are being more selective and they are starting to censor different viewpoints. But you have this concentration of these very large companies, that have that kind of influence on the sharing of information and viewpoints in our society. That is a fundamental problem because our republic was founded on the idea and the whole rationale was that there would be a lot of diversity of voices and it would be hard for someone to be able to galvanize a big faction in the United States and dominate politically and oppress a minority and yet now we have [that] with the internet and these big concentrations of power the ability to do just that. To quickly galvanize people’s views because they are only presenting one viewpoint and it can push the public in a particular direction very quickly. Our whole constitution system was based on not having that and having a wide diversity of voices. One way this can be addressed is through the anti-trust laws and challenging companies that engage in monopolistic practices. He added, “If people are prevented from expressing their views, that is where we start getting extremism. So the more ventilating of viewpoints we have the healthier it is for our country“.
When asked if he was worried about conservative censorship and whether or not this will affect the election, Barr had this to say, “Yes, I am worried about censorship. I’m worried about a number of things going into the election. The censorship of robust debate, the undermining the public confidence, and the integrity of the elections. The thing we have going for us, especially when there is an intense division in the country, is that we have peaceful transfers of power, and the way of resolving it is to have an election. But when state governments started adopting these practices like mail-in ballots, that opened the flood gates to potential fraud. Then people’s confidence in the outcome of the election is going to be undermined and that could take the country to a very dark place if they lose confidence in our elections”. He continued, “Mail-in ballots can be delivered to mailboxes and taken out, there are questions about whether or not it even denies a secret ballot because a lot of the states have you signing the outside of the envelope. So the person who opens the envelope will know how the person voted. Right now a foreign country could print up tens of thousands of counterfeit ballots and it would be very hard for us to detect which was the right one and which was the wrong ballot. I think it can upset and undercut the confidence and the integrity of our elections. If anything we should tighten them up right now”.
Barr would not discuss charges brought against anyone in particular like General Flynn, the Hillary Clinton email investigation, and not bringing charges against Jim Comey or Andrew McCabe. He only said “We are trying to apply the same standard to everybody. And as you know we sought to dismiss the charges against General Flynn“. In regards to Judge Sullivan and the Flynn case he said “We disagree with what he is doing. We think the law is clear that it’s within the discretion of the Executive Branch. The Executive Branch’s function and the Attorney General’s function to make charging decisions and to determine whether to continue on a case. The judge is supposed to be a neutral judge on the case not execute the prosecutors’ function. We’re hopeful that the case will be dismissed. We think that is what the law requires“.
When asked about the investigation conducted by the FBI in 2016 and what the roles of the DOJ and Congress are, he responded, “The DOJ and Congress have separate roles to play. We are looking at whether or not any criminal activity and Congress sort of finds out what happened and discloses that to the public. They are different functions that are being performed, I don’t think those [Congressional hearings] are conducted to help the DOJ, we are doing our own investigations“.
And when speaking about the unmasking that occurred right before the Obama Administration left office, he said “It’s unusual for an outgoing Administration, high-level officials, to be unmasking very much in the days before they are preparing to leave office. It makes you wonder what they were doing“.
Referencing John Bolton’s book and the DOJ’s breach of contract suit, Barr said “There remains very highly classified material in the book still and we would like him to address that before the book is published”. He continued, “Under the law, we are bringing a civil action to enforce his agreement to do that before publishing. The remedy is, if he doesn’t complete it, is that he forfeits any money from that book to the government”.
When asked if the President asked him to get involved, Barr said “No, he actually didn’t. This would have been in the normal course. The process is run through the national security council, it’s a called a pre-publication review, for any book. That wasn’t completed so the national security council contacted us. That is initially how the DOJ got involved“.
Barr spoke about China and the impact that country has on the United States. “This is a fundamental challenge to the United States. Since the late 19the century, our opportunity and our growth, our prosperity as country has come from our technological leadership. We’ve been the technological leaders of the world. In the last decade or so, China has been putting on a great push to supplant us, explicitly. They want to be the leader in all the technologies that are going to dominate the economy. So what is at stake [is] the economic opportunity for our children and our grandchildren. Whether we can continue to be the technological leader of the world. The Chinese have embarked on a very aggressive program during this time of stealing and cheating in order to overtake us. They’ve stolen our intellectual property. When they steal our secrets of future technology, they are stealing the future of the American people. If they start leading in these fundamental foundational technologies, like 5G which will be the platform of much our future manufacturing in the United States, they will have tremendous leverage. If all of our industrial practices and our manufacturing practices are built on a platform that they dominate they will have ultimate leverage over the west. I think this is a competition for the future and they haven’t been competing fairly and the President has confronted this when no one else has and the American business community has been a big part of the problem. Because they’re willing ultimately, many of them, to sacrifice the long-term viability of their companies for short-term profit. So they can get their stock options and move into a gulf resort. That is what is driving some of this, not taking the long term view and the national view. Maintaining American strength”.
Barr said that the Chinese are not stealing defense weapons technology, they are trying to steal agricultural, medicine, robotics, artificial intelligence, and the whole gamut of important technologies going forward. “We’re not speaking German today because the American business in the past didn’t think that way. It’s still the United States and all the privileges and the benefits, and the stability and the rule of law and the ability to profit as they do both as companies and individuals comes from the strength of this country“.