Ousted U.S. prosecutor says Barr pressed him to resign

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, who was ousted last month as his office led a probe into President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani, told lawmakers on Thursday U.S. Attorney General William Barr had pressured him to resign.

In written comments submitted as part of a congressional inquiry, Geoffrey Berman said he was warned by Barr that if he did not leave and was fired, it would “not be good for my resume or future job prospects.”

Berman also said Barr repeatedly urged him to take another job, either in the Justice Department running its civil division or possibly as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Berman said Barr told him he wanted to appoint current SEC chairman Jay Clayton to replace him as Manhattan-based U.S. attorney.

Berman said he told Barr he regarded Clayton as an “unqualified choice” for the prosecutor job because he had never served as a federal prosecutor and “had no criminal experience.”

Berman said he initially issued a news release saying he had “no intention of resigning and that I intended to ensure that our Office’s important cases continue unimpeded.”

However, he ultimately agreed to leave, after Barr backed off his earlier plan to install New Jersey’s top federal prosecutor Craig Carpenito in his place as acting U.S. Attorney.

Instead, Barr tapped Berman’s hand-picked No. 2, Deputy U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss, who is currently leading the office until a permanent replacement can be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

After Berman’s closed-door interview ended on Thursday before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Berman told lawmakers that he viewed Barr’s plan to tap an outsider to run the office as “unprecedented, unnecessary, and unexplained.”

He also quoted Berman as saying that installing Carpenito would “delay and disrupt” pending investigations.

A full transcript of Berman’s testimony is expected to be released at a later date.

Barr is scheduled to appear before the panel on July 28.

Democrats have accused Barr of improperly meddling in a number of criminal and antitrust investigations to protect Trump and his allies. Barr has defended his actions.

Last month, career prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky told lawmakers on the panel that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia faced political pressure to scale back its sentencing recommendation for Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone.

Court papers filed in Stone’s case indicate that the Justice Department said Stone should report to a federal prison in Jesup, Georgia, next Tuesday. That could pave the way for a possible presidential pardon or sentence commutation after Stone was found guilty of obstruction as part of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

Reporting by Mark Hosenball, Sarah N. Lynch and Susan Heavey; Editing by David Gregorio, Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown