(Reuters) - Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said on Thursday she opposed the possible nomination of Manhattan’s interim top federal prosecutor, Geoffrey Berman, to permanently fill the post, citing concerns over his independence from President Donald Trump.
Gillibrand, the junior U.S. senator from New York, said in an emailed statement to Reuters that she found “deeply disturbing” reports the president personally interviewed Berman for the post of Manhattan U.S. attorney, whose jurisdiction includes Trump’s home, offices and real estate holdings in New York.
“If this meeting took place it shows a lack of judgment that (Gillibrand) believes her colleagues should view as disqualifying as a nominee,” the statement said. Gillibrand said it was especially troubling in light of reports that Trump had asked former FBI director James Comey for a pledge of loyalty in a one-on-one meeting.
Politico and other media outlets reported in October that Berman and at least two other candidates for U.S. attorney were personally interviewed by Trump. Presidents have not typically met with U.S. attorney nominees, and some Democrats have suggested it was inappropriate from Trump to do so, especially for the Manhattan position.
The Manhattan U.S. attorney is one of the nation’s top law enforcement posts, well known for terrorism cases and prosecutions of Wall Street financial crimes and government corruption
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has not denied that the interviews took place. Other former government lawyers from both parties have said they would not have been improper on their face.
Berman, who was a member of Trump’s transition team, was sworn in on Thursday as one of 17 interim U.S. attorneys appointed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to serve in jurisdictions around the country.
The interim posts are for 120 days unless those holding them are re-appointed by a court or officially nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate.
The statement from Gillibrand is potentially significant because she could try to block Berman’s nomination through the “blue slip” process by which senators have traditionally held veto power over nominees in their home state.
Chuck Schumer, the senior senator from New York and also a Democrat, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Berman, who was an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan from 1990 to 1994, was a partner at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another supporter of Trump’s presidential run in 2016, practices at the same firm.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, tweeted his disapproval of Berman on Tuesday. “Trump’s appointment of a prosecutor - after a personal interview - who may well be prosecuting him is absolutely abhorrent to the rule of law,” he wrote.
New York lawyer Robert Fiske, who served as Manhattan U.S. attorney from 1976 to 1980 and worked with Berman early in Berman’s career, called the concerns about the meeting a “red herring” and said the president was entitled to meet with someone he was going to nominate.
Reporting by Nathan Layne and Karen Freifeld in New York; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington.; Editing by Andrew Hay and Leslie Adler