Federal Government

Did Trump's DOJ pressure US attorney’s office to pursue his critics? Senate committee will investigate

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Former President Donald Trump. Photo from Shutterstock.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to investigate claims that the U.S. Department of Justice pressured the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, New York City, to prosecute critics of former President Donald Trump and to protect his allies.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat of Illinois, informed the DOJ of the planned investigation in a Sept. 12 letter, report the New York Times, CNN, CBS News and Axios.

The allegations stem from a book written by Geoffrey Berman, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who agreed to resign after then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr assured Berman that he would name his deputy U.S. attorney as his replacement. The book, Holding the Line: Inside the Nation’s Preeminent U.S. Attorney’s Office and Its Battle With the Trump Justice Department, was scheduled for release Tuesday.

The letter cites allegations in the book as chronicled by the New York Times, which received an advance copy. The allegations include:

    • That DOJ officials told Berman’s office to lead an investigation into whether former Obama administration Secretary of State John Kerry had violated the Logan Act. The law bars private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. Kerry had helped negotiate the Iran nuclear accord while he was the secretary of state, and some reports said he was having private conversations with Iranian officials after Trump opposed the accord. Berman’s office declined to charge Kerry, as did the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland when the matter was sent there.

    • That a DOJ official asked Berman’s office to charge former Obama administration White House counsel Greg Craig before the 2018 midterm elections. At issue was whether Craig failed to register as a foreign lobbyist when his law firm prepared a report on a Ukrainian prosecution. Berman refused to pursue Craig because of his belief that he was innocent. Department officials then “peddled” the investigation to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., which charged Craig with making false statements to the DOJ during the foreign lobbyist investigation. Craig was acquitted in September 2019.

    • That DOJ officials pressured Berman’s office to remove references to Trump in charging documents for Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, and that Barr later sought to reverse Cohen’s conviction and stop related investigations. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to campaign finance violations and bank and tax fraud. Cohen was accused of arranging payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and another woman after they claimed affairs with Trump.

“These reported claims indicate astonishing and unacceptable deviations from the department’s mission to pursue impartial justice, which requires that its prosecutorial decisions be free from political influence,” Durbin wrote in the letter.

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