Meet the acting replacement for a US attorney who was unaware he had resigned

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The Manhattan U.S. attorney, who says he was surprised by an announcement of his resignation late Friday, has been replaced by his deputy on an acting basis after a tense standoff with U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

At first, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York said he had no intention of leaving his post, but he relented after Barr agreed that he would be replaced on an acting basis by Deputy U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss.

The Washington Post and the New York Times had coverage of the conflict, while the Washington Post has coverage of Strauss here and here.

Berman said in a statement Saturday that Strauss is “the smartest, most principled and effective lawyer with whom I have ever had the privilege of working.”

Berman said he had no doubt that, under her leadership, staffers would safeguard the office’s “enduring tradition of integrity and independence.”

Berman had prosecuted President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, leading to a guilty plea, and was leading an inquiry into whether another Trump lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, violated lobbying laws in his interactions with Ukraine. His office also indicted the state-owned bank in Turkey.

Strauss began working for Berman as a senior counsel in early 2018 and was promoted to the deputy position a year later. She first joined that office in 1976 a few years out of law school at Columbia Law School.

Strauss was an assistant U.S. attorney from 1976 to 1983, trying more than 20 cases. She was promoted to the chief of appeals in the criminal division and then to chief of the securities and commodities fraud unit.

Strauss was also on the staff for the independent counsel investigating the Iran-Contra scandal.

Strauss was a partner at Mudge Rose Guthrie & Alexander and then at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. She left Fried Frank in 2012 to become chief legal officer of Alcoa Inc.

Berman’s appointment was different than that of most U.S. attorneys. He was appointed by the federal court in his district, rather than nominated by a president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The judges appointed Berman after he was appointed on an acting basis to the post, and Trump never sought confirmation.

In an early statement, Berman pointed to the nature of his appointment when he said he had no intention of resigning.

Barr initially announced that Berman would be replaced on an interim basis by the U.S. attorney in New Jersey. Barr said Trump intended to nominate Jay Clayton, chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, to the job, although he never was a prosecutor.

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