By Nathan Layne
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a surprise move, the U.S. Justice Department said on Friday that it was replacing Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan whose office has been investigating Rudolph W. Giuliani, the personal lawyer of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Attorney General William Barr said in a press release late on Friday evening that Trump intends to nominate Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton to replace Berman as head of the Southern District of New York.
The reason for Berman’s departure could not be immediately determined.
“I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney. 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,” Berman said in a statement.
He said that until a presidentially appointed nominee was confirmed by the Senate, the office’s “investigations will move forward without delay or interruption.”
Since being appointed to the post in January 2018, Berman has not shied from taking on powerful figures in Trump’s orbit.
He oversaw the prosecution of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, indicted two Giuliani associates and launched a probe into Giuliani in connection with his efforts to dig up dirt in the Ukraine on Trump’s political adversaries.
While the Senate considers Clayton’s nomination, Trump has appointed Craig Carpenito, currently the U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, to serve as the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District, Barr said in his statement.
Berman, who served on Trump’s transition team, could not immediately be reached for comment. Berman had replaced Preet Bharara, who was himself fired soon after Trump became president.
Bharara said the timing and manner of the move to replace Berman was strange.
“Why does a president get rid of his own hand-picked US Attorney in SDNY on a Friday night, less than 5 months before the election?” Bharara wrote on Twitter.
Clayton, a former Wall Street lawyer seen as a bipartisan consensus-builder during his time leading the SEC, also could not immediately be reached for comment.
Reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Sandra Maler, Daniel Wallis, Michael Perry and William Mallard.