An extraordinary standoff between the Justice Department and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman ended Saturday when the prosecutor agreed to leave his job.
Berman finally left after being given an assurance that his investigations into allies of President Donald Trump would not be disturbed - including an investigation related to Turkey, which former national security advisor John Bolton claims Trump had told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “he would take care of.” Ahead of Berman's removal over the weekend, Bolton had taped an interview with ABC News in which he says Trump's conversations with Erdogan "did feel like obstruction of justice to me."
Berman's final departure capped off two days of conflicting statements, allegations of political interference in prosecutions, and defiance from Berman. On Saturday, Attorney General William Barr said Berman’s refusal to resign under pressure prompted Trump to fire him. Trump tried to distance himself from the dispute, telling reporters the decision “was all up to the attorney general.”
This episode deepened tensions between the Justice Department and congressional Democrats, who have accused Barr of politicizing the agency and acting more like Trump’s personal lawyer than the country’s chief law enforcement officer. It also raised questions about ongoing investigations in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) - including a probe into Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney.
SDNY prosecutors had also been investigating the Turkish bank Halkbank for allegedly evading U.S. sanctions against Iran. Bolton wrote in his new book “The Room Where it Happened,” that Erdogan raised the investigation with Trump by handing him a memo at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires in December 2018.
Bolton chronicles a number of conversations between the president and Erdogan on the subject of Halkbank. Bolton recalled one, writing that, “Trump then told Erdogan he would take care of things, explaining that the Southern District prosecutors were not his people, but were Obama people, a problem that would be fixed when they were replaced by his people.”
Bolton further shed light on the issue in ABC News interview, which is set to air Sunday night, saying, "What Erdogan wanted was basically a settlement that would take the pressure off Halkbank.”
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Bolton added, "And I thought to myself -- and I'm a Department of Justice alumnus myself. "I've never heard any president say anything like that. Ever." Bolton served as United States Assistant Attorney General under former President Ronald Reagan.
"I don't think I know enough about all the circumstances, but I tell ya, it did feel like obstruction of justice to me," Bolton told ABC’s Martha Raddatz.
Bolton concluded in the interview: "This idea that you give Erdogan and his family, who use Halkbank like a slush fund -- in exchange for, what, some hope down the road of some other kind of treatment for Trump or the country -- was very troubling."