With Bill Barr's exit, SDNY lawyers will be under less pressure to investigate Donald Trump, feel insiders
The outgoing AG, who has been accused of having a guiding principle to protect the president, eventually resigned over differences with Donald Trump
Attorney General William Barr resigned from his post this week following differences with President Donald Trump and, according to reports, the former’s stepping down on December 23 will not make the lawyers at the Southern District of New York (SDNY) unhappy as it will take the pressure off them and allow them to probe Trump and his associates.
Vanity Fair on Wednesday, December 16, came up with a report saying Barr will not be missed by nonpartisan career prosecutors inside the justice department and even cited a former SDNY official as calling the outgoing AG a “disgrace”.
"Bill Barr will not be missed by most of the hundreds of nonpartisan career prosecutors inside the Department of Justice. Least of all, though, by the lawyers working for the Southern District of New York, whose jurisdiction covers most of Donald Trump’s hometown—and whose continuing probes of the president’s associates, including an investigation of Rudy Giuliani, are far less likely to be squashed," a former senior SDNY official said.
"Everything depends on the facts and witnesses in those cases, but certainly they are more likely to proceed without Barr in there, who was just a disgrace. In every way, the official added.
Barr, who took over as the AG for the second time in his career in February last year, has been one of Trump’s most loyal aides. But the president was less than impressed with him over his failure to indict any of his domestic opponents including former president Barack Obama, differing with his viewpoint that no evidence of electoral fraud was found affecting the 2020 election and also his refusal to divulge the details of the investigation into Hunter Biden in public ahead of the big election.
Trump’s growing frustration with Barr eventually saw the latter quitting and being replaced with Jeffrey Rosen, the deputy attorney general. The Vanity Fair report was, however, less forgiving on Barr. It said: “Barr—whose departure from the office of attorney general was announced on Monday after taking a Twitter battering from Trump—politicized nearly every corner of the Justice Department."
It continued, "His most prominent, and most effective, interference took place in Washington, whether he was preemptively and misleadingly spinning the findings of the Mueller report or intervening in the cases against Michael Flynn and Roger Stone. But his attempts to meddle in New York were unrelenting, an SDNY insider says—and the stakes were higher because the investigations threatened to come closer to the president.”
Barr threatened SDNY chief to step down
The report also came up with instances showing how Barr tried to shield Trump’s allies from the SDNY and even threatened its head when the latter did not agree to give up the post voluntarily.
“Only a few of Barr’s moves to mess with SDNY cases have become public so far. The most glaring known episode was plenty bad. This past spring, after dodging impeachment, Trump purged a series of inspectors general. The SDNY had already sent the president’s previous personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to prison, and was now asking questions about his current one, Giuliani."
"One Friday in June, Barr abruptly summoned Geoffrey Berman, the (former) head of the Southern District, to a meeting at the Pierre hotel. Barr suggested—wink, wink—that Berman accept a transfer or a new job, so that a New Jersey golfing buddy of Trump’s could be installed as US attorney. When that nudge went nowhere, Barr told Berman that if he didn’t give up the job voluntarily, he would be fired.”
However, when Berman still remained unmoved, Barr issued a press release announcing that the former had stepped down. Berman came up with his own announcement saying his office’s investigations will “continue unimpeded”.
Berman was later fired by Trump and replaced by Audrey Strauss. However, Barr’s reputation took a blow. The SDNY remained keen about his exit. The Vanity Fair report said veterans at the Southern District feel the office has dealt with Trump-related cases “on their merits” but they expect that those merits will get a fuller hearing soon.
“I have no doubt that facts have driven the office’s investigations and its decisions the past four years,” Glen Kopp, whose work as an assistant US attorney at SDNY included various fraud and money-laundering cases, was quoted as saying. “But if there are Trump cases, is it more likely they go forward? Yeah. And I think SDNY’s confidence in leadership at the top levels of Main Justice backing up whatever they do will change,” he said.
The department, however, still has some potential challenges even after Barr departs. According to Vanity Fair, Strauss may be asked to continue temporarily although her term as the interim head of the SDNY is due to expire four days before the Inauguration Day which could create a “possible window for White House mischief”.
Besides, Rosen would also not be above suspicion. It has already been reported that the president may pressure the new acting AG to set up a special counsel to probe Hunter as well to look into his claims of widespread election fraud. “Barr’s guiding principle was to protect Trump. Having that not hanging over prosecutors is a good thing,” Mimi Rocah, a Southern District alumnus and the district attorney-elect for Westchester County, just north of NYC, was quoted as saying by Vanity Fair.