NEW YORK: Donald Trump on Saturday fired the federal prosecutor whose office put his former personal lawyer in prison and is investigating his current one, heightening criticism that the US President was carrying out an extraordinary purge to rid his administration of officials whose independence could be a threat to his re-election campaign.
Trump's dismissal of the prosecutor, Geoffrey S. Berman, the US attorney in Manhattan, whose office has pursued one case after another that have rankled the President, led to political blowback and an unexpected result: By the end of the day, Berman's handpicked deputy, not the administration's favoured replacement, was chosen to succeed him for now.
Berman, who has been in office since 2018, had declined to leave his post after attorney-general William P. Barr announced late on Friday night that Berman would be replaced by Jay Clayton, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Clayton is friendly with Trump and had golfed with the President at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey, as recently as last weekend, according to two people familiar with the matter.
But on Saturday, facing a standoff with Berman, Barr shifted course. In a letter released by the justice department, Barr told Berman that Trump had fired him and that he would be replaced temporarily with the prosecutor's own chief deputy, Audrey Strauss.
The choice of Strauss appeared to mollify Berman, who then issued a statement saying he would step down in light of the reversal.
The swirl of events on Saturday, which changed by the hour, was the culmination of longstanding tensions between the White House and Berman's office.
First, there was the arrest and prosecution in 2018 of Michael D. Cohen, Trump's longtime legal fixer. Then, there was the indictment last year of a state-owned bank in Turkey with political connections that had drawn the President's attention. More recently, Berman began an inquiry into Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer.