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Manhattan prosecutor steps down, ending stand-off with Attorney General Barr

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – A stand-off over the independence of one of the country’s most important prosecutor’s offices ended on Saturday when Geoffrey Berman agreed to step down as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the office that had been investigating President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani.

Berman’s confirmation of his departure came after Attorney General William Barr told him he had been fired by Trump at Barr’s request, and that Berman’s hand-picked No. 2, Deputy U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss, would become Acting U.S. Attorney until a permanent replacement is installed.

Under Strauss’ leadership, Berman said the office could continue its “tradition of integrity and independence.”

Berman’s office, which is known for prosecuting the most high profile terrorism cases, Wall Street financial crimes and government corruption, has not shied from taking on figures in Trump’s orbit.

It 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 on Trump’s political adversaries in Ukraine.

Giuliani has not formally been accused of any wrongdoing.

The standoff with Berman follows the latest in a series of moves by Barr that critics say are meant to benefit Trump politically and undermine the independence of the Justice Department.

It also comes as Trump has sought to purge officials perceived as not fully supporting him. In recent weeks he has fired a series of agency watchdogs, including one who played a key role in Trump’s impeachment earlier this year.

The row with Berman began late Friday, when Barr unexpectedly announced that Berman was stepping down and would be replaced by U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton.

Berman, however, issued a statement of his own, saying he had no intention of stepping down until the Senate confirmed his successor, and that his office’s investigations would continue.

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