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Top Manhattan prosecutor recused from Cohen investigation before search warrant issued

Geoffrey Berman, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan who was appointed on an interim basis by the attorney genera...

Posted: Apr 11, 2018 9:46 AM
Updated: Apr 11, 2018 9:46 AM

Geoffrey Berman, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan who was appointed on an interim basis by the attorney general in January, was recused from the investigation into President Donald Trump's personal attorney before any search warrants were issued on his office and hotel room, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

The source did not know the specific reasons for Berman's recusal but said the decision to step aside was his and was approved by senior Justice Department officials within Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's office.

On Monday, Michael Cohen's office and hotel room were raided by a dozen FBI agents on search warrants that had been executed by the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which Berman leads, according to Cohen's attorney Stephen Ryan.

Prosecutors from the Southern District came to the criminal division at the Justice Department in Washington to sign off on the warrants, as required by the US Attorney's Manual, according to the source, and Rosenstein was made aware of the warrants before they were executed Monday.

Officials from the Southern District declined to comment on the recusal, which was first reported by ABC News.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed Berman, a former white-collar defense attorney and veteran of the Southern District, as an interim US attorney in January. Berman's ascension fueled controversy after CNN reported that Trump had personally interviewed him in the months preceding his appointment, according to two sources.

The move to meet with a candidate for a top federal prosecutor position is highly unusual, and Berman's perch in Manhattan is considered especially sensitive given its jurisdiction over Trump Tower and other businesses and associates of the President, like Cohen.

Berman's tenure at the Southern District is set to expire in early May, along with that of 16 other interim US attorneys appointed by Sessions at the beginning of the year. Under statute, interim US attorneys are able to hold their positions for 120 days without the requisite Senate confirmation

The President has not yet formally nominated Berman in advance of his interim position's expiration next month and Berman does not have the support of his two home state senators, government sources said.

In January, CNN reported that the chief judge in New York's Southern District had sent a letter to fellow judges laying out the prospect that, after the 120-day period, the possible appointment of the Manhattan US attorney would fall to the district court.

Sessions commended Berman when he announced his interim appointment.

"Geoffrey Berman brings three decades of invaluable experience," Sessions said at the time. "I am pleased to appoint him to this important role."

Before landing the coveted legal job, Berman worked for the law firm Greenberg Traurig in New York and New Jersey, where Trump confidant and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is also employed.

Berman spent time as an assistant US attorney in Manhattan in the 1990s and was part of the prosecution team that investigated the Iran-Contra scandal as well.

In his few months atop the Southern District, Berman oversaw the successful conviction of a former top aide to Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and took part in the announcement last month of the indictment of nine Iranians charged in a massive cybertheft campaign.

"He is the prototypical straight arrow," Kevin Marino, a New Jersey attorney who's a longtime friend of Berman's, said in an email. "I am entirely confident that his decision-making is the result of thoughtful and careful consideration of every issue that comes before him."

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