A day before his firing, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman had refused to sign a letter requested by Justice Department lawyers condemning New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for the city’s enforcing social-distancing rules against religious gatherings but allowing protests against police brutality, according to a report Monday in The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter.
The letter was to be signed by Eric Dreiband, head of the Justice Department’s civil- rights division, and sent to Mayor de Blasio, criticizing the mayor for a double standard in social-distancing enforcement. Berman briefly participated in the letter’s drafting process, but ultimately “voiced strong objections to the letter, particularly its assertions that Mr. de Blasio imposed a double standard, and described the letter as a political stunt that would strain relations between his office and the city,” according to the WSJ report. Berman refused to sign the letter, and it was sent without his signature on Sunday.
It is unknown what role, if any, Berman’s refusal to sign the letter played in his firing.
Officials at the Justice Department have said that the firing of Berman – who has investigated some associates of President Donald Trump – was not caused by any one incident.
Berman and Attorney General William Barr met in New York Friday afternoon, and Barr offered Berman jobs in the Securities and Exchange Commission and elsewhere in the Justice Department. That night, Barr put out a press release saying Berman had resigned – which was news to Berman, who had not resigned, and only left office after Trump fired him the next day.
Barr had not been involved in direct negotiations with Berman over the letter, and it is unknown if the issue was raised at the meeting Friday.
But people familiar with the matter said that Barr, who was already unhappy with Berman and seeking to replace him, was irritated by Berman’s refusal to sign the letter.
Barr is a devout Catholic and a strong supporter of religious liberties.