Watch CBS News

Senate to probe claims of Justice Dept. political meddling under Trump

More Trump allies subpoenaed
More than 30 people subpoenaed in Jan. 6 probe 01:23

The Senate Judiciary Committee will investigate whether the Justice Department under then-President Donald Trump tried to use the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office to go after Trump's political adversaries.

Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois who chairs the Judiciary Committee, called the allegations "astonishing" in a letter he sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland, asking the Justice Department to provide documents related to the allegations.

The allegations stem from a new book written by Geoffrey Berman, who as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York was the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan for half of Trump's presidency. He says in his book, "Holding the Line," that he was repeatedly pressured by Justice Department officials to use his office to aid the Trump administration politically, including by investigating former Secretary of State John Kerry.

A Republican and Trump-administration appointee, Berman said he walked that "tightrope" for 2 1/2 years before "the rope snapped," the New York Times reported.

Trump fired Berman as U.S. attorney in June 2020 after he refused a request to resign.

Former U.S. Attorney says William Barr pushed him to resign 07:38

Berman wrote in his book, which was due to be published Tuesday, that he mostly resisted the pressure from Washington, according to the Times, which obtained an advance copy. 

"Throughout my tenure as U.S. attorney, Trump's Justice Department kept demanding that I use my office to aid them politically, and I kept declining — in ways just tactful enough to keep me from being fired," the book said.

House Judiciary Committee Interviews Former US Attorney Geoffrey Berman
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 09: Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman arrives at Rayburn House Office Building July 9, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Berman is attending a closed-door transcribed interview with the House Judiciary Committee. / Getty Images

In the book, Berman reveals that Justice Department officials ordered an investigation of Kerry in 2018 after Trump withdrew the U.S. from a nuclear accord with Iran, a deal that Kerry had helped negotiate as President Barack Obama's Secretary of State.
Trump was among several Republicans who publicly demanded an investigation, claiming that Kerry, as a private citizen, wasn't allowed to have conversations with Iranian officials about the nuclear deal.

Berman wrote that after a year-long probe, he declined to prosecute Kerry. The case was then referred by the Justice Department to a U.S. attorney's office in Maryland which reached the same result. Kerry's representatives have previously said that Trump's claims that Kerry was illegally trying to undercut the administration on its dealings with Iran were false.
In another revelation, Berman discloses that his office had to fight to keep its prosecution going against Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, the Times said.

Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen talks to CBSN about pardons and ongoing investigations 16:52

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to campaign finance fraud and other crimes after admitting his role in hush payments made to two women shortly before the 2016 presidential election to prevent them from disclosing affairs they claimed to have had with Trump.
Berman wrote that before the plea, a Justice Department official tried to get Berman's deputy to remove all references to Trump, who was identified in the charging document as "Individual-1," the newspaper said.
After William Barr became U.S. attorney general in 2019, he paused investigations into whether other others in Trump's orbit committed campaign finance violations, and suggested that Cohen's conviction on those charges be reversed. Berman says his top deputy was able to persuade Barr that the conviction should stand and that the investigations should go ahead.
In the book, Berman also recounts how a Justice Department then led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions referred an investigation of former Obama counsel Greg Craig to his office in March 2018. The probe was aimed at learning whether Craig had concealed work he did years earlier for the government of Ukraine in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and whether he lied to the Justice Department about it, the Times says.
Berman disclosed in the book that he concluded that Craig was innocent of the potential charge and a jury would be unlikely to convict him of a false statement charge, the newspaper said. Craig was eventually indicted in Washington, D.C., and tried on a charge that he made false statement. A jury acquitted him in September 2019.

Greg Craig found not guilty of lying to the Department of Justice 01:00

In his Monday letter to Garland, which CBS News has obtained a copy of, Durbin said the claims made by Berman "indicate astonishing and unacceptable deviations from the [Justice] department's mission to pursue impartial justice, which requires that its prosecutorial decisions be free from political influence."

Virus Outbreak Durbin
Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 12, 2022. Andrew Harnik/AP

He said the claims "also compound the already serious concerns" raised by Barr's alleged efforts "to replace Mr. Berman with a Trump loyalist" when he was heading the Justice Department.

"If accurate, Mr. Berman's claims indicate multiple instances of political interference in the Department's investigative and prosecutorial decisions. The Senate Judiciary Committee will investigate these episodes," concludes Durbin in the letter, which gives the Justice Department until Oct. 3 to produce all documents and communications records relevant to the instances discussed.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.