Top Prosecutor in N.Y. Wins Unusual Term Extension by Judges

(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge extended the term of the prosecutor whose office is investigating President Donald Trump’s lawyer.

The Trump administration in January appointed Geoffrey Berman, then a law partner to Trump ally Rudy Giuliani, as top federal prosecutor in Manhattan on a temporary, 120-day basis rather than nominating a candidate to the U.S. Senate for confirmation. His term was set to expire next week. On Wednesday, the chief judge in the district appointed Berman to continue as U.S. Attorney until a Senate-confirmed candidate takes office.

Berman has recused himself from the probe of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen for unspecified reasons, and the investigation is being overseen by Robert Khuzami, who holds the office’s No. 2 post. Prosecutors haven’t identified what specifically they’re investigating, although they’ve said in a court filing that "the investigation relates in large part to conduct by Cohen in his personal business and financial dealings.”

Giuliani, himself a former U.S. Attorney in New York, joined Trump’s personal legal team this month, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller probes Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Berman was a partner with Giuliani at Greenberg Traurig in its New Jersey office.

Berman was appointed after then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was fired by Trump, along with dozens of other top prosecutors, in March 2017. Bharara’s deputy, Joon Kim, served in the role in an acting capacity for the remainder of 2017.

Since taking office, Berman has made the rounds to meet judges in New York’s southern district but otherwise kept a low profile, largely eschewing the limelight where previous prosecutors have courted it. One of his few public appearances was at a news conference in Washington last month to announce charges against Iranian hackers.

U.S. attorney candidates are typically nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. But Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, planned to block Berman’s confirmation after reports emerged that Trump personally interviewed Berman for the job, since the role holds jurisdiction over matters that could personally affect the president.

"The court has acted responsibly within the law,” Glen Caplin, a senior adviser to Gillbrand, said Wednesday. “It is troubling, however, that President Trump continues to attempt to undermine our institutions by doing an end-run around the U.S. Senate’s advise and consent responsibility for U.S. Attorney nominations."

Berman’s appointment, by an order signed Wednesday by the district’s chief judge, Colleen McMahon, was made after a unanimous vote of the judges in the district. It is to take effect immediately after the expiration of his temporary appointment on May 4 and will run until Trump nominates a replacement and the Senate confirms the person, the order said.

“I thank the court and I am grateful for its confidence in me,” Berman, a Manhattan federal prosecutor in the 1990s, said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing the great tradition of this office to pursue justice without fear or favor.”

Under the law, the district court could have appointed any candidate it saw fit to run the U.S. Attorney’s Office once the temporary appointment expired, to serve until the vacancy was filled.

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