The day before Geoffrey Berman was abruptly fired as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, he refused to sign a letter criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio for the city’s enforcement of social-distancing rules that blocked religious gatherings—but not protests, The Wall Street Journal reports. The decision to refuse a request by Department of Justice supervisors is said to have followed an exchange in which Berman voiced his strong objections over implying de Blasio imposed a double standard on New Yorkers. According to the Journal, Berman called the letter a political stunt that would hurt the relationship between the U.S. attorney’s office and the mayor’s office.
The Journal reported Berman’s refusal aggravated Attorney General William Barr, who had been seeking to replace the U.S. attorney with Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton and was spearheading the White House’s push for access to churches during the coronavirus pandemic. Berman and Barr met in New York Friday afternoon, but it is not clear if the letter was raised. Later that night, Barr is said to have tried to call Berman, before his officer put out a press release shortly after 9 p.m. stating Berman had stepped down. On Saturday evening, Berman resigned, effective immediately, after Barr told him the president had fired him and called his refusal to leave a “public spectacle.”