National News

Gillibrand Vows to Block Trump’s Likely Choice for U.S. Attorney in Manhattan

Posted January 10, 2018 10:45 p.m. EST
Updated January 10, 2018 10:48 p.m. EST

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., plans to use a prerogative given to home-state senators to try to block the confirmation of Geoffrey S. Berman if he is nominated by President Donald Trump as the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, her spokesman said Wednesday.

The senator intends to use her “blue-slip prerogative” to lodge her objection over reports that Trump had personally interviewed Berman as part of the selection process.

Gillibrand, through her spokesman, said those reports were deeply disturbing, because of conflicts of interest inherent in Berman’s “potential jurisdiction on matters that could affect the president personally.”

“Under these circumstances,” Gillibrand’s spokesman, Glen Caplin, said, if such a meeting took place and Berman were nominated as U.S. attorney, “the senator would have no choice but to stand up for the independence of this office by using her blue-slip prerogative.”

Caplin added that Gillibrand’s criticism was directed at Trump “for conducting such an interview,” and not at Berman.

Berman was appointed last week by Attorney General Jeff Sessions as the interim U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, placing him in charge of the powerful arm of the Justice Department in Manhattan that has jurisdiction, among other things, over Trump’s businesses there.

The appointment of Berman, 58, a former prosecutor in the office, came with the widespread expectation that Trump would formally nominate him to the post.

It is unclear how successful Gillibrand would be if she sought to derail Berman’s expected nomination. Although the Senate Judiciary Committee has long abided by versions of the blue-slip process, in which senators may seek to block a president’s choice for a federal office in their state, the tradition is a long-standing practice and is not a rule or a law, experts said.

A spokesman for Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday that Grassley “has made clear that he intends to honor the blue-slip courtesy.”

“It is difficult to envision a scenario in which the chairman would disregard an unreturned or negative blue slip on a U.S. attorney nominee,” the spokesman, Taylor Foy, said.

He added: “We have not received from the president any nomination for U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. The chairman does not make public pronouncements about hypothetical nominees.”

New York’s other senator, Chuck Schumer, a Democrat and the Senate minority leader, has not spoken publicly about his position on Berman, but he has told the White House that he “is not supportive” of Berman’s potential nomination as U.S. attorney, according to a person who was briefed on the conversation.

Schumer’s office declined to comment.

The White House referred a request for comment to the Justice Department, which declined to comment. A spokesman for Berman had no comment.

Berman’s appointment has drawn strong support from several influential former top Southern District prosecutors, including Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney from 1993 to 2002, under whom Berman worked as a prosecutor.

“I have very high confidence in Geoff’s independence and integrity,” White said. “U.S. attorneys are presidential appointees and so meeting with the president prior to being nominated is certainly not disqualifying. Geoff will be an outstanding U.S. attorney,” she added.