Top US prosecutor in Manhattan is recused from Cohen probe

The Loews Regency Hotel is seen in New York, Monday, April 9, 2018. Federal agents raided the office of U.S. President Donald Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen, seizing records on topics including a $130,000 payment made to porn actress Stormy Daniels. Besides Cohen's office, agents also searched a hotel room at the Loews Regency where he's been staying while his home is under renovation. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

NEW YORK - The top federal prosecutor in Manhattan has been recused from involvement in the FBI's probe of President Donald Trump's personal lawyer.

Geoffrey Berman, a Republican and former law partner of Rudy Giuliani's, was named the interim U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in January.

He was removed from the investigation of Trump attorney Michael Cohen before investigators obtained search warrants in the case, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The person was not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The reasons for his removal weren't immediately clear. Under Justice Department policy, a U.S. attorney cannot remove him or herself from a case. That decision is made by a senior Justice Department official in consultation with its general counsel's office, usually when a U.S. attorney has a potential conflict of interest or a question about impartiality may arise.

A spokesman for Berman declined to comment on Tuesday.

FBI agents on Monday raided Cohen's home, hotel room and office, seizing records on topics including a $130,000 payment made to porn actress Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about an affair she said she had with Trump in 2006.

Trump castigated the office of special counsel Robert Mueller after the raids, calling the investigation "an attack on our country."

Cohen's attorney and law enforcement officials, however, said the investigation was being co-ordinated not by Mueller's team but by FBI agents and prosecutors in New York.

Ordinarily, Berman would oversee that probe but doing so could create at least one potential personal conflict. He was appointed to his post in January on a temporary basis and is still waiting to see whether Trump will formally nominate him for confirmation.

Berman's appointment by Attorney General Jeff Sessions was good for 120 days and expires the first week in May.

Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Berman was a law clerk for a federal appeals court judge in Philadelphia before working from 1987 to 1990 for the independent counsel who investigated the administration of President Ronald Reagan in the Iran-Contra affair.

From 1990 to 1994, he was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Manhattan office he now leads. From 1994 until January, Berman worked in private practice at Greenberg Traurig, the same law firm that employs Giuliani, the former Republican mayor of New York City, who advised Trump during his 2016 Republican presidential campaign.

After Berman was installed as U.S. attorney, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, threatened to block his nomination because of concerns about his independence from Trump.

Berman was reported to have been interviewed personally by Trump as part of his vetting for the job. Gillibrand said that meeting was inappropriate, given the possibility that Berman could wind up being part of investigations into the administration or the Trump Organization.

Lawyers who have worked with Berman said they were confident he wouldn't let politics get in the way of his job.

"Knowing Geoff the way I know Geoff, I have no questions about his independence and his commitment to carry out his responsibilities apolitically and completely on the merits," Lorin Reisner, a former chief of the criminal division in the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, recently told the AP.

Already, Berman has been confronted with decisions involving unusual cases with geopolitical consequences.

Days into the job, he guided his office through the aftermath of the trial of a Turkish banker who was convicted in a plot to let Iran evade U.S. economic sanctions.

Turkish politicians tried to label the trial itself a fraud. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it an American conspiracy to "blackmail" and "blemish" his country.

If Trump fails to either nominate Berman or name someone else as a replacement, federal law would allow New York's federal judges to pick someone to lead the office.

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Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.


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