The office of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman was reportedly investigating political operatives with close ties to President Donald Trump.
By Progress New York Staff
Two days after the U.S. Attorney for New York’s southern district, Geoffrey Berman, was fired by President Donald Trump, reports indicate that Mr. Berman had resisted a request made last Friday to meddle in the de Blasio administration’s handling of Coronavirus pandemic restrictions on churches. One report, published by the New York Daily News, cited the limitation on religious gatherings as problematic for the Trump administration over possible First Amendment concerns. Mr. Berman refused the request to meddle over his own concerns that the request was politically-motivated and would result in heightened tensions between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and City Hall, according to a report published by the Wall Street Journal.
The row over the U.S. Attorney’s Office‘s refusal to interfere in the de Blasio administration’s handling of restrictions on religious gatherings took place on the same day when U.S. Attorney General William Barr met with senior officials at the New York Police Department, as the embattled law enforcement agency has come under fire over its own problems with First Amendment and civil rights violations during the George Floyd-inspired anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests have elevated systemic racism to match public health as the social priorities facing the Government.
It’s unknown if the religious row was being used as a smoke-screen for the Trump administration’s need to remove Mr. Berman from his post. He is the second U.S. Attorney to be removed during the Trump administration during times of reported investigations of individuals with close ties to President Trump. Recent reports indicate that former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R-New York), who now serves as private attorney to President Trump, may be the subject of Federal investigations. In 2017, then U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was fired amidst reports that he was investigating senior officials in the Trump administration, possibly including Tom Price, according to a report published by ProPublica. Mr. Price later resigned as secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services following scrutiny over his use of charted flights.
It’s not known what ‘tensions’ exist between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York). A report published by POLITICO has revealed that the de Blasio administration is in breach of a Settlement Agreement between the New York City Housing Authority, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. Dept. of Justice. Since taking office, Mayor de Blasio has also faced near non-stop reports that have questioned his fundraising practises. For this report, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said it could no longer speak for Mr. Berman. A subsequent request for comment went unanswered.
The Trump administration is sending mixed signals on First Amendment issues facing New York City.
Attorney General Barr’s meeting with NYPD officials last Friday was made to demonstrate “strong support” for law enforcement, according to a read-out issued by the Justice Dept. Such support appeared to overlook reported controversies over the patterns or practices of police-involved homicides of civilians and police brutality by the NYPD. For example, the tussle over First Amendment concerns of religious gatherings has over-shadowed a report, published on Friday by the New York Times, that the number of individuals killed by NYPD activity was “more than twice what has been reported.”
For its part, the NYPD refused to answer a request about information about the Attorney General’s meeting.
The Trump administration’s First Amendment concerns for religious gatherings have appeared to have given short shrift to the Bill of Rights‘ guarantees of freedom of assembly and freedom of the press. As reported by Progress New York, the NYPD have reportedly made dragnet apprehensions during protests that have led to the arrests of legal observers, usually civil rights and civil liberties attorneys, who monitor political demonstrations for police abuses of power. Such massive law enforcement responses that have led to the arrests of legal observers in the past have been deemed to have been unlawful. Reports have also indicated that journalists have also been battered by the NYPD during the recent spike in anti-racism protests. Other allegations of First Amendment rights violations have included threats by the NYPD to revoke press passes and the suspension of processing press pass applications.
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- Top Federal attorney in charge of enforcing First Amendment rights and civil liberties ducks responsibility over deliberate NYPD arrests of legal observers [Progress New York]
- Mayor Bill de Blasio ends curfew early after threats of litigation, as U.S. Attorneys remain mum about coördination with NYPD [Progress New York]
- Anti-racism protesters reportedly beaten at Cadman Plaza, near the office of Brooklyn U.S. Attorney [Progress New York]
- As DOJ ignores racism and police brutality at NYPD, unanswered questions about whether Federal civil rights are subject to discretionary enforcement [Progress New York]
- Federal guidelines for the prosecution of activists appear to reconstruct a legal framework lost under the Smith Act [Progress Queens]