barr_schwartzbaum

THE PRESIDENT'S 'CONSIGLIERE' ANGERS A RULE-OF-LAW GUY:The ham-handed manner in which U.S. Attorney General William Barr (left) pushed U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman out of his job spurred a steady stream of criticism from veteran Federal prosecutors, but none was as caustic as former wardens-union President Sidney Schwartzbaum (right). 'Barr's got his arm around Lady Justice's neck and he's chokin' her,' he said. 'He's not an Attorney General; he's a consigliere.'

One night at a party last October, I asked someone who does a lot of business with the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office whether, if he were a betting man, he'd wager that it would indict Rudy Giuliani. 

He replied with surprising gusto, "Well I'm not a betting man, but hell yeah!"

The former Mayor at the time was rumored to be under investigation by Federal prosecutors who had already charged a couple of business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, with funneling money from foreign entities to American politicians in an attempt to buy influence. They were also part of a team Mr. Giuliani had reportedly put together in his successful effort to remove Marie Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, from her post as the American Ambassador to Ukraine.

Earlier in the month, she had told a congressional committee that the three men sought to dig up damaging information on Joe Biden and his son Hunter, She said they had also wanted her ousted because they "believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine."

Enlisted Pompeo's Aid 

U.S. State Department documents would subsequently show that Mr. Giuliani personally reached out to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as part of his effort to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch and get her removed. 

And so it seemed entirely plausible that the man who used his anti-corruption successes as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District in the mid-1980s as a springboard to political power might find himself charged with international corruption by his old office, headed by another Republican, Geoffrey Berman.

The obvious question was whether Mr. Berman, who had carried to completion public-corruption cases against legislative leaders Shelly Silver and Dean Skelos and former correction-union President Norman Seabrook that had been initiated by Preet Bharara, then recused himself from his office's successful prosecution of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, would be audacious enough to bring a case against Mr. Giuliani, who had succeeded Mr. Cohen in that role.

It figured to be a case that would be handled delicately, particularly with a presidential campaign about to get going in earnest. But there was enough material out there that could hurt the former Mayor that the weekend before Thanksgiving, Fox News's Ed Henry asked him whether he was worried about Mr. Trump putting the same distance between the two of them that he previously had with Mr. Cohen.

Mr. Giuliani dismissed the speculation, saying, "I've seen things written like he's going to throw me under the bus. When they say that, I say he isn't, but I have insurance."

That remark created a furor because of its implication that the President couldn't afford to cut him loose because Rudy could provide incriminating information about his longtime friend and boss. Hours later, Mr. Giuliani tried to dispel the impression he created, claiming that he was referring to "files in my safe" that showed Mr. Biden's family had been "monetizing" the former Vice President's time in office.

But there was no reason to believe he would be referring to that as "insurance," since it would instead offer Mr. Trump valuable campaign fodder. What motive would the President have, if that were the case, to once again allow his personal lawyer to be left holding the bag when the prosecutors showed up?

Curious Timing

Fall yielded to winter with no action from Mr. Berman's office, and by the time spring arrived, the sense was that the U.S. Attorney, if he was going to charge Mr. Giuliani, had enough political savvy to hold off until after the November election so as not to damage Mr. Trump's re-election chances. The fact thatU.S. Attorney General William Barr would have to greenlight an indictment made waiting that long a sure thing.

And so it came as a shock—even from an administration that has increasingly moved to clear out truth-tellers who made revelations that embarrassed the President—when Mr. Barr announced June 19 that Mr. Berman was resigning his position. Among those who appeared most surprised was the U.S. Attorney himself, and he opted not to play the good soldier and go along with the AG's tall tale.

As Mr. Barr General told it, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton was going to be nominated to succeed Mr. Berman, who was being offered a high-ranking position in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division—not exactly a plum spot in the current administration. But Mr. Berman wouldn't go without a fight and and said he wasn't leaving.

That forced Mr. Barr to have the President fire him, but Mr. Trump, sensing this wasn't going to play well with the legal community, insisted it was the Attorney General's. It didn't get sorted out until the Attorney General agreed to have Mr. Berman's well-regarded top deputy, Audrey Strauss, serve as his interim replacement until a successor could be confirmed by the Senate. That plan got further complicated when Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsay Graham, normally a reliable Trump supporter, said he wouldn't hold a hearing on Mr. Clayton—who has never actually tried a case—unless New York's two Democratic Senators signed off on it. Neither Chuck Schumer nor Kirsten Gillibrand was willing to do so.

Among those who smacked Mr. Barr with both hands was Mr. Bharara, whom Mr. Trump fired in March 2017, less than two months into his presidency, because he apparently realized he wouldn't be the kind of loyalist he wanted overseeing the Manhattan office. In a June 22 New York Times op-ed piece, he described Mr. Berman's ouster as Mr. Trump's "latest perversion," but was actually far rougher on the Attorney General. 

Barr's 'Bad Faith'

"Within the Department of Justice," Mr. Bharara wrote, "hard-working public servants are angry, dismayed and demoralized. I spoke to many over the weekend. They are disheartened by the bad faith of Bill Barr and his determined efforts to undermine prosecutorial independence."

Damning as those words were, as well as the testimony of two high-ranking Justice Department officials during a June 24 House Judiciary Committee hearing in which they charged blatant politicization when it came to cases involving Mr. Trump's allies and his enemies, perhaps more revealing was the reaction of Sidney Schwartzbaum, the former president of the Assistant Deputy Wardens Association.

Mr. Schwartzbaum is a lifelong Republican who has spent much of the past four years decrying what the President has done to undermine the rule of law. Like another retired city warden who's a frequent contributor to the newspaper's letters column, Marc Bullaro, his belief in law and order is rooted in a colorblind, non-ideological view of law enforcement. They had that faith tested over the years in the Correction Department, first by Commissioner Bernie Kerik ignoring the chain of command—with the approval of Mr. Giuliani—in politicizing promotions and discipline, and also by Mr. Seabrook getting his way even when he was wrong in both the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations because of his political support of both Mayors.

Mr. Schwartzbaum hasn't changed his political affiliation, despite his belief that "the national Republican Party is a disgrace," because he believes local Democrats can be just as bad. Talking about bail reform, he said, "They needed a flyswatter; they took a sledgehammer. You have violent people being released regularly and crime's going up, and they're talking about de-fund the police." 

A Vote for Schiff

His idea of a good Democrat is U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, one of Mr. Trump's prime targets because of his probe of Russian interference during the 2016 election. "Schiff is a stand-up, rule-of-law guy," Mr. Schwartzbaum explained.

Asked about the force-out of Mr. Berman, he said in a June 23 phone interview, "Nothing surprises me anymore. It's a pattern—anybody who's investigating Trump, just to prevent any kind of accountability, he fires them."

He continued, "Barr's got his arm around Lady Justice's neck and he's chokin' her. He's not an Attorney General—he's a consigliere, he's Roy Cohn. The Democrats need to grow a pair of cojones and subpoena Barr; we'll see whether he comes to testify."

Asked if he believed the removal of Mr. Berman came about because Mr. Giuliani, seeing recent polls turning worse for the President, tried to leverage his "insurance" to short-circuit the probe rather than have an indictment come down at the end of the year when Mr. Trump was on his way out of office, Mr. Schwartzbaum said there was no way to be sure at this point.

"Lev Parnas and Igor know where all the bodies have been buried, and they're cooperating," he said, while pointing out that Mr. Berman and Mr. Giuliani were former law partners. "Rudy disgraced himself with what he did to that Ambassador. He's a guy I endorsed twice. When Rudy first ran, New York City needed someone like Rudy Giuliani. But Rudy is a megalomaniac who craves attention, and he found an opportunity where he could make money with Lev and Igor."

Enabled Him Into Hole

On the other hand, Mr. Schwartzbaum said, it was conceivable that Mr. Giuliani hadn't sought Mr. Berman's ouster, knowing the high regard in which the Southern District is held and therefore concerned that the power play could backfire. So it was equally possible that Mr. Trump had made an impulsive firing, and Mr. Barr, who like Mr. Giuliani and any number of key aides to the President never stopped to consider the potential damage to their reputations, went along with it because he's accustomed to enabling his boss.

The former wardens-union leader remarked, "Trump is like Tony Soprano, without the loyalty or the charm."   


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