Some of the mystery around why Barr was so anxious to fire US Attorney Berman has been solved

Some of the mystery around why Barr was so anxious to fire US Attorney Berman has been solved
Photo via the White House.

In June, Attorney General William Barr suddenly announced the resignation of U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman. There was only one problem—Berman had not resigned, and he wasn't going to resign. So Barr fired him. Berman disputed Barr's ability to remove him from office, but finally left after securing an agreement that his primary assistant would take over the office, rather than handing it off to a political appointee with no criminal law experience who was favored by Donald Trump.

In congressional testimony, Berman made it clear that Barr had been trying to force him out of his office for months. The class between Berman and Barr made clear that the new attorney general was attempting to completely politicize the DOJ. And for weeks following Berman's departure, there was speculation over exactly why Barr was so anxious to see the New York attorney gone. Was Berman looking into the fake "We Build the Wall" organization that was feeding money to Steve Bannon? Was he taking a closer look at Rudy Giuliani after bringing the grand jury case that indicted Giuliani's pals? Or was Berman fired because he was taking a look directly into the finances of the Trump Organization?

At least part of the answer became clear on Thursday, and that answer is: none of the above. Instead, Berman was trying to prevent a Turkish state-owned bank from illegally funneling billions to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. And Donald Trump was defending them.

As The New York Times reports, Berman had the evidence he needed to make a case against Turkey. But even before Barr came to town, the Department of Justice would not allow him to move forward on charges that Halkbank, under the control of Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had violated U.S. law and international sanctions to the tune of billions.

In 2019, a frustrated Berman came to press his case to the a newly installed Barr, and Barr had an immediate answer for him—settle the case. What Barr wanted was for Berman to tell Turkish officials that, in exchange for a small fine, he would end the investigation. Halkbank would be able to carry on business in the U.S. Erdogan and other figures connected to the sanctions violations would not be charged.

Berman refused. He pointed out that though they had enough evidence to lay charges against the bank, there were key investigations underway. Not only did some of those investigations involve people close to Erdogan, there also appeared to be direct connections to the Iranian nuclear program—a program that was restarted after Trump broke the multinational Iran nuclear treaty.

"This is completely wrong," said Berman. "You don't grant immunity to individuals unless you are getting something from them, and we wouldn't be here."

Why was Barr pushing Berman to let it go? Because Erdogan was pushing Trump.

From the very beginning of his time in office, Trump has refused to confront the Turkish strongman over anything. Meetings concerning Turkey inevitably include Trump bragging about his properties in Istanbul, and Trump frequently defends Erdogan's harsh treatments of his political opponents. Trump isn't alone. Among the charges that the DOJ dropped when Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, were illegal lobbying for Erdogan, and even a plot to kidnap a U.S. resident and bring him to Turkey so Erdogan can kill him.

One year ago, Trump tweeted out his support for Turkey's "ultimate solution" of the Kurdish situation as he betrayed America's long-time allies, turned his back on treaties, and handed over much of what they considered their homeland to Erdogan. For Trump, it's not just a relationship in question, it's an exchange of cash. Trump has made at least $2.6 million from his operations in Turkey since he made that ride down a golden escalator. The two men also share an attorney in Rudy Giuliani, who Erdogan hired to lobby in the United States.

So why wasn't Berman able to make progress in charging Halkbank? Because at the same time Erdogan was on the phone with Trump, pressing him to drop the case. According to the NYT report, Erdogan is concerned because "the case had become a major embarrassment for him in Turkey." Berman was canned, at least in part, because he had become an obstacle in one of those "personal relationships" that Trump regards as more important than treaties or alliances.

But there is one point where the Times article doesn't speculate—which came first: Erdogan's making billions from Iran's nuclear program while sending millions to Trump, or Trump's desire to end the Iran nuclear deal, making Erdogan's multi-billion dollar play possible?

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