New Friday Night Justice Department Shake-Up Installs Barr Deputy in Brooklyn

Brooklyn federal courthouse. (Courthouse News photo/Amanda Ottaway)

(CN) — In a mirror image drama of a shake-up that occurred three weeks earlier, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the sudden replacement of a powerful federal prosecutor in New York with an associate of Attorney General Bill Barr.

Only instead of occurring in the Southern District of New York, the top prosecutor of its sister jurisdiction in Brooklyn was replaced in a proverbial Friday night news dump.

And instead of defiantly refusing to leave his post, ex-U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue accepted a promotion to Main Justice, where he and Barr’s now-former Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Seth DuCharme will trade places.

“Rich has served with distinction and integrity for many years in the Eastern District of New York, earning a well-deserved reputation throughout New York City and Long Island as an outstanding prosecutor with second-to-none judgment,” Barr wrote in a statement, trumpeting his overseeing such high-profile prosecutions as the cases against Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, sex-cult leader Keith Raniere and Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

The changing of the guards had a quality of a photographic negative of Geoffrey Berman’s unceremonious ouster as Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor last month.

Like Donoghue, Berman had been offered a Justice Department promotion, in return for stepping down quietly and letting someone outside of his district assume his role. 

The Eastern District of New York’s Chief Judge Roslynn Mauskopf swears in Seth DuCharme to replace Richard Donoghue. (Photo courtesy of EDNY)

Only Berman rebelled, issuing a press release effectively calling Barr a liar for publicly claiming he resigned and telling Congress the same story on Thursday. Berman’s pushback ultimately made Barr back down and anoint the U.S. Attorney’s trusted deputy Audrey Strauss as the current head of the Southern District.

Snippets of his closed-door testimony allege that Barr threatened Berman with consequences to his career for refusing to resign and take a more senior position heading the Justice Department’s Civil Division, but Berman would not be dissuaded.

“I asked the attorney general if he was in any way dissatisfied with my performance as U.S. Attorney,” Berman told the House Judiciary Committee. “He said that he was not at all dissatisfied.”

Typically, a U.S. Attorney’s deputy takes over until the Senate confirms a replacement, and Berman called Barr’s insistence on an outsider as “unprecedented, unnecessary and unexplained.”

That rare succession of power can no longer be labeled unprecedented.  

The Eastern District of New York’s Chief Judge Roslynn Mauskopf swore DuCharme into his new role today.

Why Barr has been busily ousting U.S. attorneys in New York City has been a subject of intense debate and speculation. Several criminal probes and prosecutions in Manhattan have rankled as a thorn in the side of the Trump administration, from the campaign-finance crimes of the president’s former fixer Michael Cohen to the impeachment-related allegations against Rudy Giuliani’s former associate Lev Parnas.

As Trump’s Senate trial played out in February, Politico reported that Donoghue had been in charge of vetting and managing all Ukraine-related efforts. His district reportedly had been heading an investigation into Tom Barrack, a Trump confidant who headed the president’s inauguration committee and whose fundraising for that event allegedly caught the scrutiny of federal prosecutors.

Although DuCharme spent the better part of the last two years in Washington, he spent 12 years of his prosecutorial career before that in Brooklyn. DuCharme served as a line prosecutor in the Eastern District for roughly a decade before leading the criminal division there for a little more than a year.

His brief interlude in Washington, however, was not uneventful. Documents obtained by the non-profit group American Oversight show that DuCharme met or spoke more than a dozen times with U.S. Attorney John Durham, whom Barr tapped to dig into the origins of the Mueller investigation, an appointment critics slam as a politically motivated effort to discredit it.

One of DuCharme’s emails offered to apprise Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz of what he had been working on with Durham and a redacted third party.

Durham was copied to that email.

The Eastern District declined comment on the similarities to the succession in the Southern District or why Donoghue’s deputy did not take over the position.

Known for its fierce independence, the Southern District of New York enjoys the affectionate nickname the “Sovereign” district. Its Brooklyn-based sister boasts no similar moniker.

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