Top Democrats are expecting a fired US prosecutor to testify in hearings against Donald Trump, heaping pressure on the president as he struggles to reignite his election campaign.
Geoffrey Berman, whose sacking as Manhattan US attorney over the weekend has set off a firestorm of criticism, has been called to appear before hearings into claims the Trump administration is conducting a purge of the US justice department, the top Democrat on the House judiciary committee said on Sunday.
The furore over the sacking of Mr Berman comes as Mr Trump is attempting to relaunch his election campaign amid falling poll numbers, the continuing economic fallout from the coronavirus lockdown, and widespread protests over racial injustice in the US. A much-vaunted return to the campaign stage in Tulsa on Saturday evening was marred by a smaller than expected crowd.
Jerry Nadler said he was “sure” Mr Berman, the Manhattan US attorney who has overseen investigations of the president’s allies, would testify before Congress. It was unclear whether Mr Berman had accepted the invitation to appear as soon as next Wednesday, when the hearings begin.
Two justice department prosecutors are expected to appear before the house committee probe into political influence at the justice department under William Barr, the US attorney-general who had engaged in a power struggle with Mr Berman over the weekend.
Geoffrey Berman, has investigated cases linked to Donald Trump © AP
Mr Berman, who has investigated cases linked to Mr Trump, agreed to stand down with immediate effect on Saturday after defying an attempt by Mr Barr to oust him from the job late on Friday. After Mr Berman refused to leave, Mr Barr on Saturday issued a letter stating that he had asked Mr Trump to remove the US attorney immediately, and that the president had “done so”.
In his two-and-a-half years as US attorney, Mr Berman’s office has pursued a string of politically charged cases, including some that have caused embarrassment to Mr Trump. These include the prosecution of Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer; a continuing investigation of Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump’s current lawyer; and the prosecution of the president’s earliest supporter in Congress, former Republican representative Chris Collins, for insider trading.
Mr Nadler said on Sunday that Mr Barr deserved to be impeached for his actions, but added that it was “a waste of time” for Democrats to pursue such a move.
“We do know that we have a corrupt Republican majority in the senate which will not consider an impeachment, no matter what the evidence and no matter what the facts,” he said.
“He certainly deserves impeachment.”
The controversy over Mr Berman’s sacking came on a weekend in which the president returned to the campaign stage, his favoured forum, for the first time since the lockdowns began.
The president’s campaign team had talked up a capacity audience at the Bank of Oklahoma Center in Tulsa on Saturday night, with thousands of supporters filling an “overflow” area. But there were rows of empty seats, and the campaign cancelled the outdoor events.
According to the Tulsa local fire department, just under 6,200 attended the rally, which was held in a stadium with capacity for just over 19,000 people. In a sign of how poorly the rally was received, the usually Republican-leaning Drudge Report described it as “Maga less Mega”, referring to Mr Trump’s Make America Great Again acronym.
The president has slipped in opinion polls as an increasing number of Americans disapprove of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He has also come under criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for his response to the widespread protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last month.
A Fox News poll this week gave Mr Biden, the former vice-president who will be the Democratic party’s presidential nominee, a 12-point lead over Mr Trump nationwide, while a Quinnipiac survey put the former vice-president eight points ahead of the incumbent.
Mr Trump defended his handling of the coronavirus crisis on Saturday, saying he “did a phenomenal job” with the pandemic. But he was widely criticised for claiming that he had asked officials to reduce the number of Covid-19 tests because “when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more cases”. “I said to my people, slow the testing down,” the president added.
On Sunday, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro claimed the president’s remarks were “tongue in cheek” and a “light moment”.
During Saturday evening’s rally, Mr Trump lambasted a string of familiar targets, from the media and Mr Biden to “the radical left”.
“The unhinged leftwing mob is trying to vandalise our history, desecrating our monuments, our beautiful monuments, tear down our statues and punish, cancel and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute and total control — we’re not conforming,” he said to roars from the crowd.
Additional reporting by Kadhim Shubber