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Senator Gillibrand raises concerns about interim Manhattan U.S. Attorney

Reuters

(Reuters) - Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said Thursday she opposed the possible nomination of Manhattan's interim top federal prosecutor Geoffrey Berman to permanently fill the post, citing concerns over his independence from President Donald Trump.

Gillibrand, the junior U.S. senator from New York, said in an emailed statement to Reuters she was concerned about reports Trump interviewed Berman for the job. She noted he would have jurisdiction over issues that personally impacted Trump, who has offices and real estate in New York.

"Reports that President Trump took the unusual step of personally interviewing Berman are deeply disturbing considering the conflicts of interest," the statement said. "If this meeting took place it shows a lack of judgment that she believes her colleagues should view as disqualifying as a nominee."

Berman was one of 17 current and former federal prosecutors appointed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday as interim U.S. Attorneys in jurisdictions around the country.

Berman is scheduled to be sworn in late this afternoon as interim U.S. Attorney for Manhattan. The interim posts are for 120 days unless those holding them are re-appointed by a court or officially nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate.

The statement from Gillibrand is potentially significant because as a senator she could try to block Berman's nomination through the so-called "blue slip" process by which senators have traditionally held veto power over nominees in their home state.

Chuck Schumer, the senior senator from New York and also a Democrat, did not respond to a request for comment on Berman.

Several months ago, in a statement, a spokesman for Schumer's office said: “Senator Schumer plans to use his blue slip as needed to ensure that the integrity and independence of these offices are protected.”

Berman, who was an assistant U.S. Attorney in Manhattan from 1990 to 1994, is a partner at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another supporter of Trump's presidential run in 2016, practices at the same firm.

Berman and another candidate for U.S. attorney positions in New York were personally interviewed by Trump, Politico and other media outlets reported in October. The White House has not denied that the interviews took place.

(reporting by Nathan Layne and Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay)