Ousted U.S. prosecutor refused to sign letter blasting coronavirus limits on religious gatherings

By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Shortly before Manhattan Supreme Attorney Geoffrey Berman was ousted from his post on Friday, he refused to sign a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice in which the Mayor of New York City said that socially distant rules for religious gatherings should be imposed was beaten up, a department official confirmed on Monday.
In the letter, signed by the ministry's chief civil rights lawyer, Mayor Bill de Blasio was criticized for limiting the number of people who could attend religious gatherings to prevent the spread of the corona virus, those who opposed it protested the death of George Floyd but did not impose any similar restrictions.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Berman's refusal to sign the letter, referring to his concern that the letter was a political stunt.
"The New York government's message to the public appears to prefer certain secular assemblies and to reject religious assemblies," the June 19 letter said.
A spokesman for the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.
Attorney General William Barr announced on Friday that Berman would step down as U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York next month to pave the way for the appointment of Jay Clayton, who is currently chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission .
Berman refused to resign just to be released by President Donald Trump on Saturday.
Berman's office, known for his high-profile persecution of terrorists and white collar criminals, has spared no effort to investigate people in Trump's inner circle.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Barr hadn't noticed that Berman hadn't signed the letter to de Blasio before announcing Berman's resignation.
Berman's office oversaw the prosecution of Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen, accused two Rudy Giuliani employees, and opened an investigation into Giuliani's efforts to spot Trump's political opponents in Ukraine.
Berman finally agreed to resign after Barr promised to use Berman's handpicked # 2, US Attorney Audrey Strauss, as acting US attorney until a permanent replacement was created.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York; editing by Noeleen Walder and Bill Berkrot)

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