The debacle surrounding the firing of US attorney for New York’s Southern District has seen a new entrant in the spotlight: white collar crime specialist Audrey Strauss whose appointment has continued to shine a light upon the District’s ‘important cases’.
Ms Strauss took over from Geoffrey Berman on an inetrim basis, which has confounded many observers, following the mishandling of his ouster by US attorney general William Barr.
Coming from neighbouring New Jersey, Ms Strauss has taken over following the Berman departure, which was an unplanned situation reflecting political issues around Berman’s pursuit of those in President Trump’s orbit, including personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Berman (pictured) was concerned to ensure that “important cases continue unimpeded” and Strauss, 72, was appointed as the nomination of SEC Chairman Jay Clayton is pending.
The Southern District has overseen various important takedowns, including the guilty plea two years ago from Trump’s former ‘fixer’, Michael Cohn who had arranged payments to women with whom the President had relationships with.
Ms Strauss was heavily involved in that matter. Then late last year the southern district charged Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, both Trump donors with Ukrainian connection and Giuliani associates with making illegal campaign contributions, which reportedly infuriated the President.
The southern district is also apparently investigating Deutsche Bank, a big lender to the president and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, which has further raisede concerns about political interference in the ouster of Geoffrey Berman.
It has also been investigating another bank with possible Trump links: Turkey’s Halkbank, for allegedly busting US sanctions on Iran. According to John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, the president at one point suggested to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that he could “take care” of the southern district’s Halkbank invetigation.
David Rybicki, a former lawyer in the Justice Department’s criminal division and now at K&L Gates, reportedly doubted that Berman’s removal would negatively affect the Trump-related enquiries undertaken by the Office.“[Southern district] prosecutors have not balked at indicting individuals with connections to the Trump administration and will handle whatever ongoing matters they have now in the normal course, irrespective of who is US attorney or is appointed to that position,” said Rybicki.
And a former associate of Strauss, Michael Bachner, a defence lawyer who has long known her, said that she would be a formidable leader of the southern district, albeit on a temporary basis.
“If the theory was to remove Berman and replace him with somebody more susceptible to Trump’s desires, he failed,” Mr Bachner said of the attorney-general. “Audrey Strauss is a woman of enormous integrity. She is also one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”
Audrey Strauss joined the southern district’s criminal division in 1972, when there were few women in the department.
She rose under the leadership of Robert Fiske, the former US attorney and later help found the white-collar practice at New York law firm Fried Frank, and then served as chief counsel at Alcoa, the aluminium company.
The clumsily-handled removal of Geoffrey Berman may have signaled further disapproval of Attorney General Barr, but the notion of Audrey Strauss bending to the political will of Donald trump seems highly unlikely given her background and character.
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