How Bill Barr's Manhattan transfer went awry

The biggest question might be this: Why was Barr in such a hurry to oust Berman? A Justice Department official told POLITICO that Berman had been ousted because Clayton said he wanted the job, and that was that. Berman could have stayed on, however, until Clayton made his way through the Senate confirmation process for the post. But instead of following that typical track, Barr pushed Berman out immediately and announced on Friday night that Craig Carpenito — the head of the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office — would take his spot, only to reverse himself less than 24 hours later.

A person close to Carpenito told POLITICO that he didn’t learn Barr wanted him to take over that role until Friday afternoon — suggesting the decision was made in a hurry. And a person close to Clayton said the SEC commissioner has telegraphed for months that he was interested in leading the Southern District. On top of that, it would be an immensely taxing new role for a prosecutor already handling two high-stakes jobs; Barr tapped Carpenito earlier this year to run the department’s task force responding to coronavirus-related hoarding and price-gouging, a complex nationwide effort. Adding in the Southern District job on top of that would have placed an extraordinary new demand on Carpenito.

And on top of that, subbing in Carpenito for Berman wouldn’t have been normal or necessary. The standard department practice is for a U.S. attorney’s top deputy (usually titled first assistant) to step in if the top role in the office becomes vacant.