“When did you first discuss the work of the Southern District with the President or the Trump administration, and with whom did you discuss it?” Maloney asked. “Attorney General Barr?”
“Look, I’m here as the president of the SEC to discuss the SEC’s work,” he replied. “What I can say is that, as I said in my opening statement, I need to go back to New York.”
“I was just asking for a timeline,” Maloney replied. When did you discuss it? Just give me the approximate date, the timeline.
“What I mean is that this is something that I’ve been talking about for a while, consulting with people about whether it would make sense for me to continue in public service,” Clayton continued. “This was first raised with the President and the Attorney General this past weekend. It was something I wanted to do, and they realized it for the first time last weekend. “
“Thank you, and did you know that Mr. Berman did not want to leave his job in the Southern District when he agreed to accept the nomination?” she asked. “In other words, did you know he was going to be fired to make room for you to work?”
“I’m not going to go into that here,” he replied.
Clayton’s statement seemed to indicate that within a few hours of expressing his interest in the job, Barr moved to fire the person who was occupying him at the time, a remarkably quick decision-making process. An SEC spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for further clarification of Clayton’s statement. Later in the hearing, after Representative Madeleine Dean (D-PA) asked her to clarify, she said she actually had “the initial conversation” with Barr and Trump over the weekend of June 12.
“This was completely my idea,” he said. “This was something I had been thinking about for several months as a possible continuation of public service after my time at the SEC had ended.”
Clayton played golf with Trump on Saturday, June 13, according to The New York Times, and asked if he discussed the Southern District post directly with the president on that occasion.
In his exchange with Maloney, Clayton also addressed a question on whether or not to recuse himself from matters related to Trump and his allies.
“If the Senate finally confirms it for this job, would it commit to recusing itself from all of that office’s current investigation into President Trump and his associates?” she asked.
“This is what I am going to say,” he replied. “That is a process that is on the way. Whatever my current position or whatever position I take, I pledge to do so independently, without fear or favor, in the pursuit of justice. “
“Sorry, that’s not what I was asking,” Maloney replied, going on to detail why he was pressuring him.
“I’m asking you a very simple question,” he said. “Will you commit, right here, to recuse yourself from these investigations?”
“That position and that process is something that is separate and does not need my attention. What I will commit to do, what I promise to do in my current job, is to approach the job independently and follow all ethical rules. ”
Maloney said he was not yet answering the question, saying the American people need to know whether or not they will be independent.
“Understood, and I promise independence,” he replied.
The circumstances of Berman’s ouster fueled rage among Democrats in Congress and critics of Trump’s Justice Department. And it’s still unclear why Barr fired him so quickly, since he could have remained in the post until the Senate confirmed Clayton as his replacement.
Some even called for the removal of Barr in the wake of the movement. But Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi rejected that conversation in an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday.
“At this point, let’s solve our problems by going to the polls and voting on Election Day,” he said.