The U.S. Senate on Wednesday confirmed a controversial new director for the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division.
Republican senators were joined by Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, to confirm Brian Benczkowski in a 51-48 vote. Mr. Manchin was the only member of either party to break rank.
Democrats had criticized the nomination of Mr. Benczkowski because of his close ties with Alfa Bank, a Russian bank linked to President Vladimir Putin.
Last year, while a private attorney at Kirkland & Ellis, Mr. Benczkowski represented Alfa Bank in a legal matter. The FBI had investigated the bank after it popped up in the Steele dossier, a collection of unproven allegations about President Trump.
Ultimately, the FBI concluded there was no wrongdoing or misconduct by the bank, according to a 2017 article in The New York Times.
Mr. Benczkowski said he would recuse himself from any matter involving Alfa Bank during the first two years of his Justice Department tenure.
But Democrats have charged Mr. Benczkowski’s connection to the bank will undermine the investigation into Russian election interference by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
As head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, Mr. Benczkowski will have a role in overseeing Mr. Mueller’s probe and the criminal investigation into Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer.
In May, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded Mr. Trump withdraw the nomination of Mr. Benczkowski.
“He continued representing Alfa Bank in April and May 2017 even while he was under consideration to head the Criminal Division,” they wrote in the letter. “At a time when we need the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division to help uncover, prevent, and deter Russian interference in our democracy, Mr. Benczkowski’s choices so far have not inspired confidence that he is the right person to lead that fight.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised Mr. Benczkowski’s confirmation, calling him an “outstanding lawyer” with a “diverse” public service and criminal law background.
“This will be the sixth senior position Brian has held at the Department, and we are fortunate to have someone with his breadth of experience and strong leadership skills willing to serve again,” Mr. Sessions said.
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