Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday demanded President Donald Trump withdraw his nominee of Brian Benczkowski to head the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, claiming his ties to a Russian bank could undermine the special counsel’s probe.
Mr. Benczkowski, currently a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, ran the Trump transition team at the Justice Department. He was nominated last year to lead the department’s criminal division, which is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian election interference investigation as well as the probe of Mr. Cohen, the president’s personal attorney.
Last year, Benczkowski admitted that he had represented Russia’s Alfa Bank while at Kirkland & Ellis. Alfa is one of Russia’s largest bank and said to have ties to President Vladimir Putin. The FBI investigated the bank last year after it popped up in the Steele dossier, a collection of unproven allegations about Mr. Trump. Ultimately, the FBI concluded there was no wrongdoing or misconduct by the bank, according to a 2017 article in The New York Times.
But Democrats charge Mr. Benczkowski connection to the bank will hurt the credibility of Mr. Mueller’s probe.
“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.”
The Democrats who signed the letter include Sens. Dick Durbin, Illinois, Dianne Feinstein, California, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy, Vermont, Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island, Amy Klobuchar Minnesota, Chris Coons, Delaware, Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut, Mazie Hirono, Hawaii, Cory Booker, New Jersey, and Kamala Harris, California.
They also attacked Mr. Benczkowski’s qualifications claiming that he never prosecuted a case.
“The Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division must oversee and manage litigation strategy for hundreds of federal prosecutors handling a wide range of criminal cases,” the letter said. “Mr. Benczkowski, however, has never served as a prosecutor, nor has he ever tried a case. While Mr. Benczkowski does possess experience as a top aide to then-Senator Jeff Sessions and in various Department of Justice staff positions, this does not qualify him to lead the career prosecutors of the Criminal Division. His dearth of courtroom experience makes him ill-suited for the position he now seeks.”
Speaking at a conference on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Mr. Rosenstein said the nominee was “highly qualified.”
Mr. Benczkowski declined to comment, citing his “respect for the confirmation process.”
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