Democrats call on Trump to pull nomination of top Justice Department nominee with ties to Russian bank
Posted May 9, 2018 11:33 a.m. EDT
(CNN) — All 10 Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are calling on President Donald Trump to withdraw his nomination of Brian Benczkowski to lead the Justice Department's criminal division in light of his previous representation of a Russian bank, according to a letter first obtained by CNN.
Benczkowski previously disclosed to members of the Judiciary Committee that in private practice he represented Alfa Bank, one of Russia's largest financial institutions, whose computer server activity had been under scrutiny by FBI counterintelligence.
He assured senators during his confirmation hearing that he would recuse himself for at least two years from any department matter that overlapped with his previous work.
Senate Democrats, however, are making a last push now to raise the issue again before a vote on his nomination in the full Senate.
"Mr. Benczkowski's representation of the Putin-allied Alfa Bank and his refusal to recuse himself from Russia-related matters mean that he will not be able to credibly oversee the Division's involvement in Special Counsel Mueller's investigation and other sensitive matters such as the criminal investigation of Michael Cohen," the senators wrote Wednesday. "Furthermore, at a time when the Department of Justice's handling of criminal matters has come under intense public scrutiny, it is essential that the Criminal Division have an experienced and well-qualified leader whose judgment and independence are beyond reproach."
But Justice Department leaders have blasted senators for stonewalling Trump's nominees.
At two events in New York earlier Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein criticized the slow pace of confirmation for senior Justice Department officials, noting Benczkowski was nominated to lead the criminal division nearly a year ago, and only two of the seven litigating components at the Justice Department have Senate-confirmed leaders.
"President Trump deserves great credit for nominating champions of the rule of law to serve in these important positions in the Department of Justice, but one year later, too many of them are still waiting in the wings," Rosenstein said.
Yet Democrats highlighted in Wednesday's letter that Benczkowski has "no prosecutorial experience."
"Simply put, Mr. Benczkowski is not the nominee our country needs at this critical moment," they wrote.
Questions about the Alfa Bank's activity first arose when a group of computer scientists raised concerns about Internet records that showed that Alfa Bank servers repeatedly looked up the unique internet address of a Trump Organization computer server in the United States. Authorities never alleged any wrongdoing on the bank's part and the bank denied any misconduct.
Benczkowski was voted out of committee along party lines, but a vote on his nomination in the full Senate has dragged on for months. A source familiar with the matter predicted that eventually he ultimately will have enough votes that lack of Democratic support will not forestall his confirmation.
John Cronan is currently serving as the acting assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division at the department.