Five former Justice Department officials who served both Republicans and Democrats are coming to the aide of President Donald Trump’s long-stalled nominee to head the DOJ’s Criminal Division, amid Democratic questions about his work for a Russian bank with ties to the Kremlin.
In a letter to the top lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee, five former leaders of the Criminal Division — including three Obama appointees — vouched for Brian Benczkowski’s integrity.
“Each of us is familiar with Mr. Benczkowski, either through our work with him at the Department of Justice, in private practice, or in other ways,” the former DOJ officials wrote to committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein. “We know him to be someone who is smart, fair, honest, and a tireless worker. Importantly, he respects the role of the Justice Department and will work hard to protect the integrity and independence of this important institution.”
The signers of the letter include Michael Chertoff, who went on to become the homeland security secretary in President George W. Bush’s cabinet, as well as Alice Fisher, who held the Criminal Division chief role during Bush’s second term. But most notable are the three Obama administration officials who held the post: Leslie Caldwell, Mythili Raman and Lanny Breuer.
Benczkowski, nominated by Trump last June, has faced stiff headwinds from Democrats on the panel given his ties to Alfa Bank, a Russian financial institution that has faced scrutiny during the FBI investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Benczkowski represented the bank while in private practice at the firm Kirkland & Ellis. Democrats portrayed his nomination as part of an effort to undercut Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s continuing Russia probe.
“Benczkowski nomination must be seen for what it is — the latest piece of a sustained, coordinated effort to undercut the Special Counsel’s credibility,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) tweeted in January. “My colleagues should put country before party and vote NO.”
Feinstein was among the committee members to raise questions about his nomination, along with Sens. Kamala Harris, Patrick Leahy, Sheldon Whitehouse, Amy Klobuchar, Chris Coons, Mazie Hirono and Cory Booker.
But their opposition will now be tested by the support of the Obama appointees.
“We write … to express our collective view that Brian Benczkowski is well qualified to serve in this important position by virtue of his professional experience, temperament, and integrity,” the former officials said.
They noted his experience both in the criminal division as well as in other Justice Department roles and suggested that his wide-ranging experience would benefit the department. The letter made no mention of his previous role with Alfa Bank.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s probe, has also supported his nomination.