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Bipartisan Group Of DOJ Veterans Calls For Confirmation Of Nominee

Senate Judiciary Committee Minority Staff Director Brian Benczkowski (left) talks with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.on June 11, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Harry Hamburg

Democrats and Republicans who have led the Justice Department's criminal division are writing to Congress to push for a vote on the Trump administration's nominee for the post.

The five former government officials are urging senators to advance the nomination of Brian Benczkowski, whom they praise for his "professional experience, temperament and integrity." The officials said Benczkowski respects the Justice Department and "will work hard to protect the independence and integrity of this important institution."

Earlier his month, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee urged the White House to back away from the nominee. That's after lawmakers from both political parties had expressed concern about Benczkowski's work in private practice on behalf of Alfa Bank, a Russian institution that had come under scrutiny from FBI investigators.

At his confirmation hearing last year, Benczkowski testified he had performed only a few billable hours worth of work for the bank at the behest of one of his law partners at Kirkland & Ellis. Alfa Bank had come onto the radar of the FBI after experts suggested its computer server had pinged a Trump Organization server.

The bank has not been charged with any wrongdoing. And Benczkowski has pledged to recuse himself from any matter involving the bank, if he is confirmed.

The Judiciary Committee voted his nomination out of committee along party lines, 11-9, in September 2017. But the nomination has stalled since that time.

Benczkowski, 48, previously worked in senior management roles at the Justice Department, including its Office of Legal Policy; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and as a top aide to the attorney general and the deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration.

"Those who know Mr. Benczkowski understand that he has proven himself over his many years of service to be a thoughtful and effective leader, and someone who has earned the respect and admiration of the career attorneys in the department," wrote former criminal division chiefs Lanny Breuer, Leslie Caldwell, Michael Chertoff, Alice Fisher, and Mythili Raman.

The current DOJ leadership team has urged the Senate to fill vacant posts, including the criminal division job.

In a speech Monday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pointed out only two of seven litigating units inside the Justice Department have Senate-confirmed nominees. Rosenstein noted that some of the nominees, including Benczkowski, have waited for an entire year for a floor vote.

"It is an odd way to run a government," Rosenstein said.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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