Democratic lawmakers urged President Donald Trump in a letter Wednesday to drop his nominee to lead the Department of Justice's criminal division due to his past work for a Russian bank with ties to President Vladimir Putin.
The group — spearheaded by Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — called on Trump to "withdraw" Brian Benczkowski's nomination, arguing 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 president's longtime personal attorney.
"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. Mr. Benczkowski, who has no prosecutorial experience, does not meet these criteria," the group of Democratic senators wrote. "Simply put, Mr. Benczkowski is not the nominee our country needs at this critical moment.”
Benczkowski, a former Bush administration DOJ official and partner at the Kirkland & Ellis law firm, was nominated by Trump last June. But the process has stalled as he has drawn opposition from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The lawyer disclosed in a letter to lawmakers last July that he had previously represented Alfa Bank, one of the largest financial institutions in Russia. The revelation prompted some Democrats to call on Benczkowski to recuse himself from the DOJ investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 elections, while others flat-out rejected his nomination.
"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."
The bank came under scrutiny in 2016 after it was named in a dossier alleging ties between Trump's presidential campaign and Russian officials. Alfa Bank has denied the allegations and sued legal outlets over their publication of the claims.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris of California, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Chris Coons of Delaware, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Cory Booker of New Jersey, along with Durbin and Blumenthal, signed onto the letter.