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Senate Confirms Pick for Justice Department Criminal Division Chief


FILE - Brian Benczkowski, then the Republican staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sits behind the committee's ranking Republican, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., during a committee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 18, 2009.

The Senate voted along party lines Wednesday to confirm a lawyer who briefly represented a Russian bank with ties to the Kremlin to head the Justice Department’s criminal division.

The confirmation of Brian Benczkowski came two days after Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee urged President Donald Trump to pull his nomination, saying Benczkowski’s lack of prosecutorial experience and representation of Alfa Bank disqualified him for the job.

As a partner in the Washington office of the Kirkland & Ellis law firm, Benczkowski, 48, represented Alfa Bank early last year when it was being investigated by the FBI over a series of data transmissions between computer servers linked to the bank and the Trump Organization during the 2016 presidential election.

The data transmissions have not revealed any evidence that Alfa Bank, one of Russia’s largest financial institutions, served as a link between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Nevertheless, the controversy dogged Benczkowski’s nomination.

‘Demonstrated poor judgment’

The 10 Democrats on the judiciary panel wrote in a letter on Monday that Benczkowski “demonstrated poor judgment” by representing Alfa Bank at a time he was under consideration to head the criminal division.

“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 the fight,” they wrote.

Despite Democratic opposition, Benczkowski’s nomination drew support from former Justice Department officials, with five former heads of the criminal division recently urging the Senate to confirm the nod, praising him for his “professional experience, temperament and integrity.”

FILE - Brian Benczkowski, Senate Judiciary committee minority staff director, left, talks with committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 11, 2009.
FILE - Brian Benczkowski, Senate Judiciary committee minority staff director, left, talks with committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 11, 2009.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised Benczkowsi as “an outstanding lawyer with a diverse public service and criminal law background spanning more than 20 years.”

“At a time like this — with surging violent crime and an unprecedented drug epidemic — this position is especially important,” Sessions said in a statement.

Committee work

Before joining Kirkland & Ellis, Benczkowsi served in a number of senior positions on Senate and House committees, as well as in the Justice Department.

The criminal division, one of the Justice Department’s largest units, oversees federal criminal investigations and prosecutions.

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