Third Trump Judicial Pick Withdraws Nomination

Matthew Petersen could not answer basic questions about legal principles

Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-La., asked Matthew Petersen basic questions about litigation that Petersen could not answer. Petersen withdrew his nomination on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Matthew Petersen on Monday withdrew his nomination to be a judge on the federal district court in Washington, less than a week after a video of his confirmation hearing went viral because it showed him unable to answer Sen. John N. Kennedy’s questions on basic litigation principles.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., mocked Petersen’s performance when he posted the video of the nominee stumbling over answers as a “MUST WATCH” in a tweet that concluded “he can’t answer a single one. Hoo-boy.”

That tweet got more than 80,000 retweets and 136,000 likes.

In a withdrawal letter, Petersen cited his past experience on the Federal Election Commission and as a chief counsel to a Senate committee, as well as the American Bar Association ranking him unanimously as qualified.

“I had hoped that my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television,” Petersen wrote in his withdrawal letter. “However, I am no stranger to political realities, and I do not wish to be a continued distraction from the important work of your Administration and the Senate.”

Petersen is the third judicial appointee from President Donald Trump to be tripped up by the confirmation process. 

Last week, Brett Talley, a nominee to be a district judge in Alabama offered to withdraw his nomination. 

Talley had become one of the most controversial judicial nominees for several reasons. He received a unanimous “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association, had no trial experience, wrote a number of controversial blog posts and is just 36 years old. Talley was also criticized because he had failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest because his wife works in the White House.

Talley's withdrawal came one day after Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, revealed he had told the White House to reconsider the nominations of Talley for the Middle District of Alabama and another judicial nominee, Jeff Mateer, for the Eastern District of Texas.

The online magazine Slate dug through posts Talley made on the University of Alabama fan message board TideFans.com — but had not disclosed to the committee — and reported that he aired opinions on controversial topics such as race and abortion. In one post, he defended the early Klu Klux Klan.

The Judiciary committee had already advanced Talley’s nomination on a party-line 11-9 vote to the Senate floor.

A spokesman for Grassley said that revelations of Talley’s statements surfaced only after he was reported out of the Judiciary Committee on Nov. 9.

Mateer’s nomination paperwork has not yet been received by the committee, and no further action is scheduled, the committee spokesman said.

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