Appeals court nominee won’t answer questions about role in White House immigration policies

Steven Menashi says there was no agreement between White House counsel’s office and Senate Democrats to allow him to give details

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, pressed the White House’s nominee for a seat on a federal appeals court on his role in the administration’s immigration policies. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump’s nominee for a lifetime seat on the federal appeals court based in New York told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that he cannot discuss his role in developing the administration's immigration policy.

Steven Menashi, who works in the White House counsel’s office, has been among the top targets for progressive groups trying to derail Trump nominees to the federal bench, citing a variety of past writings and statements.

At a Wednesday morning confirmation hearing an exchange between Menashi and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California saw Menashi confirm that he had spoken with senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller, but repeatedly declined to talk about specifics.

“My role was to provide advice to policy advisers to the president. I did sometimes provide advice on issues, among many issues, on issues related to immigration,” he said. “He was policy adviser to the president.”

Feinstein pressed for the names of other advisers, as well as any role he might have had in developing the Trump administration policy that has promoted family separation of migrants, particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I have provided advice to policymakers within the White House on many policy issues including immigration, but I can’t, consistent with my duty of confidentiality to the White House, talk about particular, you know, particular instances on which I worked,” Menashi testified.

Menashi then responded in a similar fashion when Feinstein asked about legal advice he may have given related to restrictions on refugee admissions.

“I’ve been on this committee for 26 years, seen a lot of nominees. No one has ever used, ‘Well, I’m not authorized to talk about it,’” Feinstein responded.

That led to a back-and-forth about prior nominations and “processes of accommodation” where nominees were cleared to testify about internal proceedings at the White House counsel’s office, which Menashi said had yet to take place with his nomination.

Both Feinstein and Menashi then cited the confirmation process for Gregory Katsas, now a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where such an agreement was reached for testify. Katsas had previously served in the White House counsel’s office.

After that exchange, Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham asserted that what Feinstein was doing was “not fair” to Menashi. He said that the Judiciary Committee Democrats could have reached out to the White House ahead of time in order to get similar clearance to what was granted for Katsas.

“Let me just remind the committee, we all have lawyers. Do you want them to be able to talk about what advice they gave you? Maybe so, but you should be at least consulted before that question is asked,” the South Carolina Republican told the Democrats on the committee. “You had a chance to do it. You didn't do it.”

“We’ll hold it open for written questions, but there’s no game being played here. If you were my lawyer and you got nominated ... to be a judge, I’d like to have some idea about what you're going to be asked about because there is a relationship here,” Graham said.

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