As the frenzy surrounding President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh kicks into high gear this week, the Senate is voted Wednesday to confirm a divisive new director for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.
In late winter 2017, Brian Benczkowski, who now awaits Trump's signature to become the newest assistant attorney general at the DOJ, briefly represented Alfa Bank, a Russian bank with close ties to Russian government officials that media outlets previously reported was a subject of the FBI’s probe of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
No one at Alfa has been charged with wrongdoing, and it is unclear if the bank is still part of any probe.
Leading Democrats in the chamber wrote a letter to the president last week arguing Benczkowski cannot “credibly oversee” the DOJ Criminal Division’s involvement in Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation and the criminal investigation of Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer.
Will Senate Republicans simply rubber stamp this nomination? The Benczkowski vote could mark a pivotal moment in the Russia investigation. The warning signs are clear. Read my letter here: pic.twitter.com/I3FbK26ZMJ— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) July 10, 2018
“Unanswered questions remain about Alfa Bank that should be resolved before the Senate even considers voting to confirm this bank’s lawyer to a top Justice Department position,” the Democratic senators wrote.
But Senate Republicans, who hold a one-vote majority in the chamber, stuck together Wednesday in support of Benczkowski by voting to confirm him, 51-48.
They gained a two-vote cushion after Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who is up for re-election in Trump-friendly West Virginia this November, defected to the GOP side — the only member of either party to break ranks.
Manchin’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
GOP Sen. John McCain, who is home in Arizona, did not vote.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the second-in-command at the DOJ, had repeatedly urged the Senate to stop delaying Benczkowski’s confirmation, saying the 48-year-old lawyer is a “highly qualified” candidate for the job.
“The President nominated a highly qualified lawyer named Brian Benczkowski to serve in that position almost one year ago,” Rosenstein said in a speech to lawyers in New York in May. “But Brian is still awaiting a confirmation vote.”
The Senate confirmed Benczkowski nearly a year and one month after Trump first nominated him last June.