Whistleblower raises new questions for appeals court nominee

Senate Democrats want to know if Steven Menashi was involved with Trump’s Ukraine call

Senate Democrats want to know if Steven J. Menashi played a role in the events surrounding President Donald Trump’s controversial call to his Ukrainian counterpart. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee want to know whether one of President Donald Trump’s appeals court nominees played a role in any of the events surrounding his controversial call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Steven Menashi works in the White House counsel’s office and is up for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, based in New York. In a letter Friday, the ten Democratic senators demanded to know if he knew or was involved in the July 25 call now at the center of an impeachment inquiry in the House.

Among the questions the Democrats want Menashi to answer: Did he work or advise on whether the whistleblower complaint could be turned over to Congress, and was he involved in any conversations about how to handle the complaint?

And the Democrats also want to know whether Menashi was involved in the decision, according to the whistleblower, to “lock down” a record of the call on a computer system usually reserved for sensitive national security information.

“As the Senate Judiciary Committee considers your nomination to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, it is vital to understand the work that you have done in the White House Counsel’s Office, including any work related to the matters referenced above,” the Democrats wrote.

Menashi already was among the top targets for progressive groups trying to derail Trump nominees to the federal bench, based on a variety of past writings and statements on issues such as abortion.

[The art of the ask: Foreign aid isn’t a campaign ‘slush fund’]

The whistleblower complaint gives them more ammunition, but it did not name any of the White House lawyers who might have been involved in the issue.

Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice, a liberal advocacy group focused on judicial confirmations, tweeted Thursday that Democrats on Senate Judiciary should insist Menashi reappear before the committee to answer questions about his role in White House lawyers “ordering the cover-up of Trump’s call with Zelenskiy.”

Mike Davis, the founder of The Article III Project that backs Trump’s judicial nominations, indicated that Democrats were reaching with this letter. “That didn’t take long,” he tweeted. “The Democrats have already lost control of their impeachment witch-hunt” against Trump.

White House lawyers discussed how to treat the call, the whistleblower said, “because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain.”

In the call, Trump urged Ukraine to talk to his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr about opening a potential corruption investigation connected to one of Trump’s top political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Democrats say the call shows a president using the Oval Office to advance his personal interests above those of the country.

At a confirmation hearing Sept. 11, Menashi said his role at the White House was to “provide advice to policy advisers to the president.”

House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff indicated Thursday that his probe would look at the White House lawyers.

But there’s not enough information in the complaint to say whether the lawyers acted unethically or illegally in limiting the number of people with access to such a politically explosive document, legal experts said.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.