Tags: Russia | Russia Probe | Trump Administration | US | Senate | Justice Nominee

Senate Confirms Justice Official Who Worked for Russian Bank

Senate Confirms Justice Official Who Worked for Russian Bank
Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski (Harry Hamburg/AP)

By    |   Wednesday, 11 July 2018 04:44 PM

The Senate confirmed President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Justice Department's criminal division Wednesday, despite concerns about his work for a leading Russian bank with ties to Vladimir Putin.

The Senate voted 51-48 to approve Brian Benczkowski to be an assistant attorney general, with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the only Democrat to support the nomination, The Hill reported.

The nomination of Benczkowski, a Justice Department veteran who held top posts in the George W. Bush administration and served as an aide to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, had languished for 18 months, with Democrats asserting his Russian ties to Alfa Bank could complicate special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation — and that he lacked federal courtroom experience.

"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 that fight," wrote Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., two of the longest-serving Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, NPR reported.

After the confirmation, Durbin said it "could prove to be a historic mistake," The Hill reported.

Attorney General Sessions praised the confirmation.

"At a time like this — with surging violent crime and an unprecedented drug epidemic — this position is especially important," he said, per NPR.

Benczkowski first disclosed to lawmakers last year that he used to represent Alfa Bank, one of Russia's largest financial institutions, saying he was initially unable to reveal his former work because of a confidentiality agreement.

The FBI investigated Alfa Bank after it found one of the servers linked to the bank was communicating with a server tied to the Trump Organization. The FBI later found the communications were not between the Trump campaign and Russia, The Hill noted.

Benczkowski's bid for assistant attorney general got a boost in May, when a bipartisan group of lawyers who ran the criminal division called on lawmakers to vote.

"Those who know Mr. Benczkowski understand that he has proven himself over his many years of service to be a thoughtful and effective leader, and someone who has earned the respect and admiration of the career attorneys in the department," wrote former Criminal Division chiefs Lanny Breuer, Leslie Caldwell, Michael Chertoff, Alice Fisher, and Mythili Raman, NPR reported.

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The Senate voted 51-48 to approve Brian Benczkowski to be an assistant attorney general, with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the only Democrat to support the nomination, according to The Hill.
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Wednesday, 11 July 2018 04:44 PM
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