Brian Benczkowski: 8 Things You Need to Know About the New Top Official at the DOJ
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By: Lisa M. Hayes – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
The Senate confirmed a top Justice Department official this week who could help oversee the Trump-Russia investigation. This despite his own troubling connections to Russia and his close ties to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Brian Benczkowski, a former Senate aide to Sessions, was confirmed on a 51-48 vote along party lines to lead the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, a job that could give him sway over special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
What you need to know:
- Benczkowski has virtually new criminal law experience and will be leading the Department of Justice Criminal Prosecutors division.
- In March 2017, Benczkowski took on Alfa Bank as a client. The bank, which is run by oligarchs with close ties to Putin, was part of a strange episode in the Trump-Russia scandal regarding a yet fully explained computer server data share between the Trump campaign and ALFA.
- The Senate does not know if Alfa Bank has been, or still is, under federal criminal investigation, nor do we know the full story behind Alfa Bank’s suspicious contacts with the Trump Organization during the 2016 campaign,
- Benczkowski was an aide to Sessions in the Senate and remains close to the attorney general. He led the Justice Department’s transition after Trump’s election and then asked Sessions for a job as a US attorney.
- During his confirmation hearing, Benczkowski agreed to recuse himself from matters related to Alfa Bank for two years, the minimum required, but declined to promise a recusal from the Russia investigation.
- Democrats fear that Benczkowski could end up as a backchannel to share information about the investigation with the attorney general.
- Benczkowski can replace Rod Rosenstein simply dismiss him and take over the job himself.
- Mueller may have to seek approval for some actions through the same channels that a US attorney would, including from the criminal division.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said, “I don’t think in the history of the department there’s ever been anybody so ill-prepared”. Stating Benczkowski has “barely set foot in a courtroom.” (Benczkowski has never prosecuted a case.) He continues, “So if the obvious reason for why you’d want him there is not evident, then you have to look for less obvious reasons.”
Other Democrats have voiced similar warnings. “The Benczkowski vote could mark a pivotal moment in the Russia investigation,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) tweeted Tuesday, as the vote on the nomination approached. “The warning signs are clear.”
Does this signal serious trouble for the Special Council’s investigation?
Yes. It does.
Is it the beginning of the end?
It’s hard to say. I’m sure the Republicans and the Trump Administration would like to think so. However, it’s likely the momentum of the investigation will make it nearly impossible to walk it all backward in any substantive way. The real litmus test of where we are will happen at the midterms in November because, at the end of the day, the will of the people still runs a democracy, assuming we still have one.
More by Lisa:
Lisa M. Hayes, Senior Editor of Confluence Daily.
Confluence Daily is the one place where everything comes together. The one-stop for daily news for women.