Washington, DC – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) led
14 Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees in
asking leaders at the Department of Justice to detail the ethical agreements
binding the newly confirmed head of the Department’s Criminal Division, Brian
Benczkowski. The information would shed light on whether Benczkowski—a
nominee noted as uniquely underqualified, who served as an aide to then-Senator
Jeff Sessions and on the Trump transition team, and who represented a Russian
bank some suspect may have served as a clandestine back channel between Russia
and the Trump Organization—has done enough to insulate himself from potentially
serious conflicts of interest, including those involving Special Counsel Robert
Mueller’s investigation into Russian attacks on the 2016 election.
Joining Whitehouse and Durbin in sending the
letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Assistant Attorney General
for Administration Lee Lofthus are Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne
Feinstein (D-CA), Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), and
Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE),
Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala
Harris (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Jack Reed (D-RI).
Among the senators’ concerns is the potential
for Benczkowski, now privy to details of a broad array of Justice Department
investigations and prosecutions, to access information on the Special Counsel
investigation. They also raise Benczkowski’s commitment to recuse himself
from matters related to the Russian bank linked to the Trump Organization, Alfa
Bank—a recusal that does not encompass the bank’s parent company, Alfa Group
Consortium. Events of the past week illustrate several of the issues with
Benczkowski’s past employment and current position, the senators point out,
suggesting the only remedy is a blanket recusal.
“Without recusal,” the senators write,
“there is a risk that Mr. Benczkowski would have oversight of investigative
steps such as the Special Counsel’s recent request for use immunity for five
witnesses in the SCO’s prosecution of Paul Manafort. Likewise, last
Tuesday, the Department indicted a Russian national, Mariia Butina, for acting
and conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government. . . . Mr.
Benczkowski’s involvement in these actions could, at a minimum, create the
appearance of a conflict or undue influence over these decisions.”
The senators continue, “Given Mr.
Benczkowski’s prior relationship with the Attorney General and his
representation of Alfa Bank—particularly in connection to the Steele Dossier—we
believe Mr. Benczkowski should be recused from all aspects of the Special
Counsel investigation, as well as from all matters related to the Alfa Group
Consortium and its principals. A categorical recusal is the only way for
the Department to ensure public confidence in those and any associated
The Criminal Division is responsible for overseeing
a stable of over 700 criminal attorneys charged with overseeing and prosecuting
high-profile federal cases nationwide. Benczkowski has no prosecutorial
experience and has spent virtually no time in a courtroom.