Thursday, July 12, 2018

That Whole Saturday Night Massacre Thing, Con't

The Senate voted 51-48 on Wednesday to confirm Brian Benczkowski as an assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, ending an 18-month delay in which its Criminal Division operated without a permanent leader.

Benczkowski, a Justice Department veteran who held top posts in the George W. Bush administration, had languished for months as critics raised questions about his legal work for a Russian bank and his close ties to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The attorney general praised Benczkowski on Wednesday after his confirmation was final and called attention to the central role he'll play within the department.

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

Senate Democrats had urged the White House to withdraw the nomination, citing "poor judgment," after Benczkowski acknowledged briefly performing legal work for Alfa Bank, which has ties to Russian government officials, in 2017.

"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 of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein of California, two of the longest-serving Democrats on the Judiciary Committee.

Senate leaders brought the matter to a head this week, voting 51-48 to end debate on the nominee.

Benczkowski has won support from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who said in a speech earlier this year that the nominee was "highly qualified."

Benczkowski has no prosecutorial experience, but he played a major behind-the-scenes role in managing the daily affairs of the Justice Department late in the Bush administration. He also led the transition team at DOJ for the incoming Trump era.

Now, why is this important?

Because the latest Trump regime DoJ org chart states that the number three official at the Justice Department is the head of the Criminal Division.  Behind his former boss Jeff Sessions, and Rod Rosenstein.

Which mean should Rosenstein be fired, Robert Mueller's boss would almost certainly become Benczkowski, a person with no prosecutorial experience whatsoever, somebody already tainted, if not compromised by Russian money laundering, and somebody who worked for Donald Trump's campaign directly. And no, he hasn't said that he would recuse himself should that become the case.

Do we understand the problem now?  Because when Trump tries to fire Rosenstein, he now has the perfect flunky to replace him, ready to go to slow down or even end the Mueller probe.  When the previous number three official at the DoJ, Rachel Brand, announced her resignation in February, I said that her replacement would be expected to swing the axe on Mueller should Rosenstein be fired.  Brand was afraid she'd be asked to oversee the Russia investigation, and that's part of the reason why she resigned.

I said back then that Trump would have time to make a careful selection of somebody already willing to follow his orders on Rosenstein, and even should Trump somehow be talked out of firing Rosenstein, as head of the Criminal Division, Benczkowski could cause serious damage to the investigation through leaks to Trump or by delaying requests from Mueller's office.

The last piece of the puzzle Trump needs to make his move on Rosenstein and Mueller just fell into place.

Stay tuned.

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