The Senate voted 51-48 on Wednesday to confirm Brian Benczkowski to head the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, ending an 18-month delay in his confirmation, NPR reports. Benczkowski, a Justice Department veteran who held top posts in the George W. Bush administration, languished for months as critics raised questions about his legal work for a Russian bank and his close ties to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “At a time like this — with surging violent crime and an unprecedented drug epidemic — this position is especially important,” Sessions said. (As Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman noted, it is dubious to assert that violent crime is surging.)
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 Senate Judiciary Committee members Richard Durbin of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein of California. 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.