Donald Trump’s pick to lead the US Department of Justice’s criminal division has been approved by the Senate, ending almost 18 months during which the unit did not have a permanent leader.
Brian Benczkowski, who was narrowly approved in a 51-48 vote, is the latest of just a handful of lawyers to have led the criminal division despite having never worked as a prosecutor. A partner at law firm Kirkland & Ellis, he has previously worked as a senior staff member on the Senate Judiciary Committee and chief of staff to the DoJ’s senior leadership during the George W Bush administration.
Mr Benczkowski’s appointment was opposed by Democratic senators who said he was compromised by his role in Kirkland’s representation of Russia’s Alfa-Bank, which came under suspicion after news reports during the 2016 campaign claimed servers at the Trump Organization and the bank were secretly communicating.
He had supervised an investigation into the claims by a cyber security firm hired by Alfa-Bank, which has said it had no relationship with the Trump Organization and said any server activity may have been the result of “an automated email-based campaign to market Trump properties to Alfa-Bank employees”.
His nomination was backed by a bipartisan group of former criminal division chiefs, who called him “smart, fair, honest, and a tireless worker”. His confirmation will mean that a string of positions within the division can now be filled by permanent appointees.
The fraud section, which is responsible for pursuing white collar crime, currently has just two of its nine leadership positions officially filled.