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DOJ nominee grilled over relationship with Alfa Bank

(CNN)President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s criminal division told a Senate panel at his confirmation hearing Tuesday that if confirmed he would recuse himself for at least two years from any department matter that overlapped with his previous work as an attorney for the Russian bank Alfa Bank.

“I would be recused from any matter involving Alfa Bank for the first two years of my tenure in the department if I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed,” Brian Benczkowski told the Senate judiciary committee. “With respect to this particular matter, this investigation that we conducted for Alfa Bank, if the subject matter of that investigation in some way comes before me in the criminal division at any point in my tenure I want to be clear, I will recuse from that completely.”
On Monday, he told senators in a letter obtained by CNN that he specifically disclosed his law firm’s representation of Alfa Bank in connection with completing his SF-86 security clearance form.
    Questions about the bank’s activity first arose last year when a group of computer scientists raised concerns about internet records that showed that Alfa Bank servers repeatedly looked up the unique internet address of a Trump Organization computer server in the United States.
    Authorities never alleged any wrongdoing on the bank’s part and the bank denied any misconduct, but Benczkowski said he nevertheless obtained permission from his former client to discuss the fact and scope of his representation with senators at his confirmation hearing Tuesday.
    Benczkowski took a grilling for his relationship with Alfa Bank, as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy asked the nominee whether he was hired to interfere with the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian interference with the US election led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
    “Absolutely not, senator, and if I were asked to do anything like that I would steadfastly refuse,” said Benczkowski, who ran the Trump transition team at the Justice Department.
    Benczkowski also committed to consult with the Justice Department career ethics officials regarding any further elements of the Mueller investigation that appeared before him, and any department matters related to Alfa Bank after his two-year obligation lapsed, consistent with Justice Department protocol with DOJ regulations for incoming employees from private practice.
    Benczkowski said he supported Mueller’s investigation, though he admitted he was unsure what his official intersection with the probe would be if confirmed. Benczkowski said he did not believe Mueller was on a witch hunt, as Trump has repeatedly and publicly referred to the DOJ probe, and called Mueller “a man of integrity” and “far from” a partisan hack. Benczkowski said he had not been asked by administration officials to commit to not recuse himself, or to take a loyalty pledge.
    Trump told The New York Times last week that if he had known Sessions would recuse himself, then he would not have picked him for that job. Benczkowski also expressed his support for Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
    “I have every confidence that he reviewed the facts, he applied the law and he made the right decision for the department on that basis,” he said.
    Benczkowski detailed a conversation he had with then-Sen. Sessions during the transition period about then-FBI Director James Comey.
    Comey “had made several mistakes in the course of handling (the Clinton) investigation,” specifically “in converting his role as FBI director to that of a prosector,” Benczkowski said he told Sessions.
    “I gave (Sessions) my views and he absorbed them, he didn’t react to them,” Benczkowski said in response to a question from the committee’s top Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein about Comey’s firing.

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