Trump Pick for Deputy AG Defends Qualifications

WASHINGTON (CN) – Facing several hours of questions from senators on Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve in the second highest position at the Justice Department defended his experience and record on environmental issues.

The official portrait in Washington of Deputy Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Rosen. President Donald Trump has nominated Rosen to be the next deputy attorney general. (Photo via Department of Transportation)

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee spent more than two hours questioning Jeffrey Rosen, whom Trump has tapped to replace Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general at the Justice Department.

Rosen currently serves as deputy secretary at the Department of Transportation, having also served in the George W. Bush administration as general counsel at the Office of Management and Budget. Rosen also worked in the same position at the Department of Transportation from 2003 to 2006 and has done two stints at the Washington, D.C., law firm Kirkland & Ellis.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., expressed concerns that Rosen has never served as a prosecutor, given one of his roles if confirmed would be to oversee the work of U.S. attorneys. She said this lack of experience could leave him ill-prepared to prevent political influence from seeping into law enforcement work.

“My big concern is that because Mr. Rosen has never before served as a prosecutor, he may not have that same knowledge of those practices and those precedents,” Feinstein said Wednesday.

Rosen said he would take advantage of the “highly capable” prosecutors and experts in criminal law at the Department of Justice to make sure he is as prepared as possible to oversee this area of the department.

“I take very seriously the fact that there are aspects of criminal law and criminal procedure that are somewhat different and have very important ramifications because we are ultimately talking about the depravation of an individual’s liberty and, in the extreme situation, their lives and that is a very serious and important task that prosecutors do,” Rosen said.

Rosen also said he would not let political pressure influence his decision-making, especially when dealing with cases in federal prosecutors’ offices. Senators were particularly interested in whether Rosen would allow federal prosecutions that spun off from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to continue.

“If I am confirmed I would expect in all criminal investigations and prosecutorial matters that they proceed on their facts and the law and not with any external political influences,” Rosen said.

Democrats also questioned Rosen’s record on environmental issues, including the Treasury Department’s efforts to pause increases in fuel economy requirements.

E&E News reported in July that Rosen was one of the top advocates for the effort, which the agency put forward in a proposed rule in August.

Rosen told senators Wednesday his involvement in the rule was more “managerial,” ensuring his team was hitting deadlines, considering appropriate criteria and accounting for the Trump administration’s policy priorities.

Rosen also noted the proposed rule kept mandatory increases that have already been implemented. He told Feinstein he would work with her on new fuel standards legislation if he is confirmed. 

In addition to the fuel standard requirement, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said he was worried about Rosen’s involvement in the George W. Bush administration’s efforts to nix Environmental Protection Agency regulations on emissions from cars and power plants. E&E News reported in 2008 that Rosen was one of the top officials making the push to quash the regulations.

In response, Rosen said some of the claims Whitehouse made about his record were “fake news,” though he said he did not have time to go through the claims one-by-one.

After Rosen’s lengthy testimony, the committee heard from three judicial nominees: Jeffrey Brown, who is up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas; Brantley Starr, who is nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas; and Stephanie Haines, who is up for a spot on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was the only senator to ask questions of the nominees, probing their views of the role of a judge and their understanding of originalism – the principle that the meaning of the Constitution’s text is fixed to when it was enacted and cannot be changed unless amended.

While the committee received testimony from a trio of Trump judicial nominees Wednesday, the full Senate spent a portion of the day confirming two federal district court nominees, one to a seat in Indiana and one to a spot on a court in Texas.

Both Holly Brady and David Morales took advantage of a rules change Senate Republicans pushed through last week to speed up consideration of President Trump’s nominees, with each clearing a procedural vote and receiving confirmation in the same day.

Brady has worked at the Fort Wayne, Indiana firm Haller & Colvin since 2007, specializing in employment litigation. Before joining the firm, Brady worked at Theisen Bowers & Brady, having moved there after spending time at the firm Barnes & Thornburg.

While her practice now primarily involves representing companies in employment disputes, she represented employees earlier in her career, including handling the case of a blind man who sued Walmart for employment discrimination.

Brady earned confirmation to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the NorthernDistrict of Indiana with a 56-42 vote on Wednesday afternoon.

The Senate later confirmed Morales to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas with a 56-41 vote.

Morales has worked since 2016 as a partner at the Austin firm Kelly Hart & Hallman and is a veteran of the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Morales started as a law clerk in the office, eventually rising to the level of deputy first assistant attorney general in 2010.

He later served as general counsel to former Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Morales approved a state investigation into Trump University in 2009, though the investigation was dropped after the future president’s venture agreed to suspend its work in the state.

In an article in the Houston Chronicle in June 2016, Morales pushed back against allegations that the investigation ended because of political considerations, saying getting Trump University’s commitment to close up shop in the state was the ultimate goal of the inquiry.

“I am proud that our Consumer Protection Division was able to get Trump University to immediately and permanently leave the state of Texas,” Morales wrote. “Their good work served our Texas consumers well.”

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