Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions

Steven Menashi, a nominee for the influential 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, sparked frustration from lawmakers in both parties on Wednesday for declining to answer questions, including about his work in the Trump White House. 
 

Menashi tangled with Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Dick Durbin (Ill.) and GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and John Kennedy (La.), who at times appeared frustrated as they tried to get Menashi to discuss his legal thinking or his work on issues like immigration.

 
Kennedy warned Menashi, as he tried to get him to weigh in on a hypothetical, that “I don’t want you dodging my questions.”

“You’re really a smart guy but I wish you would be more forthcoming. This isn’t supposed to be a game. We’re supposed to try to understand not how you’re going to rule but how you’re going to think,” he said. 
 
When Menashi offered to answer a follow up question, Kennedy noted that he was “out of time.”  
 
“You took a lot of it by not answering my questions,” he said.
 

Menashi also got pushback from Feinstein and Durbin when they tried to find out what immigration policies Menashi worked on in the White House counsel’s office. Menashi is a special assistant and senior associate counsel to the president.

 

“My role was to provide advice to policy advisers to the president. I did sometimes provide advice … on issues related to immigration, and he was a policy adviser to the president,” Menashi told Feinstein after she asked about his role in an immigration group and if the group was led by Stephen Miller.

 

Asked who else was in the group, Menashi said it wasn’t “appropriate … as an attorney here today to reveal the particulars.”

 
When Feinstein asked what issues he worked on while in the White House counsel’s office, Menashi didn’t provide specifics. Feinstein then asked if Menashi worked or advised on the Trump administration’s family administration or refugee policies, but he similarly declined to go into details on his work. 
 
“I have provided advice to policymakers within the White House on many policy issues including immigration but I can’t, consistent with my duty of confidentiality to the White House, talk about particular instances on which I worked,” Menashi said.  
 

Feinstein argued that previous nominees were able to talk about their work in the White House. She specifically pointed to Gregory Katsas, a judge on the court of appeals for the D.C. circuit, who previously served in the White House counsel’s office. 

 

Menashi noted that in Katsas’s case an agreement was reached on his testimony.

 
After the back and forth between Feinstein and Menashi, Graham defended Trump’s nominee arguing that his Democratic counterpart was not being fair. 
 
“We all have lawyers. Do you want them to be able to talk about what advice they gave you? Maybe so, but you should be at least consulted before that question is asked,” Graham said. 
 
“You had a chance to do it and you didn’t do it. … What you’re doing here is not fair. You had a lot of time to talk to us. … We’ll hold it open for written questions, but there’s no game being played here,” Graham added. 

 
But Graham also defended questions by Durbin who had asked Menashi what policies he worked on. When Menashi began to say he worked on immigration, Graham interrupted to press him again.
 

“I’m not asking you to talk about what you did, in terms of legal advice, but did you work on the topic? That’s all,” Graham said.

 
“I think it is important that you tell us what you worked on,” Graham said.
 

Menashi has sparked fierce backlash from Democrats and their outside group allies over his writings on the Muslim community and his work in the Trump administration. Protesters outside of the committee room could be heard as Menashi gave his opening statement. 

 
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Menashi’s home state senators, have both pledged to oppose his nomination.
 

“His confirmation to the federal judiciary would threaten the rights of millions of Americans, and we strongly urge our colleagues to oppose the Menashi nomination,” Schumer and Gillibrand said in a joint statement.

Written by Alan Smith

Alan Smith

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