Matthew Petersen, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, submitted a letter of withdrawal Monday after struggling to answer basic questions about trial procedure at his confirmation hearing.
GOP Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana peppered Petersen with questions relevant to a trial judge’s work during the hearing. Petersen, through stutters and apologies, admitted he did not know the answers to most of the senator’s questions, and also conceded he has never tried a case. The exchanges became a viral embarrassment for the nominee — Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island tweeted a video of the Kennedy-Petersen interchange which was retweeted almost 100,000 times.
“While I am honored to have been nominated for this position, it has become clear to me over the past few days that my nomination has become a distraction — and that is not fair to you or your administration,” he wrote in his letter of withdrawal.
Read the letter:
Kennedy has been especially critical of several Trump nominees from his perch on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He joined Democrats in voting against Greg Katsas’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in November, over concerns about Katsas’s impartiality. Prior to his nomination, Katsas served in the White House Counsel’s office, prompting anxiety about potential bias when judging matters relating to the Trump administration. Kennedy’s objections notwithstanding, Katsas was confirmed.
The senator has also been fiercely critical of the confirmation process, often lamenting that nominees refuse to answer straightforward questions about their legal views.
Speaking to local media Monday morning, Kennedy said he was duty-bound as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure that Petersen is qualified for judicial service.
“Just because you’ve seen ‘My Cousin Vinny’ doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge,” the senator said. “He has no litigation experience, and my job on the Judiciary Committee is to catch him.”
“I would strongly suggest he not give up his day job,” he added.
Petersen has served as a Senate-confirmed commissioner on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) since 2008. He led the agency as chairman from 2010 to 2016. In this capacity, he leads enforcement of federal campaign finance regulations, investigates alleged finance violations, and produces agency guidance relating to campaign finance law. Prior to joining the FEC, he was counsel to the House Committee on Administration, and practiced election law at Wiley Rein LLP. He is a 1999 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law.
He received a “qualified” rating from the American Bar Association’s standing committee on the federal judiciary, which vets nominees to the federal bench.
“I had hope that my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television,” he lamented in his letter.
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