Alfa Bank Lawyer Confirmed As Boss Of DOJ Crimes. SURE, WHY NOT?
Sorry if that GIF is giving you a seizure, but yesterday the Senate confirmed a guy with no prosecutorial experience and ties to the bank smack in the middle of the Russia investigation to head the DOJ's Criminal Division which supervises the Russia investigation! The house is burning, and we are all the dog.
Brian Benczkowski looks like your standard-issue jowly GOP hack with questionable facial hair. But look closer, because this hack is special!
Benczkowski held several positions at the Bush DOJ managing the Department's relationship with Congress, although he's never tried a criminal case. He is, however, a loyal Republican who earned his stripes working for Jeff Sessions, Pete Domenici, and Rep. James Sensenbrenner. And if that's not qualification enough, Benczkowski did substantial volunteer work with the Trump transition team -- including discussing whether or not FBI Director James Comey should be fired. Unfortunately, he was missing the one all-important resume-item for every Trump nominee: A PERSONAL CONNECTION TO THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION. Naturally, Benczkowski set out to beef up his CV, ASAP!
Benczkowski had been a partner in the white collar crime division at Kirkland & Ellis since leaving government service in 2010. Lucky for Benczkowski, Kirkland represents Russia's Alfa Bank, which sued Buzzfeed for publishing the Steele Dossier allegations of collusion between Trump, Putin and Alfa's owners. Could this be his big chance to prove his loyalty to The Donald? Maaaaybe!
Because, in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign, the New York Times was investigating the weirdass server in the basement of Trump Tower that seemed to communicate exclusively with Alfa Bank, and Benczkowski was just the guy to loudly proclaim it a hoax! (And it seemed to have worked on the New York Times, anyway.) As Slate revealed, and the New York Times most certainly did not, the server in New York magically shut down when Times reporters started asking questions in Russia.
The Times hadn't yet been in touch with the Trump campaign—Lichtblau spoke with the campaign a week later—but shortly after it reached out to Alfa, the Trump domain name in question seemed to suddenly stop working. When the scientists looked up the host, the DNS server returned a fail message, evidence that it no longer functioned. Or as it is technically diagnosed, it had "SERVFAILed." (On the timeline above, this is the moment at the end of the chronology when the traffic abruptly spikes, as servers frantically attempt to resend rejected messages.) The computer scientists believe there was one logical conclusion to be drawn: The Trump Organization shut down the server after Alfa was told that the Times might expose the connection. Weaver told me the Trump domain was "very sloppily removed." Or as another of the researchers put it, it looked like "the knee was hit in Moscow, the leg kicked in New York."
Four days later, on Sept. 27, the Trump Organization created a new host name, trump1.contact-client.com, which enabled communication to the very same server via a different route.
Is that weird?
In another mighty coincidence, Benczkowski was tasked with giving Alfa a clean bill of health on their suspicious transactions with the Trump server. So he hired cybersecurity experts to do an independent investigation -- ahem, cough cough, eye roll -- and they sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee denouncing the story as an "apparent malicious hoax." But how thorough was that independent investigation? Well, the Times reported,
But Mandiant's investigation of Alfa Bank was, at best, cursory. According to people familiar with Mandiant's review, its experts were shown largely metadata, the information that travels along with a message, for the communications that took place. The contents of the messages — if there were any — were not available.
Oh yeah, and Benczkowski sent a letter too, and it says "Mandiant ain't find anything if you define 'anything' as 'substantive contact such as emails or financial links.'" But wait, what the hell was Benczkowski doing giving a whitewash to the Russia investigation if he was planning to go work at the Justice Department? Isn't that a massive conflict?
Naturally, Benczkowski has a good explanation for his decision to work on the Alfa case and it is that, in all the time he spent with the Trump transition team, none of his good buddies mentioned the possibility of his going to work for the administration. His nomination in June 2017 was a TOTAL SURPRISE.
Yeah, he's really going with that one. Per NYT,
Mr. Benczkowski said that he accepted a law firm partner's request in March that he help represent Alfa Bank in part because he understood that suspicions about illicit contacts with the Trump Organization were "inaccurate," noting also that it was not certain at the time that the administration would offer him any job.
Still, under questioning from Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, he also said that in hindsight he should have declined.
"I wouldn't have undertaken the representation had I known at the time I was going to be the nominee to head the criminal division," he said.
And Benczkowski won't commit to recusing himself from anything related to the Russia investigation because ... LOL NOTHING MATTERS. Plus, you know, Trump gets all pissy when people follow conflict-of-interest regulations.
Benczkowski was confirmed yesterday by a 51-48 vote, with one Democrat (whose name rhymes with Moe Janchin) supporting him. THIS IS FINE.
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[Slate / Letter to Judiciary Committee / NYT / NYT, again]
Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.