Brian Benczkowski served in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush
He also led the Trump-Pence transition team at the Justice Department
President Donald Trump’s nominee to head up the criminal division at the Justice Department has disclosed to members of the Senate judiciary committee that he previously represented a Russian bank whose computer server activity has been under scrutiny by FBI counterintelligence.
Brian Benczkowski served in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush and is currently a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. 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.
The bank later hired a cybersecurity firm called Stroz Friedberg to investigate unusual computer server activity, and background materials submitted to senators by Viet Dinh, one of Benczkowski’s partners at Kirkland, now show Benczkowski supervised that project.
Dinh, also a former DOJ official, further defended the bank in a letter accompanying the submission to senators.
“Neither the bank nor its owners have had any relationship of any kind with the Trump Organization at any time, including over the past year,” Dinh said. “The bank pledged its full cooperation with government authorities, which continue to examine whether Alfa Bank has been the victim of illegal conduct.”
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, who led the Trump-Pence transition team at the Justice Department, has a longstanding relationship with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He worked as a staff director for Sessions back in 2009 when the then-Republican senator from Alabama served as ranking member of the Senate judiciary committee.
As part of his standard submission to senators, Benczkowski also described his representation of Volkswagen, which was the target of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department under the Obama administration and eventually led earlier this year to a $2.8 billion criminal fine for conspiring to dodge emissions standards and obstruction of justice.
Benczkowski noted that he litigated the Volkswagen case against Andrew Weissmann – former chief of the Criminal Division’s fraud section at DOJ – who left the department to join special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe earlier this year.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.