Trump judicial nominee withdraws after humiliating hearing

A Trump administration judicial nominee who struggled to answer basic questions about courtroom procedure in a viral video clip withdrew his name from consideration on Monday. 

Matthew Petersen, who had been tapped to be a judge on the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, wrote in a letter to President Trump that his nomination had become a “distraction.”   

“I had hoped my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television,” he wrote. “However, I am no stranger to political realities, and I do not wish to be a continued distraction from the important work of your Administration and the Senate.” {mosads}

He is the third of Trump’s judicial nominees to be withdrawn in the last week. 

Petersen was raked over the coals in a cringeworthy exchange last week with Republican Sen. John Kennedy (La.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. 

After Petersen admitted he’s never tried a case, Kennedy told him as a trial judge he’s going to have to deal with witnesses. He then asked him what the “Daubert standard” is.

“I don’t have that readily at my disposal,” Petersen said of a rule regarding expert testimony in federal court.

“Do you know what a ‘motion in limine’ is?” Kennedy asked a moment later, referring to a request to exclude certain evidence in a trial.

Petersen said he hadn’t had time to “do a deep dive,” before later saying that he would “probably not be able to give you a good definition right here at the table.” 

Kennedy in an interview Monday morning on WWL-TV in Louisiana said that Peterson is a “decent guy,” but too inexperienced for the bench. 

“Just because you’ve seen ‘My Cousin Vinny’ doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge,” he said, referring to the 1992 movie starring Joe Pesci. 

Peterson, who is a member of the Federal Election Commission, had been rated “qualified” by the American Bar Association, but “he has no litigation experience and my job on the Judiciary Committee is to catch them,” Kennedy said. 

Kennedy also said that Trump called him over the weekend and expressed support for his work on the Judiciary Committee.

“The president called me the day before yesterday. He doesn’t interview these guys. He has his staff do it and he said, ‘Kennedy, I think you’re right. Number two, Mr. Petersen’s a really smart guy.’ ”

“The president and I get along fine, and he has told me, ‘Kennedy, when some of my guys send somebody over who’s not qualified, you do your job,” he said. 

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the District’s nonvoting representative, criticized the White House for not consulting her on judicial nominations. 

“D.C.’s District Court is one of the most important federal courts in the nation and should be filled with judges who have first-rate qualifications and experience,” she said in a statement. “The White House should learn from this embarrassing moment and, at the very least, extend to District of Columbia residents the courtesy of consulting on nominees to our federal bench here.”

Petersen’s withdrawal came just days after the White House heeded a call from Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to withdraw two other controversial judicial candidates — Brett Talley and Jeff Mateer.

Talley, who was nominated to be a federal judge in Alabama, had never tried a case before in court and was rated “unqualified” by the American Bar Association.

Mateer, meanwhile, drew fierce criticism for past speeches in which he compared homosexuality to bestiality and described transgender children as a part of “Satan’s plan.”

The liberal Alliance for Justice, which has been fighting Trump’s judicial picks, said Petersen was “among many unfit” nominees that have been put forth by this administration. 

“It took the nomination of some egregiously underqualified people to make Senate Republicans begin to push back, but this GOP-led Senate has been rubber-stamping unfit judicial nominees for months now,” Daniel Goldberg, the group’s legal director, said in a statement. 

“It’s time for that irresponsible behavior to stop, and also time for the White House to stop sending up the kind of nominees we’re seeing: individuals with inadequate credentials, open hostility to the rights of fellow Americans, or both.”  

— This story was updated at 4:25 p.m.

Tags Chuck Grassley Donald Trump Eleanor Holmes Norton John Kennedy
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