Justice Dept. pick could face questions on Russian bank ties

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's pick for a top Justice Department post could face questions during a Tuesday Senate confirmation hearing about his work for a leading Russian bank with ties to President Vladimir Putin.

In a letter sent ahead of the hearing, Attorney Brian Benczkowski, tapped to lead the department's criminal division, told members of Congress he previously represented Alfa Bank, which drew attention last year after U.S. news media widely reported a possible server connection between the bank and the Trump Organization. The bank says it was targeted by hackers who created a fake cyber trail to suggest extensive links with businesses owned by Trump.

But with scrutiny intensifying over possible coordination between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee could grill Benczkowski about his work for the bank. Predicting their interest, Benczkowski told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee he got a confidentiality agreement waived so he could discuss "the fact and scope of the representation" at the hearing, according to the letter sent to the committee and obtained by The Associated Press.

The New York Times first reported the connection Monday. Benczkowski is a partner at Kirkland & Ellis law firm, which represents clients around the world. In a separate letter to the Judiciary Committee, another of the firm's partners said news media reports insinuating Alfa Bank was part of a Russian scheme to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election were "plainly outlandish."

"As the victim of an apparent malicious hoax, Alfa Bank remains eager to get to the bottom of the false allegations against it and stands ready to assist the Committee and all other government authorities as needed," the partner, Viet D. Dinh wrote

Attached were reports from a pair of outside cybersecurity firms that found "no evidence of substantive contact" between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization last year. Benczkowski supervised one of the independent probes, Dinh said.

Benczkowski, 47, was a Justice Department official during the Bush administration who later served as Republican staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee under then-Sen. Jeff Sessions. He helped manage Trump's transition team for the Justice Department, something he said he is prepared to discuss.

"I will endeavor to answer your questions on that subject to the best of my ability and consistent with my ethical obligations," he wrote in the letter.


Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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