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WASHINGTON (AP) — A Trump judicial nominee whose inability to answer basic legal questions at his confirmation hearing brought him widespread ridicule has withdrawn his nomination, a White House official said Monday.
Matthew Petersen, nominated by President Donald Trump to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, became an internet sensation after the video of his confirmation hearing — during which Petersen was unable to define basic legal terms — was posted online.
In his resignation letter to the president, which was obtained by The Associated Press, Petersen said that while he was honored to have been nominated for the position, “it has become clear to me over the past few days that my nomination has become a distraction — and that is not fair for you or your Administration.”
“I had hoped that my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television,” he went on to say. “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.”
The letter was dated Saturday.
During the confirmation hearing, Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican, pressed Petersen, a member of the Federal Election Commission who testified he had never tried a case, on his qualifications to the bench.
Kennedy said in an interview Monday with WWL-TV in New Orleans that Trump called him Saturday and said he did not personally interview Petersen. Trump, according to Kennedy, said his staff chose the nominees.
“He has told me, ‘Kennedy, when some of my guys send someone who is not qualified, you do your job,’” Kennedy said in the interview.
Kennedy said he had no idea that Petersen lacked the experience for the post.
“Just because you’ve seen ‘My Cousin Vinny’ doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge,” Kennedy said, a reference to the 1992 movie in which an inexperienced lawyer played by Joe Pesci tries — and wins — a big case. “And 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.”
Petersen received an associate degree with high honors from Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University) in 1993. He graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Brigham Young University in 1996. He received a law degree in 1999 from the University of Virginia School of Law.
Associated Press reporter Jill Colvin contributed to this report.