December 18, 2017 / 7:21 PM / 2 months ago

Trump judicial nominee withdraws from consideration

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A lawyer nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as a federal judge withdrew from consideration on Monday after video of his Senate confirmation hearing showing him unable to provide answers to rudimentary legal questions went viral last week.

Trump accepted Matthew Petersen’s offer to withdraw his nomination as a district court judge in Washington, a White House official said.

Petersen, a Republican member of the Federal Election Commission, became the latest of Trump’s judicial nominations to fail as the president seeks to win confirmation of judges who will make the federal judiciary more conservative.

“Just because you’ve seen ‘My Cousin Vinny’ doesn’t qualify you to be a federal judge,” Republican Senator John Kennedy, who grilled Petersen during his Dec. 13 confirmation hearing, told WWL-TV, referring to the 1992 comedy film about a novice lawyer.

Kennedy, who has been critical of some of Trump’s judicial nominees, asked several basic legal questions that Petersen could not answer. The video was shown on cable news shows and widely viewed on the internet.

“While I am honored to have been nominated for this position, it has become clear to me over the past few days that my nomination has become a distraction - and that is not fair to you or your administration,” Petersen wrote in his withdrawal letter to Trump.

“I had hoped that my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television,” Petersen added.

Petersen became the third Trump judicial pick whose nomination foundered in the past week. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said last week Trump’s nominations of Jeff Mateer and Brett Talley would not move forward. Both had faced criticism for controversial statements.

Talley was reported by online magazine Slate as having posted online sympathetic comments about the early history of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) white supremacist group. He also failed to disclose that his wife works in the White House counsel’s office, which overseas judicial nominations.

Mateer ran into trouble over 2015 speeches including one in which he referred to transgender children as being part of “Satan’s plans,” CNN reported.

Despite those setbacks, Trump has made significant progress in filling vacancies on the federal courts with conservative judges, including 12 on the important courts of appeal. He also appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Courts, restoring the high court’s conservative majority.

Reporting by Makini Brice and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham

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