Trump’s pick for No. 3 Justice Department post withdraws after Republican objects

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s pick to serve as the third-ranking official in the U.S. Justice Department, Jessie Liu, withdrew from consideration on Thursday after at least one Republican lawmaker objected to her past involvement with a women’s legal group, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.

United States Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie Liu speaks during a news conference to discuss “efforts to reduce violent crime” at the Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., December 15, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Liu will instead serve as an adviser to Attorney General William Barr and remain in her job as the top federal prosecutor in Washington, spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.

“Jessie will be an integral part of our leadership at the Department,” Barr said in a statement.

Liu served on Trump’s presidential transition team and was unanimously confirmed in 2017 by the Senate to serve as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, the largest federal prosecutors’ office in the United States.

Trump said earlier this month he intended to nominate Liu to be associate attorney general – a job that involves overseeing the department’s civil litigation, including antitrust matters, civil rights, and environmental law.

But Republican Senator Mike Lee opposed her nomination due to concerns that she did not oppose abortion, Lee’s spokesman Conn Carroll said. Republicans, who generally oppose a woman’s right to abortion, hold a narrow 12-10 majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and without Lee’s support they would have had a difficult time securing a confirmation vote in the Senate.

Liu served as vice president and president-elect of the National Association of Women Lawyers in 2005-2006, when the group opposed the nomination of conservative Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court and filed legal briefs supporting abortion rights, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Liu told the conservative National Review earlier this month that she supported Alito’s nomination and left the group because she disagreed with its political positions.

“While we believe criticisms of Jesse are unfair, she did not want her nomination to become a distraction for the Attorney General at this critical time for the Department,” Kupec said.

Liu’s office declined comment. The National Association of Women Lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Liu’s decision leaves the department’s leadership in flux as Attorney General William Barr is facing pressure from Capitol Hill to release Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and any Trump campaign ties to Moscow.

The department’s No. 2 official, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, has announced his departure, and the No. 3 spot has been unfilled for more than a year.

Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Additional reporting by David Morgan; editing by Grant McCool

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