Ads use Ukraine scandal, urging Murkowski to reject a Trump judicial pick

The East Plaza of the U.S. Capitol. Photo: Liz Ruskin.

WASHINGTON – The House impeachment inquiry into President Trump is spreading – across issues, across the Capitol and, in a new social media campaign, all the way to Alaska. 

A liberal advocacy group is leveraging the Ukraine scandal in ads that target Alaskans. Their aim is to drum up constituent messages to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, urging her to vote no on a Trump judicial nominee. The group, Demand Justice, argues it will be Murkowski’s first vote on impeachment.

“Steven Menashi’s confirmation vote will make clear whether Murkowski is willing to lift a finger to get to the bottom of the Ukraine scandal,” said Demand Justice Chief Counsel Christopher Kang.

Menashi, a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, works at the White House counsel’s office. That office figures in the whistleblower complaint that kicked off the impeachment inquiry, but Menashi hasn’t said whether he played any role in trying to suppress the complaint, or in the phone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine that’s at the heart of it.

“I think that if he has any role in covering up Trump’s impeachable offenses, he certainly should not be a judge trying to rule on the rule of law every day,” Kang said.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee sent Menashi a letter more than a month ago asking whether he was involved with the decision to move a record of the call to a classified computer or attempted to suppress the whistleblower complaint that kicked off the impeachment inquiry. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said Menashi ignored the questions. 

“He didn’t cite any privilege,” Leahy said Thursday. “He didn’t even provide the courtesy of responding.”

Democrats have other complaints about Menashi. They say he wrote controversial things in college. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Menashi was not forthcoming with the committee.

“And he’s written some really weird stuff,” Graham said.

But Graham said what Democrats are really holding against him is that he’s a Trump administration lawyer, and he has advocated for policies the Democrats don’t like. 

The American Bar Association rated Menashi as “well qualified.”

The Demand Justice ad campaign is narrowly focused on Menashi’s silence about ties, if they exist, to the Ukraine scandal. Kang, who worked on judicial nominations in the Obama White House, says it’s unusual for a nominee to avoid written questions entirely. 

“Actually, I expected him to answer fairly quickly and to have very clear answers, and the fact that he’s been unable to or refused to answer really leads us to conclude that he may have had something to do with this,” Kang said.

Murkowski hasn’t said how she’ll vote on Menashi. Her spokeswoman said she’s looking into him, as she does with every nominee.

Advocacy groups often target her because she is one of the Republicans senators most likely to break from her party. But she has a near-perfect record of voting to confirm Trump’s judicial nominees, with one major exception: Justice Brett Kavanaugh. 

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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