Joni Ernst Faces Big Test On Controversial, Ukraine-Questioned Nominee

Ernst photo via U.S. Embassy Kyiv. Menashi photo via George Mason University

Sen. Joni Ernst may finally have to speak or take a vote on the situation involving Donald Trump and Ukraine.

Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on whether to advance the nomination of Steven Menashi. His nomination to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has faced controversy already, but new issues have arisen in the wake of news about Trump and Ukraine.

Menashi is currently a lawyer for the White House, and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee sent him questions in late September about his knowledge and involvement with the whistleblower complaint and the phone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine.

Menashi never answered them.

Ernst and Ukraine

Since news broke about the President pressuring a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent, Ernst has been careful when talking about the Trump administration and Ukraine.

She didn’t answer a question about whether it’s appropriate for presidents to ask foreign powers to investigate political opponents. And for a long time, she said she hadn’t read the whistleblower’s complaint or the administration’s transcript of the phone call.

When she did, Ernst said, “Just based on its face value, I don’t think there’s anything there, per se.”

But Ernst cares about foreign policy and supporting American allies.

In 2015, she said she was disappointed German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposed sending weapons to Ukraine.

“I found that very disheartening, because here is a people that they have proven that they are willing to stand up, fight for their country. They are putting their own lives on the line,” Ernst said at the time.

Ukraine is still fighting Russia, though the conflict has cooled a bit since it started in 2014. More than 10,000 have died in the conflict sparked by Russia’s invasion into the country, according to the United Nations.

But Ernst hasn’t said anything about Trump withholding military aid unless Ukrainian President Zelensky didn’t investigate Joe Biden.

Earlier in October, Ernst did say the whistleblower should be protected, joining Sen. Chuck Grassley.

The Problem With Menashi

Some groups have also come out to say Menashi isn’t fit for a federal judgeship.

In September, court advocacy group Demand Justice called for a new hearing for Menashi.

“The demand comes after a whistleblower complaint has revealed that unnamed ‘White House lawyers’ directed administration officials to remove the full transcript of the call with Ukrainian President Zelensky from the computer system used to store such files,” the group wrote in a press release.

The group said that, as a White House lawyer who advises the president’s senior staff, Menashi could have been involved in that.

The executive vice president for People of the American Way, Marge Baker, also issued a press release calling for the Judiciary Committee not to allow Menashi’s nomination, in light of his behavior in his first hearing and refusal to respond to the Senate Democrats’ questions about Ukraine.

“United States senators have a solemn obligation to fully vet the women and men nominated to serve on the federal bench,” Baker wrote. “A nominee who dodges questions as if the confirmation process were a game is thwarting a key component of the balance of powers that protects our constitutional government. Acquiescing to such disdain would diminish the Senate and disserve our democracy.”

Maybe more convincing for the Iowa Senator, students at Iowa Law wrote a letter for Ernst and Grassley, urging them not to confirm Menashi. Tomorrow’s vote would only advance his nomination to the Senate for a confirmation vote.

The law students cited Menashi’s refusal to answer questions about his role regarding the call with Ukraine, along with the other items that made him a controversial nominee.

“The federal judiciary is supposed to be impartial, and apolitical. Such a political actor has no role on the bench,” the students wrote.

The letter was signed by over 70 students.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, also up for a difficult reelection fight in 2020, just announced she would vote against Menashi.

Tomorrow’s vote on Menashi could be Ernst’s chance to hold the administration accountable about its conduct involving Ukraine. It’s just a “yes” or “no” question.


by Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 10/23/19

2 Comments on "Joni Ernst Faces Big Test On Controversial, Ukraine-Questioned Nominee"

  • “Tomorrow’s vote on Menashi could be Ernst’s chance to hold the administration accountable about its conduct involving Ukraine.”
    Seriously? Why should we expect her to show any spine for this when she hasn’t shown one previously?

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