President Donald Trump's pick for the Justice Department's No. 3 position has withdrawn her name from consideration after encountering opposition on the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee because of her past membership in a lawyers' group that has supported abortion rights.
Jessie Liu will instead stay on in her current position as the United States attorney for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department said Thursday.
A person familiar with the process said Liu's selection was jeopardized by her involvement more than a decade ago in a legal group, the National Association of Women Lawyers, that filed legal briefs in support of abortion rights and that opposed the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito, a conservative justice.
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Though Liu was a senior official of the lawyers' group at the time of Alito's nomination, she did not sign onto the letter opposing Alito's nomination and instead signed a separate Yale Law School alumni letter in support of him, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the process. Liu said in an interview with the National Review published this month that she "was then and am now a huge admirer of Justice Alito" and that she ultimately resigned from the group as it took left-leaning positions.
Still, Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican who once clerked for Alito on a federal appeals court, made clear his opposition to Liu's nomination, according to the person and the senator's office. Other Republicans on the committee likely would have raised similar concerns, denying her the necessary votes for confirmation.
The associate attorney general position is the third-highest ranking Justice Department job in Washington, responsible for overseeing issues including civil litigation, civil rights, antitrust and environmental matters. Her withdrawal could delay Attorney General William Barr's efforts to assemble a new leadership team around him as he begins implementing his agenda.
"Jessie Liu is one of the finest, most impressive people serving in the Department of Justice," Barr said in a statement. "She has been an outstanding United States Attorney and would have made an outstanding Associate Attorney General. I have zero doubt she would have faithfully executed my priorities and advanced my rule-of-law agenda."
He appointed Liu to serve as chairwoman of a committee of U.S. attorneys that advises him.
As top federal prosecutor in the nation's capital, Liu will continue overseeing some of the matters referred to her office by special counsel Robert Mueller during his recently concluded investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Those include a subpoena issued to an unidentified company owned by a foreign government. The Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from the company, which for months has refused to turn over documents demanded by Mueller's team.
The first associate attorney general in the Trump administration, Rachel Brand, left her position after less than a year.