The record speed at which President Donald Trump’s administration is reshaping the federal judiciary by pushing a cavalcade of far-right nominees is creating a challenge for media outlets, many of which devote little coverage to the topic. The latest far-right nominee who hopes to fly under the radar is Steven Menashi, a White House official who published unhinged writings attacking diversity and efforts to decrease campus sexual assault, and who stonewalled his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing to an extraordinary extent yesterday.
Menashi, a special assistant and associate counsel to the president who previously worked as acting general counsel at the Department of Education under Betsy DeVos, was nominated on August 14 for a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. As HuffPost senior politics reporter Jennifer Bendery noted, “Within minutes of the White House formally submitting Menashi’s nomination to the Senate late Monday afternoon, the Senate Judiciary Committee added his name to its agenda for a Wednesday hearing” on September 11, which is “an incredibly fast turn-around for a judicial nominee.”
Menashi’s nomination and subsequent hearing have received scant attention in many corners of mainstream press. For example, according to a search of Nexis, Menashi has not been mentioned on ABC, NBC, or CBS, the commercial broadcast networks that air weekday nightly news shows and Sunday political talk shows.
On cable news, Menashi has received the most substantial coverage from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who broadcast a lengthy August 15 segment on a paper Menashi wrote lauding ethnonationalism as well as a segment about him the evening of September 11 after the hearing. MSNBC also ran a September 12 news story on the hearing. Menashi’s inflammatory writings were raised twice on CNN -- on August 18 by a guest and on August 23 in a news headline -- and only briefly on Fox News, where a guest criticized Maddow’s segment during the August 23 broadcast of The Ingraham Angle, according to a review of Nexis transcripts and transcripts searches in Snapstream and IQ Media's video databases.
Additionally, Menashi has been mentioned by The New York Times only twice: He was defended in a September 4 opinion column by conservative writer Ross Douthat that criticized Maddow’s segment, and following his hearing, the Times republished an Associated Press writeup of the proceeding on its website.
In addition to Maddow's coverage, Menashi has also received notable coverage from Bendery, who has extensively written about Menashi’s hearing at HuffPost and on social media, and CNN’s investigative journalism project KFILE. On August 22, CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Em Steck published a lengthy account of Menashi’s opinion writings, which included attacking “gynocentrists” who organized “Take Back the Night” anti-sexual-assault marches on college campuses; arguing a “ghetto party” thrown by a fraternity was not racist; and “accusing a major LGBTQ group of exploiting the brutal murder of a gay student for political ends.”
Menashi’s September 11 hearing was scheduled on the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, ensuring that significant media attention was focused elsewhere when his questioning went off the rails.
Menashi’s stonewalling during the hearing most notably covered his repeated refusals to say which specific immigration policies he had worked on in his role in the White House counsel's office. Incredibly, Menashi said he could not specify which policies he had advised on because of a duty of confidentiality he owed to his “client,” the White House. While Menashi seemed to be referencing the doctrine of deliberative process privilege, his refusal to be forthcoming about even basic details of his work was excoriated by committee members.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking member of the committee, asked Menashi what immigration issues he had worked on at the White House and whether he worked with Stephen Miller, who is Trump’s primary immigration advisor and is known for pushing draconian policies. Asked about “what specific immigration-related policies” he has worked on at the White House, Menashi wouldn’t say, and he subsequently refused to say whether he had worked on the family separation policy or refugee policy, saying, “I can’t -- consistent with my duty of confidentiality to the White House -- talk about particular instances on which I worked.” Menashi also said, “I’m not authorized here to talk about particular matters,” to which a flabbergasted Feinstein responded, “Well you’re not unauthorized here to talk on particular matters either,” noting she had never heard anyone make that argument during a judicial nomination in 26 years on the committee. Feinstein again pressed Menashi on whether he worked on the administration’s family separation policy and Menashi again said he wouldn’t answer, saying he owed his “clients” a duty of confidentiality on the matter.
After Menashi was more forthcoming in answering questions from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), committee chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) interjected, saying, “Mr. Menashi, we’re not going to do this. You're not going to answer his questions and not answer [Feinstein’s] questions about legal advice.” But Menashi continued to stonewall when Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) inquired about whether Menashi worked on a Trump immigration policy that targets immigrants with life-threatening medical issues. As Menashi demurred, Graham interjected again to say that Durbin’s request was “not an unfair question” and tried to get Menashi to answer it. He would only vaguely say that he didn’t recall “a meeting on the narrow topic that you mentioned” while admitting that he worked on “immigration issues.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) was also angered by Menashi’s performance during the hearing. Kennedy chastised Menashi at the end of his time, saying, “You’re a really smart guy, but I wish you would be more forthcoming. This isn’t supposed to be a game.” The senator ended his remarks to Menashi by saying, “I’m out of time. You took a lot of it by not answering my questions.”
While Senate Republicans oversaw unprecedented obstruction of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees -- perhaps most notably, Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, who didn’t even get a hearing from the GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee -- they are now advancing Trump nominees at record pace. Menashi's refusal to answer even basic questions about his role in White House immigration policy is all the more reason for media outlets to aggressively cover Trump judicial nominees’ extreme records.