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Trump judicial pick Matthew Petersen, who never tried a case, withdraws

Matthew Petersen, the judicial nominee who was ridiculed last week after his Senate confirmation hearing showing him struggling to answer basic questions about legal procedure went viral, withdrew from consideration on Monday.
Image: Matthew Spencer Petersen
Matthew Spencer PetersenNBC News

Matthew Petersen, the judicial nominee who was widely ridiculed last week after a video went viral of him struggling to answer basic legal questions at his Senate confirmation hearing, withdrew from consideration on Monday.

Petersen, a member of the Federal Election Commission, said in his withdrawal letter to President Donald Trump that it had “become clear to me over the last few days that my nomination has become a distraction — and that is not fair to you or your Administration."

Trump nominated Petersen for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which carries a lifetime tenure.

Last week, Petersen was grilled by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about his background and the nominee stumbled badly when quizzed on matters of law and his legal experience.

"Have you tried a jury trial?" Kennedy asked.

“I have not,” said Petersen.

"Have you ever argued a motion in federal court?" Kennedy later asked.

"No," Petersen responded.

Petersen also admitted he had never done a bench trial, or tried any civil or criminal cases in federal or state court. He also could not explain the Daubert standard, regarding the admissibility of expert testimony, among other legal terms.

The latest withdrawal comes after two of Trump's other judicial picks were knocked out of the running this month. Jeff Mateer described transgender children as evidence of "Satan's plan" and Brett Talley had never argued a case in court and was rated "unanimously unqualified" by the American Bar Association.

Petersen spent two decades as a lawyer working in private practice and public service, he said in his withdrawal letter, and believed he had the experience to take a seat on the federal bench.

“I had hoped my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television," he said. "However, I am no stranger to political realities, and I do not wish to be a continued distraction from the important work of your administration and the Senate."

In an interview with WWL-TV in New Orleans, Kennedy said Trump called him after the video of him grilling Petersen went viral last week and the president thanked him for criticizing his nominee's qualifications.

"(Trump) has told me, 'Kennedy, when some of my guys send someone over there who is not qualified, you do your job,'" Kennedy said. "And I said, 'Thank you, Mister President, and I intend to do that.'"

"Just because you’ve seen 'My Cousin Vinny' doesn't qualify you to be a federal judge," Kennedy added.

"I would strongly suggest he not give up his day job," Kennedy said, when asked if Petersen was going to be a judge.