Staggering incompetence: Viral video shows that Trump judicial nominee Matthew Spencer Petersen is unable to answer basic questions about the law.
Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse shared a video via Twitter of Trump judicial nominee Matthew Spencer Petersen struggling and unable to answer basic questions about the law while appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In the now viral video, Senator John Kennedy questions Petersen about his knowledge and experience. In the video, Petersen is unable to answer some fairly simple and straightforward questions about the law, and admits that he has never taken a deposition by himself or argued a motion in state or federal court.
In short, Petersen’s performance is a train wreck, and a clear demonstration that he is not even qualified to try a federal case, let alone be a judge.
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) December 15, 2017
The following is a transcript of the bizarre exchange between Sen. Kennedy and the Trump judicial nominee via BuzzFeed News:
Sen. Kennedy: You can just raise your hand on this one, if you will, to save a little time. Have any of you not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom?
(Petersen raises his hand.)
Sen. Kennedy: Mr. Petersen. Have you ever tried a jury trial?
Petersen: I have not.
Sen. Kennedy: Civil?
Sen. Kennedy: Criminal?
Sen. Kennedy: Bench?
Sen. Kennedy: State or federal court?
Petersen: I have not.
Sen. Kennedy: OK. Have you ever taken a deposition?
Petersen: I was involved in taking depositions when I was associate at Wiley Rein, when I first came out of law school, but that was…
Sen. Kennedy: How many depositions?
Petersen: I would… I’d be struggling to remember.
Sen. Kennedy: Less than 10?
Sen. Kennedy: Less than five?
Petersen: Probably somewhere in that range.
Sen. Kennedy: Have you ever taken a deposition by yourself?
Sen. Kennedy: Have you ever argued a motion in state court?
Petersen: I have not.
Sen. Kennedy: Have you ever argued a motion in federal court?
Sen. Kennedy: OK. When’s the last time you read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure?Petersen: The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure… I… In my current position, I obviously don’t need to stay as… invested in those on a day to day basis, but I do try to keep up to speed. We do have at the FEC roughly 70 attorneys who work under our guidance, including a large litigation division. And as a commissioner, we oversee that litigation, we advise them on all legal strategy, provide recommendations and edits to briefs and so forth and meet with them about how we’re going to handle…
Sen. Kennedy: I’m sorry to interrupt you, but we’re only given five minutes for five of you. When’s the last time you read the Federal Rules of Evidence?
Petersen: The Federal Rules of Evidence all the way through? Would, well, comprehensively, would have been in law school. Obviously I have been involved when I was associate, that was something we had to stay closely apprised of. There have been some issues dealing with evidentiary issues, that will cause me to examine those periodically in our oversight role in the litigation division at the FEC. There have been some issues dealing with evidentiary issues that will cause me to examine those periodically in our oversight role.
Sen. Kennedy: Well, as a trial judge you’re obviously going to have witnesses. Can you tell me what the Daubert Standard is?
Petersen: Senator Kennedy, I don’t have that readily at my disposal, but I’d be happy to take a closer look at that. That is not something I’ve had to contend with.
Sen. Kennedy: Do you know what a “motion in limine” is?
Petersen: Again, my background is not in litigation, as when I was replying to Chairman Grassley. I haven’t had to, again, do a deep dive. And I understand and I appreciate this line of questioning. I understand the challenge that would be ahead of me, if I were fortunate enough to become a district court judge. I understand that the path that many successful district court judges have taken has been a different one than I’ve taken. But as I mentioned in my earlier answer, I believe that the path that I have taken… to be one who has been in a decision-making role on now I’d guess now somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 enforcement matters, overseeing I don’t know how many cases in Federal Court the Commission has been a party to during my time…
Sen. Kennedy: I’ve read your resume. Just for the record, do you know what a “motion in limine” is?
Petersen: I would probably not be able to give you a definition right here at the table.
Sen. Kennedy: Do you know what the Younger abstention doctrine is? Any experience with that?
Petersen: I’ve heard of it.
Sen. Kennedy: How about the Pullman abstention doctrine? You’ll see that a lot in federal court. OK. Any of you blog?
Sen. Kennedy: Any of you ever blogged in support of the Klu Klux Klan?
Petersen: No, Senator.
Sen. Kennedy: OK, let the record reflect everybody said “No,” Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Chuck Grassley: Thank you, senator. The record will show that.
Sen. Kennedy: Thank you, gentlemen. I wish we all had more time to spend together.
Trump judicial nominee Petersen is a current member of the Federal Election Commission. He has been nominated for a position on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.