Democrats have strongly criticized the nomination of Mr. Talley, a 36-year-old who has never tried a case and who received a rare “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association. His nomination advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday on a party-line vote.
“Mr. Talley served as deputy solicitor general for the state of Alabama, currently serves in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy and was recommended by Alabama’s U.S. senators,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. “He is more than qualified to serve in the federal judiciary.”
Mr. McGahn has played a key role in helping Mr. Trump transform the federal bench by filling vacancies with young, deeply conservative judges. But a White House official said Ms. Donaldson was not involved in that process.
Ms. Donaldson has emerged in recent weeks as a witness in the special counsel’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice. She was interviewed by investigators recently about her detailed notes about conversations with Mr. McGahn on topics including the firing of the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, according to two people briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation with reporters.
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is investigating Russian interference in last year’s presidential election and whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the Justice Department’s inquiry. He has denied any obstruction.
Mr. Trump nominated Mr. Talley in September to the Federal District Court based in Montgomery, Ala. Weeks later, Mr. Mueller’s investigators notified the White House that they wanted to interview Ms. Donaldson, but there is no indication that anyone anticipated that at the time of her husband’s nomination.
Ms. Donaldson has not had much direct contact with Mr. Trump, but as Mr. McGahn’s top aide, she often spoke with him after he met with the president. Ms. Donaldson took notes, which the White House provided to the special counsel’s office.
Mr. Talley, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 2007 and is a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, is the fourth judicial nominee under Mr. Trump to receive a “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association and the second to receive the rating unanimously. Since 1989, the group has unanimously rated only two other judicial nominees not qualified.
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