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Criticism mounts as federal judge nominee fails to disclose wife's White House ties

Posted at 10:02 PM, Nov 13, 2017

President Donald Trump's nominee for an Alabama federal court judgeship is being criticized for not disclosing in his confirmation process his wife's role in the White House.

Brett Talley did not disclose his wife's position as chief of staff for White House Counsel Donald McGahn on his Senate questionnaire, according to The New York Times.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, said the full Senate should not consider Talley's nomination until he explains why he failed to disclose the potential conflict of interest.

"By failing to disclose that his wife is one of President Trump's lawyers," Feinstein said in a statement, "Talley has betrayed his obligation to be open and transparent with the Senate and American people."

The Senate judiciary committee advanced Talley's nomination along a party-line vote Thursday and a full Senate vote is expected soon.

Question 24 of the disclosure form asks nominees to "identify the family members or other persons ... that are likely to present potential conflicts of interest." Talley did not mention his wife in the answer to this question, only responding: "If confirmed, I will recuse in any litigation where I have ever played a role." Additionally, Talley wrote, "I will evaluate any other real or potential conflict, or relationships that could give rise to appearance of conflict, on a case-by-case basis."

A spokesman for the Republican-controlled Senate judiciary committee said Talley was not required to list a spouse' occupation on his questionnaire.

"It's no secret that that Mr. Talley's wife, Ann Donaldson, is the chief of staff to the White House counsel," judiciary spokesman Taylor Foy said in a statement. "She was sitting behind Mr. Talley at his nominations hearing. Anyone who had any concerns about his wife's occupation could have raised them at the hearing."

He added, "Any insinuation that there's any conflict with the special counsel's investigation is absurd, as charges are being filed in the District of Columbia, not the Middle District of Alabama, where Talley is nominated to be a judge.

Democrats have already criticized the 36-year-old Talley for his lack of legal experience. While the 2007 Harvard Law School graduate has clerked for federal district and appellate judges, Talley has never tried a case, and he received a rare "not qualified" rating from the American Bar Association.

Talley had a prolific online media presence prior to his nomination; Talley referred to Hillary Clinton as "Hillary Rotten Clinton" on his public Twitter account which has since been made private, and pledged his total support for the National Rifle Association one month after the Sandy Hook school shooting where a gunman killed 20 elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut in 2013.

Talley is currently a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy at the Justice Department.