His departure from the staff was announced publicly at a committee meeting this morning by his boss, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the committee’s ranking Republican. A source familiar with Benczkowski’s plans said later that the firm he is joining is Kirkland & Ellis, though the source did not know what his title would be.
The move is the first of what could be other changes on the committee’s staff as the 111th Congress heads toward an end. At least two committee members, Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), won’t be back next Congress, and Sessions is expected to yield the position of ranking Republican to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Benczkowski (pictured above) has been the Republican staff director since May 2009, taking over amid a period of transition. Sessions had just become the committee’s ranking Republican, after Specter switched parties, and the staff immediately had the task of responding to the retirement of Justice David Souter and the nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Sessions, at today’s committee meeting, said Benczkowski’s tenure as Republican staff director had given him a “great advantage” in sparring with Democrats. “I trust not only his work ethic and his integrity but his good judgment,” Sessions said.
Alluding to the federal budget deficit and to the higher pay of private practice, Sessions added: “I hope you’ll start paying a good bit of taxes.”
Judiciary Committee members and staff gave Benczkowski a standing ovation.
Benczkowski came to the Judiciary Committee from the Justice Department, where he was chief of staff to Attorney General Michael Mukasey and led the presidential transition in early 2009. He was previously a deputy assistant attorney general in the department's Office of Legislative Affairs and chief of staff at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
A Kirkland & Ellis spokeswoman did not immediately have a comment. Benczkowski declined to comment.
Matt Miner, who has been the deputy Republican staff director, will take over the top job, Sessions said. He previously was chief counsel to Sessions on the judiciary subcommittee for oversight and an assistant U.S. attorney in Alabama.
National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.