WASHINGTON — A Trump judicial nominee whose inability to answer basic legal questions at his confirmation hearing brought him widespread ridicule has withdrawn his nomination, a White House official said Monday.
Matthew Petersen, nominated by President Donald Trump to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, became an internet sensation after the video of his confirmation hearing — during which Petersen was unable to define basic legal terms — was posted online.
Petersen received his associate's degree from Utah Valley State College, now Utah Valley University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Brigham Young University, according to his biography on the Federal Election Commission website.
A questionnaire submitted the judiciary committee indicates he also attended Utah State University and the University of Utah, but did not receive degrees from those schools.
Petersen also served as counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration from July 2005 to July 2008, which was led by Utah. Sen. Robert Bennett.
In his resignation letter to the president, which was obtained by The Associated Press, Petersen said that while he was honored to have been nominated for the position, "it has become clear to me over the past few days that my nomination has become a distraction — and that is not fair for you or your Administration."
"I had hoped that my nearly two decades of public service might carry more weight than my two worst minutes on television," he went on to say. "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."
The letter was dated Saturday.
During the confirmation hearing, Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican, pressed Petersen, a member of the Federal Election Commission who testified he had never tried a case, on his qualifications to the bench.
Kennedy said in an interview Monday with WWL-TV in New Orleans that Trump called him Saturday and said he did not personally interview Petersen. Trump, according to Kennedy, said his staff chose the nominees.
"He has told me, 'Kennedy, when some of my guys send someone who is not qualified, you do your job,'" Kennedy said in the interview.
Kennedy said he had no idea that Petersen lacked the experience for the post.
"Just because you've seen 'My Cousin Vinny' doesn't qualify you to be a federal judge," Kennedy said, a reference to the 1992 movie in which an inexperienced lawyer played by Joe Pesci tries — and wins — a big case. "And he has no litigation experience. And my job on the judiciary committee is to catch him. I would strongly suggest he not give up his day job."
Petersen was admitted to the Utah Bar in 1999. His status is now inactive.
Following the confirmation hearing, John Lund, president of the Utah State Bar, shared a news story about Petersen on Twitter, saying, "I'm sorry but well over half of the Utah bar is better qualified to be on the federal bench than this fellow."
I'm sorry but well over half of the Utah bar is better qualified to be on the federal bench than this fellow. Judicial nominee struggles to answer basic legal questions at hearing @CNNPolitics https://t.co/VsFfCvS06F— Utah Bar President (@USBPresident) December 15, 2017
Contributing: McKenzie Romero