Grassley-Approved Judge Rated Unqualified by ABA Failed to Disclose Conflict of Interest [Updated]


Update, 12/15: This week, Chuck Grassley advised President Trump that he “should not proceed” with the nomination of Brett Talley and “reconsider” another federal judgeship nomination for Jeff Mateer, the senator told CNN.

Original post: Last Thursday, Chuck Grassley, who heads the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, voted to approve Brett Talley, a 36-year-old deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department who has never tried a case, for a lifetime federal district court judgeship. Talley’s confirmation by the full Senate could be tripped up, however, after reports Monday that he is married to Ann Donaldson, the chief of staff to President Trump’s legal counsel Donald McGahn — a potential conflict of interest Talley failed to disclose last week.

What Grassley did know at the time he voted to approve Talley on a party-line vote was that the nominee was unanimously rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association — the second judicial nominee to unanimously receive the rating under Trump, joining just two others since 1989 who have, according to the New York Times. If confirmed, Talley would become a trial judge in his home state of Alabama.

McGahn has led the Trump administration’s efforts to fill federal judicial positions with young, right-wing judges, which could have long-lasting implications for America’s justice system. The White House has claimed that Donaldson has played no role in this. However, in September, just weeks after Trump nominated her husband (although the timing may have been coincidental), Donaldson was sought for an interview by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 election — an investigation Grassley has attempted to refocus on Hillary Clinton and bumped into a flag while fleeing a press conference to dodge questions about.

In addition to his lack of experience, Talley has left a questionable social media trail. On Twitter, he once called Clinton “Hillary Rotten Clinton.” On his personal blog, he supported the idea of armed rebellion against a tyrannical government and, a month after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that took the lives of 27 people, including 20 young children, pledged his support for the National Rifle Association “financially, politically and intellectually.” On Monday, BuzzFeed also uncovered a message Talley posted on a University of Alabama sports blog about Sandy Hook. “My solution would be to stop being a society of pansies and man up,” he suggested as a solution to gun violence.

Last week, Grassley dismissed the ABA’s unanimous “not qualified” rating and said in a statement (PDF) that he believed Talley was qualified for the judgeship. “Mr. Talley has a wide breadth of various legal experience that has helped to expose him to different aspects of federal law and the issues that would come before him,” Grassley said.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.