A respected Republican lawyer who served as staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee under Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is helping managing the Justice Department transition for the Trump team, according to two Republican lawyers with knowledge of the matter.

Brian Benczkowski — who served as staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Sessions was the ranking Republican on the panel and worked in a variety of Justice Department roles before that — took over for Kevin O’Connor, a former U.S. attorney and associate attorney general who had been managing the Justice Department transition but is no longer with the team, the lawyers said.

Brian Benczkowski, Republican Staff Director of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sits behind the committee's ranking Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., during the committee's markup hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 18, 2009. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg) StaffPhoto imported to Merlin on Thu Jun 24 19:00:02 2010 Brian Benczkowski, a former Republican staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sits behind Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) in 2009.  (Harry Hamburg/Associated Press)

 

Benczkowski’s role is seen as an indication that Sessions, his former boss, might have a more powerful voice in the transition than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was once leading the effort but was replaced last week by Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Benczkowski now works as a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis. He had previously worked as chief of staff for the attorney general and deputy attorney general, chief of staff to the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and principal deputy assistant attorney general for legislative affairs. That role had him managing the Justice Department’s relationship with Congress.

Benczkowski is a well-regarded lawyer, especially in conservative circles. Politico once dubbed him the “GOP’s go-to guy for hearings.” He declined to comment on transition-related matters, referring questions to the transition media team. O’Connor did not return messages seeking comment.