McConnell slows nomination of Biden pick for Minnesota US attorney over arsonist's 'unusually soft sentence'

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is slowing the confirmation process for President Biden’s nominee to serve as U.S. attorney for Minnesota, saying he needs “assurances” that the nominee will “not continue” the current acting official’s “jaw-dropping” practice of leniency for criminal sentences.

McConnell, R-Ky., on the Senate floor Wednesday announced that he “placed a hold” on Andrew Luger, Biden’s nominee, over the current leadership in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Minnesota seeking reduced sentences for rioters arrested during the 2020 George Floyd protests.

“I just placed a hold on a nominee for US attorney for Minnesota, because the person recently acting in that job recommended an unusually soft sentence below the maximum guideline to a convicted fatal arsonist because the arsonist was taking part in a far left political riot at the time,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters after a Republican strategy meeting at the Capitol on Oct. 19, 2021.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“I’ll need written assurances the nominee to succeed this person will not continue this jaw-dropping practice and lessen criminal sentences so long as the political violence they commit happens to be left wing,” McConnell said.

His comments come after he issued a scathing letter to the Justice Department, and Luger, accusing the DOJ of taking a “startling turn for the worse” under the Biden administration and injecting left-wing political bias into its treatment of violent criminals.

One person given a reduced sentence was Montez Terriel Lee Jr., who was convicted of the arson of a pawn shop that resulted in the death of a man. Lee was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

“Political violence is a cancer in free societies,” McConnell wrote. “To use a parallel example, it would seem almost insane to argue that a criminal who assaulted the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with the explicit intention of obstructing Congress’ constitutional duties, should receive a lesser sentence than somebody else who trespassed on federal property at a different time just because he could. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice on Jan. 5, 2022, in Washington.
(Carolyn Kaster-Pool/Getty Images)

“But in the case of Mr. Lee, the acting U.S. attorney in Minnesota seems to have reached the bizarre conclusion that his radical political motives somehow excuse, rather than exacerbate, his wrongdoing,” he continued. “It is critically important for lawful authority to deter those who would intimidate their political opponents through violence or its threats. It is therefore shocking that the former acting U.S. attorney in Minnesota saw things differently, presumably because he bears some sympathy for the cause Mr. Lee violently supported. That is unacceptable.”

Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., issued similar letters to Attorney General Merrick Garland demanding answers on Lee’s prosecution.

The Justice Department’s Lee filing stated that there “appear” to have been “many people who felt angry, frustrated and disenfranchised, and who were attempting, in many cases in an unacceptably reckless and dangerous manner, to give voice to those feelings.”

“Mr. Lee appears to be squarely in this latter category,” the DOJ’s filing stated. “And even the great American advocate for nonviolence and social justice, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., stated in an interview with CBS’ Mike Wallace in 1966 that ‘we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.’”

“In light of these circumstances, the analysis of the [sentencing] guidelines does not appear appropriate,” the Justice Department filing said, asking for a “downward variance” of 12 years for Lee, much lower than the sentencing guidelines of up to 20 years.

Fox News’ Aishah Hasnie, Jessica Chasmar, Kelly Laco and Timothy Nerozzi contributed to this report. 

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