MIAMI – President Donald Trump broke through a logjam with his White House, the Justice Department and Sen. But dysfunction in the White House counsel’s office and the unexpected involvement of a top Department of Justice official with Florida ties slowed down the process. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “
Meanwhile, Fajardo emerged as a consensus candidate, of sorts, between Rubio and the White House.
MIAMI – President Donald Trump broke through a logjam with his White House, the Justice Department and Sen. Marco Rubio’s office on Thursday by finally nominating a new federal prosecutor for the South Florida district that includes Mar-a-Lago in its jurisdiction.
Trump’s selection of Miami-Dade Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan – recommended by Rubio and supported by Gov. Rick Scott – looked like a done deal months ago. But dysfunction in the White House counsel’s office and the unexpected involvement of a top Department of Justice official with Florida ties slowed down the process.
The White House didn’t explain the delay. Fajardo’s nomination was announced as part of a batch of nominations released Thursday. She is the first woman to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
Rubio praised the appointment.
“I am pleased that the president has nominated Ariana Fajardo Orshan to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. She has over 20 years of experience serving in various capacities in South Florida’s legal community, and I strongly support her nomination. I am confident that she will honorably serve the people of South Florida.”
The path to Fajardo’s nomination is a reflection of the byzantine politics that have plagued Trump’s White House.
Behind the scenes, sources tell POLITICO, Rubio’s office had to fight off opposition to Fajardo’s nomination from the Department of Justice’s No. 3 lawyer, Jesse Panuccio, who left his post as the head of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity when the Florida Senate appeared ready to scuttle his nomination largely due to questions about his honesty and the agency’s mismanagement of an unemployment contract. Panuccio did not return text messages for comment.
Fajardo’s selection was also opposed by attorneys who practice in the federal system and made much of the fact that she had no federal prosecutorial experience. Some also groused that Rubio had bypassed the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission in Florida, which Rubio allies said was stocked with too many Democratic insiders.
Initially, Rubio recommended three attorneys: John Couriel; former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz – a former contestant on Trump’s old gameshow “The Apprentice” – and Jon Sale. But Couriel was rejected out of hand by White House advisers because of his political opposition to Trump in 2016 when he said he filled in former Gov. Jeb Bush’s name as a write-in candidate on the November ballot. Some didn’t like Sale, either, because of his close association with Trump confidante – and current counsel – Rudy Giuliani when he was on the outs among some Trump advisers.
Diaz’s nomination stalled, with some blaming Panuccio, as he pushed for a friend and fellow Ivy Leaguer, Roy Altman. But Diaz soon took his name out of contention and Altman was nominated for a federal judgeship, by Rubio.
Panuccio did not return text messages for comment, but the Department of Justice said in a statement: “The process for nominations of US Attorneys is a collaborative one between the Department of Justice and the White House. Acting Associate Attorney General Panuccio and the rest of our team are extremely proud of the nominations throughout the country, including Florida, and have worked hard to expeditiously fill those spots.”
Meanwhile, Fajardo emerged as a consensus candidate, of sorts, between Rubio and the White House. And, sources close to Rubio said, he made clear he would use his influence in the Senate to block other nominees for the post.
One source familiar with Trump’s initial thinking about the post said he viewed the Southern District of Florida, because it encompasses Palm Beach and his Mar-a-Lago resort as well as his resort in Doral in Miami-Dade County, as his second-most important district behind New York’s Southern District.
"The Trump Organization is in New York," the source said. "But Mar-a-Lago’s in the Southern District. And he wants the right person for the job."
The announcement had an extra dose of drama, however.
Former Trump campaign adviser A.J. Delgado took to Twitter to accuse the judge of inappropriately favoring another Trump adviser, CNN commentator and political consultant Jason Miller, in a paternity court case. Miller had impregnated Delgado during the 2016 campaign but, she says, he falsely told her he was getting a divorce from his then-pregnant wife. As first reported by POLITICO, the affair led to Miller’s resignation as White House communications director, paving the way for Sean Spicer to take the job, in late 2016.
“Lovely! This is the Judge whose assistant accidentally left me a voicemail showing indisputable favorable treatment towards reported ‘Trump advisor’ Jason Miller,” Delgado wrote Thursday on Twitter.
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