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Judicial nominee Matthew Petersen withdraws after viral hearing video

WASHINGTON – Matthew Petersen, President Donald Trump’s district court nominee who struggled to answer basic legal questions at his confirmation hearing last week, has withdrawn his nomination, a White House official said.

Petersen, who was up for a lifetime appointment on the US District Court for the District of Columbia, struggled to answer basic questions during an exchange with Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican. The exchange went viral after Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, tweeted a link to the five-minute long exchange.

The White House official did not say why Peterson’s nomination was pulled. Another White House official told CNN that Trump accepted Petersen’s decision to withdraw his nomination.

Petersen, who currently serves as a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, was peppered with questions on how many depositions he had worked on, how many jury trials he had tried and the last time he had read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

His answers called into question his fitness for the job and critics seized on the video as proof that the President is putting ideology ahead of qualifications.

Kennedy told CNN after the hearing that he hoped Petersen’s nomination would be withdrawn.

“I’m hoping the White House will pull down Mr. Petersen,” Kennedy said. “I don’t wanna see him suffer.”

He added: “I think he’s whip smart, probably. But you can’t just walk into a federal courthouse for the very first time and say ‘Here I am, I think I wanna be a judge.’ It just doesn’t work that way.”

The White House last week defended Peterson.

“Mr. Petersen has spent nearly a decade as a commissioner of an important federal agency overseeing its litigation on regulatory issues — the very kinds of issues federal district court in DC decides,” Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said Friday. “It is no surprise the President’s opponents keep trying to distract from the record-setting success the President has had on judicial nominations, which includes a Supreme Court justice lowercase and 12 outstanding circuit judges in his first year.”

The statement ignored the fact that Kennedy, a Republican whom backed Trump during his campaign, was the senator who led the charge against Petersen.