Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and former U.S. Solicitor General Rex Lee are both upset about recent press reports that suggest Dee Benson will soon become the U.S. attorney for Utah because he is Hatch's friend.
They both told the Deseret News Friday that such reports are demeaning to Benson, who they say is actually over-qualified for the job - and someone about whom they say the state should be pleasantly surprised that he would take the job.Some press reports recently had said some attorneys in the state were upset that Hatch waited less than a day after current U.S. Attorney for Utah Brent Ward resigned before he announced that Benson would be the Utah delegation's choice as his replacement, although President Bush will make the actual nomination.
They complained that Hatch had not sought other applicants and too quickly settled on Benson, who had been Hatch's administrative assistant and Hatch's counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Another Utah newspaper even said in an editorial that Benson is "Hatch's boy," and "will now enter the office under the cloud of being a political hack."
Hatch said such reports upset him and cast the wrong light on Benson.
"What they fail to note is that he already is an associate attorney general in the Justice Department. Any state would be more than pleased to have someone like that even consider becoming their U.S. attorney," he said.
"The editorials suggest that maybe I should have taken applications from many people, then appointDee anyway. But that's ridiculous. We had someone who was extremely qualified, and the whole delegation agreed on him. I announced it quickly so others would not have their hopes built up."
Lee, a Utahn who has gone through the appointment process himself, said he doesn't understand why press reports viewed the fact that Benson is a friend of Hatch with "such astonishment."
"If Hatch had picked someone who was unqualified because he is his friend, then it would be a story," he said. "But in all sincerity, I cannot think of anyone who would be better qualified for this job than Dee Benson - that's not an overblown statement. He is a superb trial lawyer, a fine legal craftsman, someone who knows the Justice Department and he is now an associate attorney general. He brings all those talents. Ask anyone who knows him, and they will say that."
Lee is a BYU law professor who also practices law part time in Washington, D.C.