How Menendez Tried and Failed to Place an Ally in a Key Federal Post

Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey had a problem — and, prosecutors say, an opportunity. An old friend and political patron was facing federal prosecution. And as New Jersey’s senior senator, Mr. Menendez was in a position to help, by recommending the next leader of the office overseeing the case.

In early 2021, Mr. Menendez urged President Biden to nominate a lawyer he knew well as the state’s next U.S. attorney: Esther Suarez, a politically connected prosecutor in his home county. It did not go as planned.

When White House and Justice Department officials interviewed Ms. Suarez, they found her knowledge of federal law lacking, and they had substantial concerns about her qualifications, according to four people familiar with the sessions.

Mr. Menendez pushed for Ms. Suarez to be given another chance, the people said. But after a rare second interview, the result was the same.

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