When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he was cancelling August recess, it was viewed as bad news for red state Democrats, but good news for Trump nominees awaiting confirmation by the Senate. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said senators would spend the month working on “nominations, nominations, nominations” to break through the logjam.
However, the timing of the announcement may also prove to be bad news for one Trump nominee, Kenneth Bell, of North Carolina. Bell was nominated by Trump in April to serve as a federal judge for the western part of the state. A newly filed lawsuit implicates Bell in a corruption scandal involving Gov. Roy Cooper’s health Secretary, Dr. Mandy Cohen. One of Trump’s nominees for the federal bench in North Carolina, Thomas Farr, has already generated controversy. With Bell’s involvement in the Democratic scandal only now being disclosed, it could create a second barrier to the Trump administration’s efforts to put conservatives on the bench in North Carolina.
Bell is a partner in McGuireWood’s Charlotte office and, about a year and a half ago, he hired a junior government lawyer, Kurt Meyers, to join his team. Meyers has a reputation for legal misconduct, dating back to 2006. Most notably, Meyers was accused by Howell Woltz in his bestseller, Justice Denied, of fabricating evidence and lying to a federal judge about it.
At the same time Bell hired Meyers, Cohen came to NC in a quid pro quo deal with Cooper to illegally expand that state’s Medicaid program. Cohen had previously been Obama’s senior Medicaid official in Washington DC. In return for ramming through Cooper’s expansion request before Trump took office, Cohen would be appointed as Cooper’s health secretary. The plot was thwarted when Republicans filed suit and a federal judge blocked it.
However, Cohen had already taken the NC job. Without the promised Medicaid expansion, she set out to reverse the cost controls and reforms implemented by the previous Republican administration. Most notoriously, Cohen ousted the Board and CEO of the state’s largest Medicaid health plan, Cardinal Innovations. Her purported justification for the ouster was the Board’s authorization of a contractually required severance payment to the CEO. She then stacked the Board with political cronies and appointed a bureaucrat from her agency as the new CEO.
In response, the ousted Board filed suit. In the ensuing litigation, internal emails show that Cohen knew about the severance and approved it nearly a month before she sent a letter to Republican lawmakers claiming that she didn’t. Worse yet, the Obama holdover then directed her deputy, Dave Richard, to sign a court document which falsely certified that Cohen hadn’t approved the payment.
To distract public attention from these damaging revelations, Cohen controlled Cardinal hired Bell’s law firm to hold a press conference, purportedly to show that it was Cardinal’s former CEO, not Cohen, who had committed misconduct. Bell assigned Meyers to the task. Meyers then held the press conference, which promptly resulted in a lawsuit against McGuireWoods, Meyers, and his supervisors, including Bell.
On the one hand, it’s not uncommon for corporate lawyers, like Bell, to represent a variety of interests. After all, Cohen and her family support themselves lavishly on the very government program she runs. While Cooper just gave Cohen a raise of $50,000, which is 50 times higher than the $1,000 approved for all other state employees, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Her husband, a corporate lawyer at Arent Fox, has been busy billing Medicaid for $10 million while his wife continues to run it.
So, in some ways, Bell is no different than Cohen’s husband. And that’s the point. After 8 years of ultra liberal judicial appointments from the Obama administration, there are an abundance of qualified conservatives eligible for appointment. Many are still awaiting confirmation. Given the liberal media’s desperate attempts to highlight any misstep by Trump, failed nominations have become an especially easy target. Trump is already facing a controversial confirmation process for Thomas Farr in North Carolina. He doesn’t need a second.