A person familiar with the situation told Fox News Thursday that there was real doubt that Liu could receive the necessary votes on the Senate Judiciary Committee after Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, came out against her. Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Lee, confirmed that the senator opposed Liu's appointment "based on her past record on life issues," but declined to comment further.
The person added that Liu was vice president of the National Association of Women Lawyers when that group opposed the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court by then-President George W. Bush in 2005. A source familiar with the matter said that Liu did not sign the letter opposing Alito's nomination, but her name did appear on it because of her position with the organization.
However, the person said Liu did sign a letter in support of Alito, a fellow alumnus of Yale Law School. In a further twist to the story, Lee clerked for Alito while the latter was a federal appeals judge, then did so again after Alito was confirmed to the high court in 2006.
The NAWL also has a history of filing amicus briefs that took liberal-leaning positions on issues such as abortion. The person told Fox News that Liu considered the NAWL to be a professional networking group and was "not generally aware" of the group's political activities.
A Justice Department spokesperson acknowledged that "a women's lawyer association that Liu was affiliated with over a dozen years ago took certain controversial positions at the time.
"While we believe the criticisms of Jessie are unfair, she did not want her nomination to become a distraction," added the spokesperson, who added that Liu will continue as U.S. attorney for Washington D.C.
Attorney General William Barr said in a statement that Liu "is one of the finest, most impressive people serving in the Department of Justice. She has been an outstanding United States attorney and would have made an outstanding associate attorney general. I have zero doubt she would have faithfully executed my priorities and advanced my rule-of-law agenda."
Barr added that he was appointing Liu to be chairwoman of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee of United States Attorneys (AGAC) because, as he put it, "I need Jessie to play a broader role in the Department."
Liu, 46, was an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington from 2002 until 2006 and prosecuted violent crimes, drug trafficking and fraud cases. She later served as deputy chief of staff for the Justice Department's national security division, a counsel to the deputy attorney general and as a deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division.
Liu also worked as deputy general counsel at the Treasury Department and was a partner at the law firms Morrison & Foerster and Jenner & Block.
As associate attorney general, Liu would have been responsible for overseeing the department's civil litigation. Trump nominated her to be U.S. attorney for D.C. in June 2017 and she was confirmed by the Senate that September.
Fox News' William Mears and The Associated Press contributed to this report.