Utah’s U.S. Attorney Conundrum
By Andrew Ramonas | July 14, 2010 1:14 pm

News that the leading Utah U.S. Attorney candidate is out of the running to be the state’s top federal prosecutor has caused rampant speculation — but few solid leads — on what may have derailed his chances.

David Schwendiman (Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina)

The White House declined to comment to The Salt Lake Tribune this week on why officials decided against nominating David Schwendiman to be U.S. Attorney. Schwendiman had been the leading candidate  for the post. His candidacy was backed by Rep. Jim Matheson, Utah’s only Democratic member of Congress, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

The Utah U.S. Attorney’s office released a statement last week making the White House’s decision public. In the same release, the office said Schwendiman will return as a senior litigation counsel.  Schwendiman, who worked in the Utah U.S. Attorney’s office from 1987 to 2006, held that position before he became a war crimes prosecutor in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2006.

“Is this circumstance odd? A little,” Matheson spokeswoman Alyson Heyrend told the newspaper. “I guess it makes the White House action a little mysterious.”

White House officials notified Matheson that problems had come up with Schwendiman’s nomination during the vetting process, according to the newspaper. But they did not elaborate.

“The White House let Jim know a while back that there was a problem with the nomination,” Heyrend said. “He continued to hope and press for Schwendiman’s nomination.”

The newspaper said some legal and political experts are pointing fingers at Hatch for derailing the nomination. A representative from Hatch’s office denied the accusations in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune.

Others alleged the White House wanted a minority or younger nominee, according to the newspaper. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office dismissed that suggestion as well.

Some speculated that President Barack Obama is attempting to reprimand Matheson, a conservative Democrat, for votes against bills backed by the White House, according to the newspaper. The House member’s spokeswoman said she doesn’t think the claim is true, noting Obama’s support for Matheson in a recent primary campaign.

Heyrend told the newspaper that Matheson will search for a new candidate, but he will look for guidance from the White House when moving forward.

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