As Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s last day on the job nears, Illinois’ two senators say they are working together to find a replacement.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D) will lead the search — it’s customary for a home-state senator of the same party as the president to make recommendations for U.S. attorneys — but Sen. Mark Kirk (R) will also have input, a Durbin spokeswoman told Illinois Statehouse News.
“Democrat or Republican doesn’t really matter,” Durbin spokeswoman Christina Angarola said. “Both senators work in conjunction with one another. Even though Durbin is the Democratic senator, the senator from the opposing party doesn’t have zero power. They embarked on this process together.”
Fitzgerald announced last month he was stepping down after more than a decade as the chief federal prosecutor in Chicago. He was previously an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan, where he became one of the most knowledgeable prosecutors about terrorist networks. He helped prosecute the “blind sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman, implicated in the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and convicted of other plots; and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was charged along with more than 20 others in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Durbin and Kirk are facing a tough job in finding a replacement. Praise for Fitzgerald’s long-running tenure has been plentiful in recent weeks. Yesterday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder was extolling Fitzgerald’s work, which includes the high-profile prosecutions of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and former Vice President Dick Cheney adviser I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Jr. Fitzgerald has not announced what he will do after he departs the U.S. Attorney’s office on June 30.
If an interim appointment is necessary following Fitzgerald’s departure, it’s likely that First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro would take over. Regardless, with congressional recesses and an upcoming presidential election looming that could change party control of the White House, it’s doubtful that any new Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney will be in place this year.
“It is a really complicated process,” Angarola said. “They will work together from the beginning so when in a position to make this recommendation they both agree on it.”
Because the position is a presidential appointment, Durbin could choose to wait until after the November election to move forward. A Durbin spokesman told the Chicago Sun-Times that the senator has not yet made that determination.
Some names being floated to succeed Fitzgerald are former assistant U.S. Attorneys David Hoffman, Robert Tarun and Reid Schar; Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson, former U.S. Attorney Dan Reidy and Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Hoffman served under Fitzgerald as an AUSA, was Chicago’s inspector general from 2005 to 2009 and was also a Democratic candidate to fill Barack Obama’s Senate seat in 2010. He is now a partner at Sidley Austin LLP’s Chicago firm.
Schar was the lead prosecutor in the case against Blagojevich. Last week, he announced he was leaving the office after 13 years to join Jenner & Block.
Tarun is a former Chicago executive AUSA and now is a partner at Baker & McKenzie LLP. He is the author of “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Handbook,” which was published by the American Bar Association.