Although jockeying over candidates by the state’s congressional delegation has complicated matters, Obama administration officials say the president still intends to make nominations for the four U.S. Attorney positions in Texas.
Responding to concerns raised by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), White House spokesman Reid Cherlin told Main Justice that the administration remains committed to filling the four slots. “This is a priority for us and we hope to nominate candidates soon,” Cherlin said.
With less than two years in his term remaining, President Barack Obama has yet to appoint Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorneys for the state, leaving the top federal prosecuting jobs in one of the most populous states with temporary appointees. He made one U.S. Attorney nomination for Texas so far, but John B. Stevens Jr. last year withdrew his name from consideration for the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Texas after the Senate Judiciary Committee stalled on his confirmation.
Cornyn told reporters this month that he hasn’t heard anything definitive about U.S. Attorney nominations for his state. The senator said filling the U.S. Attorney posts isn’t a priority for the Obama administration.
However, a newspaper reported that some progress is being made. The Justice Department has started to vet candidates to fill the four U.S. Attorney jobs, The Dallas Morning News reported this week. But the list of candidates is still broad, according to the newspaper.
The nomination process in Texas has been messy. Traditionally, home-state senators recommend candidates to the White House — unless both of the state’s senators are of different parties than the president. That is the case in Texas, where Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison are Republicans. In such cases, the president often relies on House members who are members of his political party.
In 2009, the state’s senators sent Obama one list and the Texas House Democrats sent him another. Since then, the senators and the House Democrats, led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett have battled over who gets to recommend candidates to the White House, providing Obama with only a couple of bipartisan options for the U.S. Attorney posts.
Stevens and Michael McCrum were the only candidates on both the Republican and Democratic lists released to the public and sent to the president in 2009. But McCrum, who was recommended for Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney, withdrew his name from consideration, saying he no longer could wait for the president to send his nomination to the Senate.
In addition to Stevens, the Texas senators suggested the current leader of the Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office, John Malcom Bales, as a candidate for a permanent appointment to that office, which is based in Beaumont. U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Pitman got the senators’ endorsement too, joining McCrum on their list of candidates for the Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is based in San Antonio.
The senators also recommended that Obama nominate Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson to lead the Houston-based Southern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana to take the reins of Dallas-based Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Doggett’s publicly released list in 2009 did not include any candidates for the Northern and Southern districts. But the congressman said last year that he recommended U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeff Kaplan for Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney.
Cornyn has been vocal about his support for Saldana, telling The Dallas Morning News last year that he would “go to the mat” for her. Saldana has faced opposition from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) over concerns about the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s successful public corruption prosecution of former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill (D) and former state Rep. Terri Hodge (D), according to The Dallas Morning News.
Of the 93 U.S. Attorney posts across the country, 17 remain in office because a replacement has not yet been nominated by Obama or confirmed by the Senate. The president made four U.S. Attorney nominations so far this year. But the Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to consider the nominations.
President George W. Bush had Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney appointees in place at the four Texas U.S. Attorney’s offices by April 2002, a little more than a year after he took office. His job no doubt was made easier by his having served as the state’s governor, making him familiar with the political landscape.
President Bill Clinton had two Senate-confirmed Texas U.S. Attorney appointees in place less than a year after he became president. But the Eastern District of Texas did not get a Senate-confirmed leader appointed by Clinton until fall 1994, and the Western District of Texas didn’t receive one until November 1997, nearly four years after he took office.
The Texas U.S. Attorney posts have not been held by Senate-confirmed appointees since at least April 2009.
Johnny Sutton, whom Bush appointed in 2001, stepped down as Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney in April 2009. John E. Murphy has led the office since then.
Rebecca A. Gregory, whom Bush appointed in 2007, resigned as Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney in April 2009. Bales has headed the office since her departure.
Richard Roper, whom Bush appointed in 2004, stepped down as Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney in December 2008. James T. Jacks has led the office since then.
Don DeGabrielle, whom Bush appointed in 2006, resigned as Southern District of Texas U.S. Attorney in November 2008. Jose Angel Moreno has headed the office since February 2010.
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The priorities of the Dallas-based U.S. Attorney’s office “pretty much track the priorities of the Department of Justice on a national level” U.S. Attorney Jim Jacks recently told The Dallas Morning News.
In a short Q&A with the newspaper, Jacks said the office is focusing on terrorism, public corruption, financial fraud, drug trafficking, child exploitation, pornography and cybercrime cases.
Jacks has headed the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Northern District of Texas since January 2009 when Bush appointee Richard Roper resigned to become a partner at Thompson & Knight LLP in Dallas. Previously Jacks had served as the district’s First Assistant U.S. Attorney for six years.
President Barack Obama has not named a nominee for the district. Texas’ Republican senators have recommended Sarah Saldana, an Assistant U.S. Attorney who heads the fraud and public corruption division in the district; the Democratic delegation in the House has suggested U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeff Kaplan for the post.
Read the full Q&A here.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who leads the Texas House Democrats, recommended that President Barack Obama nominate a U.S. magistrate judge to be the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, The Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday.
Jeff Kaplan, who is a Dallas-based U.S. magistrate judge, received the unanimous support of the Texas House Democrats. But the White House has not contacted Republican Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison about the nomination, according to the newspaper.
Earlier this month, Cornyn expressed frustration with Democrats for opposing his candidate to lead the Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office: Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana.
The Republican senator said he is “willing to go to the mat” for Saldana, which could keep Kaplan stalled in the Senate if he is nominated.
The Senate Judiciary Committee traditionally waits for home state senators to return “blue slips” — a piece of paper that senators use to signal their approval or disapproval of nominees — before it proceeds on presidential nominations. Cornyn, who also sits on the panel, could withhold his blue slip, delaying action on Kaplan.
Kaplan has served a U.S. magistrate judge since 1994. He received his bachelor’s from the Vanderbilt University in 1978. Southern Methodist University awarded him a law degree in 1981.
Before he became a magistrate judge, Kaplan was a member of the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas, a state appellate court. He also spent time as a lawyer in private practice, working on civil and appellate cases. His wife, Barbara A. Kennedy, is a partner in the Dallas office of Shannon, Gracey, Ratliff & Miller LLP.
Read more about Kaplan here.
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Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) turned up the heat on Democrats for allegedly rejecting his candidate to lead the Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office, The Dallas Morning News reported Friday.
The Republican senator said the state’s Democrats are against the candidate he recommended for U.S. Attorney last October, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana, because she handled the successful prosecution this year of former Dallas Mayor Pro tem Don Hill, a Democrat, on extortion and bribery charges.
“I’m willing to go to the mat [for Saldana],” Cornyn said, according to the newspaper.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, a Democrat, rebuked Cornyn, saying no one is trying to chastise Saldana for her prosecution of Hill.
“Politically, it’s time to grow up,” Watkins said. “When you’re dealing with justice, politics shouldn’t come into the equation.”
The state’s House Democrats are submitting their own candidates for the four Texas U.S. Attorney posts. But the Democrats have yet to publicly announce a candidate for the Northern District.
Watkins said he would like the White House to tap his chief deputy, Terri Moore, for U.S. Attorney.
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Just as some Justice Department offices in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast finally are back in business after an earlier one-two punch of winter storms had laid them low earlier in the week, another storm that is bringing several inches of snow to the South closed U.S. Attorney’s offices in five districts today.
According to DOJ spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz, the shuttered offices are the:
- Southern District of Mississippi.
- Southern District of Alabama (Mobile office).
- Middle District of Alabama.
- Western District of Louisiana (Shreveport office).
- Eastern District of Texas (Plano, Sherman and Texarkana offices).
The branch offices for Northern District of Texas in Dallas and Fort Worth opened late today. The Eastern District of Texas’s branch offices in Tyler and Lufkin also had late openings today.
Many employees at shuttered offices are still able to work remotely, using communications technology such as BlackBerries, cell phones and laptop computers, DOJ officials have said.
Most of this week, many U.S. Attorney’s offices across the East Coast were closed because of two crippling blizzards that dumped more than a foot of snow. DOJ headquarters in Washington also had limited operations.
Today, all of the U.S. Attorney’s offices that were closed this week have been reopened and the DOJ operations in Washington are back to normal, according to DOJ officials.
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With the White House unwilling to consider his pick for Dallas U.S. Attorney, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Thursday eased up in his fight to get Sarah Saldana nominated, The Dallas Morning News reported. Although he still prefers the North Texas Assistant U.S. Attorney for the job, Cornyn said during a conference call with reporters that he is willing to consider other candidates, The Morning News reported.
Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) have been squaring off with Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) over whether Republicans or Democrats will be in charge of recommending U.S. Attorney candidates to the White House. Cornyn has threatened to block any nominee who was not approved by a screening committee set up by the Republican senators. Doggett has insisted that Texas Democrats will have the final word.
During the Thursday call, Cornyn’s tone seemed to soften. “The ball is really in the White House’s court,” the senator said. He said he would characterize his discussions with the White House as “a negotiation,” The Morning News reported.
Doggett said on Thursday said in a statement: ”Since there are a number of well-qualified individuals for U.S. attorney, I have no doubt this will be resolved from our delegation’s recommendations.”
According to Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D), Texas Democrats are unwilling to recommend Saldana, The Morning News reported. While they have yet to publicly announce their choices for the Dallas-based job, Democrats have recommended Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore and Dallas civil lawyer Roger Williams to President Obama, The Morning News has reported.
Cornyn spokesman Kevin McLaughlin said the senator is waiting for an answer from the White House as to why Saldana is not being considered, The Morning News reported. “She’s an arguably liberal Democrat who’s been endorsed by [abortion rights group] NARAL and a lot of liberal organizations who Senator Cornyn does not have anything in common with,” McLaughlin said, adding, “It’s not like it’s Antonin Scalia,” he added, referring to the conservative Supreme Court justice.
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Just how far did Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana make it with the Democrats in Texas?
The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reported last week that Saldana never made it on the Lone Star’s House Democrats’ list. This item contradicted information reported in the Dallas Morning News, which reported days earlier that Saldana was on the Democrats’ short list “for much of the year,” but taken off once Sen. Kay Baily Hutchison (R-Texas) backed her.
The Star-Telegram goes further, claiming Saldana didn’t even interview with the state’s House Democrats, quoting Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D), as saying Saldana’s name “never came up in our group.”
In fact, according to the Star-Telegram, Saldana had been “extremely pushy” with Johnson. The Assistant U.S. Attorney recently participated in the prosecution team that won conviction of former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill in what the Morning News called the largest corruption scandal in Dallas’ history.
Recently, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) told Main Justice that no federal attorney would be confirmed “without the Texas Democratic delegation’s support.” But the Republican senators, even though they aren’t from President Obama’s party, have not been willing to relinquish their role in the process.
Doggett has said Cornyn and Hutchison’s Republican screening committee has been “not very helpful” in the process. Democrats have drawn up their own list of candidates, which recommends Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore and Dallas civil lawyer Roger Williams for the Northern District spot.
Calls to Doggett and Cornyn’s offices were not returned.
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Here’s a man-bites-dog story: John Cornyn has taken his fight to get a Democrat confirmed as North Texas U.S. Attorney to the Federalist Society.
In a speech Friday to members of the conservative legal organization’s Dallas chapter, Cornyn touted his pick for the job, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana. “It would set a bad precedent if they [the administration] bowed to political pressure” and didn’t nominate her, Cornyn said, according to the Dallas Morning News.
That “political pressure” would be from Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who is furious that Cornyn and Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) have refused to stand aside and let Texas Democrats recommend the candidates. But senators have the power to block nominees, so the White House has been deferential to their views — even when they are Republicans.
Cornyn, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has vowed to block any nominee who didn’t meet his approval. He finessed the matter by picking Saldana, a Democrat, for the Dallas-based job. It was a canny move. The Obama administration doesn’t want to be accused, as President George W. Bush was, of politicizing the U.S. Attorney selections, and has gone out of its way to find consensus candidates. Now Cornyn gets to call himself bipartisan while also appearing to be in charge of the selection process. All this undoubtedly really steams Doggett.
Poor Saldana has been caught in the crossfire. According to The Morning News, Saldana was on the Democrats’ short list — until the Republicans began backing her. Then, she was off the Democratic list. Read our recent stories about the dueling Texas lists here and here.
Read here a joint news release Cornyn issued with Hutchison demanding the Lone Star State Democrats back Saldana. Saldana is not on the Democratic delegation’s official list, despite being a Democratic donor to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.
The Federalist Society has been an incubator for conservative legal talent. During the Bush administration, it served as a stepping stone to high-ranking legal jobs.
Cornyn told the group:
“I have not heard a single legitimate reason offered by them to oppose her,” Cornyn said. “The real reason for opposition is rooted more in politics, not merit.”
The Democrats are pushing for either Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore or Dallas civil lawyer Roger Williams for the Northern District spot.
Hutchison, meanwhile, has turned her attention to running for the Republican nomination for governor, challenging Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).
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Texas’s Republican senators and the state’s House Democrats have submitted separate lists of U.S. Attorney recommendations to the White House, setting the scene for a partisan shootout.
We reported yesterday that Sen. John Cornyn is threatening to block anyone but Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana for the U.S. Attorney post in North Texas. And the Texas House Democrats, led by delegation chairman Rep. Lloyd Doggett, don’t want Saldana. So that’s one showdown.
Then today, we got our hands on this news release issued by Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison that appears to raise the stakes. The Republican senators, not willing to be cut out of the nomination process just because a Democrat now holds the White House, have submitted a complete list of candidates for all four of the state’s U.S. Attorney offices.
In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Cornyn reaffirmed his intention to block any U.S. Attorney nominee that did not go through his Republican screening committee. ”It’s the president’s prerogative to nominate anybody he wants,” Cornyn said. “But it’s the prerogative of the Senate to decide whether those individuals will be confirmed.”
Here is the list of the GOP recommended candidates, from the Cornyn-Hutchison news release:
-John B. Stevens Jr. (Recommended by Texas senators and Doggett): He is a judge in the Jefferson County Criminal District Court in Texas.
-John Malcolm Bales (Recommended by Texas senators): He is the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.
-Sarah Saldana (Recommended by Texas senators): The Assistant U.S. Attorney heads the fraud and public corruption division in the Dallas-based Northern District.
Southern District of Texas:
-Kenneth Magidson (Recommended by Texas senators): The Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Houston-based office heads the organized crime drug enforcement task force for the Southwest region.
Western District of Texas:
-Michael McCrum (Recommended by Texas senators and Doggett): He is a San Antonio-based lawyer at the Thompson & Knight law firm, where he focuses on white collar criminal defense. Read more about him here.
-Robert Pitman (Recommended by Texas senators): He is a U.S. magistrate judge in the Western District of Texas.
In two instances, the candidates picked by the senators were also acceptable to Democrats — and they now appear on their way toward nomination. As we reported Wednesday, they are McCrum in San Antonio and Stevens for the Beaumont-based Eastern district. Doggett issued this news release Wednesday formally recommending McCrum and Stevens.
Doggett said in the news release that he reached agreement with the White House before making those two recommendations on behalf of the Texas Democrats. The negotiation included ”tense consultations” between Doggett and the senators, The Austin American-Statesman reported yesterday. The Obama White House has been reluctant to put names forward that Republican senators don’t support.
It would appear that Doggett has had to retreat somewhat from his tough talk earlier in the year. In an interview with Main Justice in June, he insisted the Democratic delegation would have the final say on recommendations to the White House. But Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, in Doggett’s Austin home base, was the congressman’s first choice for the Western District, the Austin American-Statesman reported. But Escamilla didn’t have the support of the Republican senators and was eliminated.
Texas Democrats support Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore and Dallas civil lawyer Roger Williams for the Northern District. But in the face of apparent opposition from the GOP senators, the Democrats have made no formal announcement.
“We thought Sarah Saldana was the best candidate and that’s why we sent her name to the White House,” Cornyn told reporters yesterday about his Northern District choice. “My hope is that the White House will choose her and make that appointment.”
It’s unclear why the House Democrats snubbed Saldana, whom the Morning News describes as “a candidate with strong Democratic credentials.” She played a key role in a Dallas City Hall corruption trial that some Democrats cast as politically motivated, but Johnson said her involvement was not a factor.
Doggett said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News that the Texas Democratic delegation “never sought confrontation with our senators.”
“I understand they were more comfortable with an inside Republican process, but elections matter,” he said. “Insisting that one and only one person whom they select can be appointed to one of these positions would be a clear abuse of authority.”
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A former Dallas official who claimed the Bush Justice Department targeted him for prosecution because he is an African-American Democrat was convicted on bribery charges Monday.
Former Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill and others were found guilty on charges of pushing through low-income housing projects in a bribery and extortion scheme, according to U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas James T. Jacks. Also convicted was Hill’s wife, Shelia Farrington Hill; Hill’s appointee to the Dallas Plan Commission, D’Angelo Lee; Chairman and CEO of the Black State Employees Association Darren L. Reagan and businessman Rickey Robertson. U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn has yet to schedule a sentencing date.
The Justice Department alleged that, beginning in 2004, the defendants entered into an association in which thousands of dollars in bribes disguised as business contracts were paid by co-defendants Brian L. Potashnik and his wife Cheryl L. Potashnik, owners of Southwest Housing Development Company, Inc. The government also charged that Hill and Lee were involved in illegally soliciting developers for financial benefit.
Jacks released the following statement:
“At the end of the day, the citizens of a community are the ones that ultimately decide what type of government they will have in that community. Whether at the ballot box or, as in this case, through its verdict as a jury, the citizens decide what is expected of their elected officials. Through this lengthy investigation and subsequent trial, the government presented compelling evidence showing that an elected official and many of those non-elected officials working around him, sought to use that position as a means to line their own pockets at the expense of the public. The jury’s verdict today shows that the citizens of this community do not want a government where the game is rigged and the people in positions of power seek to further their own interests before that of the citizens they are supposed to be serving.”
Michael P. Lahey, Dallas Special Agent in Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation, released the following statement:
“The citizens of this community are truly the victims of this crime. They must believe that they can trust the officials they elect to do what is right and this verdict is a validation of that principle. Part of IRS-CI’s mission is to assure these honest taxpayers that everyone must comply with the same laws.”