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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Former U.S. Attorney Matt Mead (R) was sworn in on Monday as Wyoming’s 32nd governor.
Mead served as the state’s U.S. Attorney from from 2001 to 2007. He already has named several of his former colleagues from the office to his administration.
At the swearing-in ceremony and at the inaugural ball that night were several former U.S. Attorneys, according to former Colorado U.S. Attorney Troy Eid, who attend the events.
Among those in attendance were Bill Mercer of Montana, Johnny Sutton of the Western District of Texas, John Ratcliffe of the Eastern District of Texas, Tom Moss of Idaho and Susan Brooks of the Southern District of Indiana, according to Eid.
This story has been corrected from an earlier version.
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The Senate on Wednesday confirmed by unanimous consent only one of five U.S. Attorney nominees waiting for consideration by the body in this Congress, returning the rest to the White House.
Christopher Thyer received the Senate’s approval to be the top federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Arkansas. But the Senate sent back to President Barack Obama U.S. Attorney nominees S. Amanda Marshall of Oregon, M. Scott Bowen of the Western District of Michigan, John B. Stevens Jr. of the Eastern District of Texas and Thomas Gray Walker of the Eastern District of North Carolina. Obama must re-nominate the four if he wants the Senate to consider them in the next Congress, which convenes in January.
The Senate has now confirmed 76 U.S. Attorneys.
Here are more details on Thyer and the returned nominees:
- Obama nominated Thyer on Dec. 1 to be the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The Senate Judiciary Committee never held a vote on his nomination.
The Eastern District has not had a presidential appointee at the helm since Bud Cummins was ousted during the 2006 U.S. Attorney firing scandal. Rep.-elect Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), a protege of President George W. Bush’s adviser Karl Rove, replaced Cummins in 2006, serving as interim U.S. Attorney until June 2007. Jane Duke has led the U.S. Attorney’s office since Griffin’s departure.
- Obama tapped Marshall for Oregon U.S. Attorney on Nov. 17. But the Senate Judiciary Committee never acted on her nomination.
She is the top lawyer in the Child Advocacy Section of the Oregon Department of Justice. Marshall was slated to replace Interim U.S. Attorney Dwight C. Holton. Bush U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut resigned in July 2009 and later became a state judge.
Read more about Marshall here.
- Obama nominated Bowen on July 28 to be the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan. But the Senate Judiciary Committee never acted on his nomination.
He is the commissioner of the Michigan State Lottery Bureau. Bowen was slated to replace Donald A. Davis, who became Interim U.S. Attorney in 2008.
A Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorney hasn’t led the office since Margaret Chiara resigned on March 16, 2007, after being fired in the 2006 U.S. Attorney purge by the Bush administration.Read more about Bowen here.
- Obama tapped Stevens on Feb. 24 to be the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. But he withdrew from consideration a few months later, and the Senate Judiciary Committee never voted on his nomination.
Stevens told KFDM News in April that he withdrew because “what was in the best interests of me and my family 18 months ago has changed.”
Stevens, a state judge in Texas, had the support of Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, in addition to the Texas House Democrats, who are led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett.
The members of Congress are engaged in a fierce battle over the state’s four U.S. Attorney nominations. Doggett and the Republican senators submitted separate lists of their picks to the White House.
Stevens and Michael McCrum were the only U.S. Attorney candidates who appeared on both lists. McCrum was recommended for the Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney nomination.
Obama never nominated him, and McCrum removed his name from consideration in October.
- Obama nominated Walker on Nov. 30, 2009, to be the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. But the Senate Judiciary Committee never acted on his nomination.
He is a partner at the law firm of Alston & Bird, LLP in Charlotte, N.C. Walker was slated to replace U.S. Attorney George E.B. Holding, whom Bush appointed in 2006.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) held up his nomination over concerns about Walker’s connections to former Gov. Mike Easley (D) and former Sen. John Edwards (D).
The U.S. Attorney’s office investigated Easley for allegedly filing a false campaign financial disclosure. The office terminated its investigation last month after he reached a plea deal.
Edwards is reportedly under investigation by the office for allegedly paying his mistress with campaign money.
Burr said he planned to lift his hold on Walker upon completion of both the probes. Read more about Walker here.
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President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the Eastern District of Texas U.S. Attorney’s office has withdrawn his name from consideration, KFDM News reported Thursday.
John B. Stevens, a judge in Jefferson County, Texas, told the news station that he took himself out of the running for the best interests of his family. The television station said Stevens notified the Justice Department and relevant members of Congress on Wednesday.
“What was in the best interests of me and my family 18 months ago has changed,” Stevens told the news station, which is located in Beaumont, Texas. “It has been a great honor to be nominated for U.S. Attorney and I’ve had enough time to think and prayerfully reflect, and even a greater honor is the people’s will. They’ve chosen me the Criminal District Court Judge and I want to continue to serve them and this county.”
Stevens said a number of people have asked him to remain on the court, a job he loves, and his decision to withdraw brought “peace to me and my family.”
He said the slow speed of the U.S. Attorney nomination and confirmation process gave him time to weigh his options. He was nominated Feb. 24, almost five months after he was recommended to the White House by Texas House Democrats and the state’s Republican senators.
“It seems like there ought to be a quicker method,” Stevens said. “It’s certainly given me time to pray and think. Maybe the good Lord was postponing things to give me time to reconsider what’s in the best interests of me and my family and this county.”
Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison have waged a bitter battle against the Texas House Democrats, who are led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, over U.S. Attorney nominations for the state’s four federal districts.
Senators are typically afforded the privilege of recommending U.S. Attorney candidates to the White House. But if the senators are not in the same party as the president, the responsibility often falls on House members who are of the president’s party.
The Texas senators and Doggett submitted their own lists of U.S. Attorney candidates to the White House last year. Stevens and a Western District of Texas U.S. Attorney finalist were the only candidates on both lists.
Stevens is the only Texas U.S. Attorney candidate Obama has nominated thus far. He would have succeeded Rebecca Gregory, who resigned as U.S. Attorney last May.
He is the second Obama U.S. Attorney nominee to withdraw. Former Colorado U.S. Attorney nominee Stephanie Villafuerte, the deputy chief of staff to Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) for community outreach, withdrew her nomination after coming under fire by Republicans who questioned whether she asked employees of the Denver district attorney’s office to access a restricted government database in connection with the 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Villafuerte denied the allegation.
Doggett issued the following statement on the withdrawal:
“This is a real loss for our justice system. We have not had a more qualified individual for the job of U.S. Attorney than Judge John B. Stevens, whose name we first submitted to the White House on March 11, 2009. As with the recent decision of Sheriff Mitch Woods to withdraw his name for U.S. Marshal, I understand and respect the decision of these outstanding public officials. Each had to wait far too long for too little progress. I trust that Judge Stevens will continue his exceptional service in the local judiciary. Making timely appointments has simply not gotten adequate attention from this Administration. This loss should send a strong signal to the Administration to place a much higher priority on strengthening our justice system across the State of Texas and across America. This problem of unnecessary, lengthy delay in the appointment process is having negative consequences far beyond Jefferson County.”
This story has been corrected to reflect that Republicans questioned whether Villafuerte asked the Denver district attorney’s office to access a government database for political purposes, an allegation she has denied.
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John B. Stevens Jr. (Lamar University, University of Houston Law Center ) is nominated to be U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. He would replace Rebecca A. Gregory, who headed the office from 2007 until earlier this year. The district’s current acting U.S. Attorney is John Malcolm Bales.
- Born in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1952.
- Attended but did not earn a degree from the University of Texas at Austin.
- Earned a Master of Social Science degree from Syracuse University.
- Has been a Criminal District Court Judge for Jefferson County, Texas, since 2007.
- Was a private contract attorney in Beaumont, Texas, in 2006.
- Worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas from 1985 to 2005.
- Was an associate attorney with Provost & Umphrey, LLP from 1981 to 1985.
- Served as assistant criminal district attorney for Jefferson County, Texas, from 1979 to 1981.
- Has tried approximately 100 cases to final disposition, serving as chief counsel on approximately 90 of those cases and 10 as associate counsel.
Click here for his full Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.
On his Office of Government Ethics financial disclosure statement, Stevens reported income of $50,000 annually from a “deferred benefit” from the Texas Teachers Retirement System. He also reported earning a salary of $15,000 from the Criminal District Court of Jefferson County, Texas, and a salary of $150,000 from the state of Texas.
On his Senate Judiciary financial disclosure he reported assets of $1.35 million, mostly from securities and a thrift savings account, and no liabilities.
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President Barack Obama made four U.S. Attorney nominations on Wednesday, the White House announced late last night.
-Laura Duffy (Southern District of California): The Assistant U.S. Attorney, who has worked in the Southern District since 1997, would replace interim U.S. Attorney Karen P. Hewitt, who has led the office since Carol Lam was forced out during the 2006 U.S. Attorney purge. Read more about Duffy here.
-Wifredo Ferrer (Southern District of Florida): The assistant Dade County, Fla., attorney and deputy chief of staff to then-Attorney General Janet Reno would succeed R. Alexander Acosta as the next presidentially appointed U.S. Attorney. Acosta stepped down last summer, and his first deputy, Jeffrey H. Sloman, became acting U.S. Attorney. Sloman was appointed U.S. Attorney in January by U.S. Attorney Eric Holder and continues to lead the office pending confirmation of a new U.S. Attorney.
Read more about the nominee here.
-Alicia Limtiaco (Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands): The Guam attorney general would replace U.S. Attorney Leonardo Rapadas, who has led the territories’ offices since 2003. Read more about her here.
-John B. Stevens Jr. (Eastern District of Texas): The Jefferson County, Texas, judge would succeed Rebecca Gregory, who resigned last May. Stevens and a U.S. Attorney finalist for the Western District of Texas are the only candidates for the state’s four U.S. Attorney posts who received the backing of the Texas House Democrats and the state’s Republican senators in a tense battle over recommendations. Read more about Stevens here.
Obama has now made 50 U.S. Attorney nominations. The Senate has confirmed 34 U.S. Attorneys thus far.
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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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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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Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) submitted recommendations for two Texas U.S. Attorney posts, his office announced today.
-Michael W. McCrum (Western District of Texas): 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.
-John B. Stevens Jr. (Eastern District of Texas): He is a judge in the Jefferson County Criminal District Court in Texas.
The Austin Democrat made the recommendations on behalf of the Texas Democratic House delegation, which has “completed its consultation with the White House and has reached agreement,” according to a news release from Doggett’s office.
His statement suggests Texas House Democrats may have reached some kind of détente with Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, who’ve been wrestling with Democrats for control of the judicial and U.S. Attorney recommendations for the state.
To the ire of Texas Democrats, the conservative senators earlier this year established their own screening committee to review U.S. Attorney candidates. In July the senators interviewed their own candidates in meetings in Washington, but they declined to reveal any names. (Hutchison, meanwhile, has mounted a campaign for Texas governor.)
We have no special insight here. But we do know the White House has been bending over backwards to defer to Republican senators in the U.S. Attorney selection process. So, if McCrum and Stevens were recommended in agreement with the White House, that could mean Cornyn has signaled he won’t go through with this threat to “blue slip” the nominees.
Doggett spokesperson Sarah Dohl declined to comment, except to say, “We’ve had extended consultation with the White House” on the recommended nominees.
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A controversial screening committee set up by Texas’s two Republican senators has interviewed every person on the White House’s list of U.S. Attorney candidates for Texas, the chairman of the panel said Thursday.
But the screening panel, convened by GOP Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, also interviewed candidates who were not forwarded by President Obama, said Dan Hedges, a partner at Porter & Hedges LLP in Houston. That means there is still potential for conflict if the senators ultimately back candidates who don’t have the imprimatur of the Texas House Democrats.
The Republican senators and Texas Democrats led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, an Austin liberal, have been squabbling for months over who gets to make recommendations to the White House. Cornyn, a conservative, has threatened to block candidates not approved by his and Hutchison’s screening panel. Read our previous reports here and here and here.
Still, Hedges’s description of the screening process punctures some of the air from the drama. For example, the senators’ committee doesn’t appear to have gone rouge - it interviewed all the White House candidates. Surely some from that list will win the Republican senators’ approval? So the whole exercise could end up being a lot of chest-beating on both sides.
What’s not known yet is how the GOP-led screening committee ranked the candidates - or if the senators picked any finalists who were not on the White House lists. Finalists for the Beaumont-based Eastern District and the Dallas-based Northern District were slated to be in Washington today to meet with Cornyn and Hutchison, we previously reported.
KFDM News in Beaumont reported that Criminal District Judge John Stevens of Beaumont “was approached” about taking the Eastern District U.S. Attorney job. The former U.S. Attorney for the district, Rebecca Gregory, resigned in May. The office is current led by interim U.S. Attorney John Malcolm Bales.
The Dallas Morning News reported names of potential candidates for the Northern District here. The Austin-American Statesman identified candidates for the San Antonio-based Western District here.
The White House sent four names for the Northern District — and the screening committee interviewed two additional candidates not on the president’s list, Hedges said. Likewise, the White House sent only one name for the Eastern District, but the screening panel ranked two candidates, Hedges said.
The White House list contained “three or four” names for the Western District in San Antonio and three for the Houston-based Southern District, Hedges said.
He added that interviews for the Dallas-based Northern District of Texas and the Beaumont-based Eastern District of Texas were completed about three weeks ago, followed by interviews for the Southern and Western districts.
Hedges, a Republican, was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas from 1981-1985. He, Dan Webb, and Rudy Giuliani co-founded the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force — which is holding a big conference in Washington this week, affording more than one potential U.S. Attorney candidate a chance to meet with his or her home-state congressional leaders, who are here in Washington because Congress is in session.
Hutchison said in an interview with Main Justice that she and Cornyn held interviews this week with candidates from the Republican-backed screening committee. The Texas senator declined to comment on who they interviewed and the number of candidates they met on Capitol Hill. She said they will continue to hold interviews next week for candidates who weren’t able to come to D.C. this week.
“There isn’t any need to say who we interviewed at this point,” Hutchison said.
Andrew Ramonas contributed to this report.