Dems to nix Rauner official as potential pick for top fed Chicago spot

The Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago. | Google Streetview image

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans from Illinois have recommended four lawyers to the Trump White House for the U.S. Attorney post in Chicago, with one of them, Maggie Hickey, likely out of the running because Democrats don’t want Hickey — now a top official for GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner — in the spot, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

The other top potential nominees to replace former U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon in the Northern District of Illinois are attorneys John Lausch, Michael Scudder and Andrew Porter, sources said. In all, a pool of about a dozen names for the Chicago slot were sent to the White House, with Hickey, Lausch, Scudder and Porter flagged as frontrunners.

Even with a GOP president – Donald Trump – and a Republican-controlled Senate, Illinois Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth hold enormous power in the selection process.

After Trump sends a nomination to the Senate to consider for confirmation, the Senate Judiciary Committee gives home state senators the ability to virtually veto a nominee under its “blue slip” tradition. Durbin is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While Trump has focused on crime in Chicago – threatening to “send in the Feds” in a Twitter post four days after his Jan. 20 inauguration – the slot for Chicago’s top federal appointee has been vacant since March.

That’s when Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for the resignations of 46 federal prosecutors who were appointed during former President Barack Obama’s administration, including Fardon.

Maggie Hickey | State of Illinois website photo

Hickey is  a former assistant U.S. attorney who also served as an investigative counsel for a U.S. Senate committee — and as the chief of staff for former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill.

Ironically, the main legacy of Sen. Fitzgerald was the appointment of Patrick Fitzgerald, who is of no relation, as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Sen. Fitzgerald chose the then-New York prosecutor because he strongly believed the spot was best held by someone free from any connections to Illinois politics.

Hickey’s present position as a Rauner political appointee makes her viability as a contender to replace Fardon problematic: She has been Rauner’s Executive Inspector General since July 2015, winning confirmation for her post on May 23, 2016, on a 52-0 state Senate vote.

But that bi-partisan vote does not translate when it comes to the selection of Fardon’s replacement, with an entirely different set of politics for the high-stakes job.

Durbin, Duckworth and Mayor Rahm Emanuel will not favor handing the sensitive position to a top member of the Rauner administration, the Sun-Times has learned.

Following a longtime tradition, the Trump White House turned to the senior Republican in Congress from Illinois, Rep. John Shimkus, to recommend potential replacements for the three U.S. Attorney spots in Illinois. Shimkus firmly believes that the U.S. Attorney jobs in Illinois should go to Illinoisans.

Shimkus decided to delegate his power in the selection process to his GOP Illinois House colleagues based on the Illinois turf they represent: Rep. Peter Roskam took the lead for the Northern District, working with Reps. Randy Hultgren and Adam Kinzinger.

For the Northern District position, Shimkus consulted with Rauner and Emanuel, who backs Lausch, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis. Scudder is a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Porter is a partner at Drinker Biddle.

The Central District was handled by Reps. Rodney Davis and Darin LaHood. Shimkus and Rep. Mike Bost sent the White House names for the Southern District spot.