Political fight threatens to slow search for new top prosecutor

SHARE Political fight threatens to slow search for new top prosecutor

Illinois’ two U.S. senators, Dick Durbin (left) and Tammy Duckworth, have sent a letter to Rep. John Shimkus (center) saying the process for selecting a new U.S. attorney in Chicago has broken down. | File photos

With the ink barely dry on Zach Fardon’s resignation letter, a political battle began to break out Tuesday that threatened to delay the search for Chicago’s next U.S. attorney.

Illinois’ Democratic senators wrote a letter slamming U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, the senior congressional Republican from Illinois who is expected to recommend Chicago’s next top fed to President Donald Trump. They accused Shimkus of breaking with bipartisan tradition, and they did so while he was already reeling from a controversial remark about health insurance policies forcing men to pay for prenatal care.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth also questioned why Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office should play a role in the search for the next U.S. attorney, given the history of Rauner’s recent predecessors.

A Shimkus spokesman quickly countered that, “we have no reason to believe that this can’t be a bipartisan, collaborative and inclusive process.” A Rauner spokesman declined to comment.

The Democrats’ letter suggests the U.S. attorney search could be falling victim to partisan gridlock. Though Democrats find themselves in the minority, any senator could put a hold on such a nominee. And as the senators pointed out, longstanding practice requires both senators of a given state to consent before the judiciary committee will consider a federal nominee there.

For now, acting U.S. Attorney Joel Levin is in charge of the significant federal office with a history of rooting out public corruption. He took over Monday after Fardon’s resignation at a time when local, state and federal authorities are also struggling to get a handle on Chicago violence.

Former U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon. | Sun-Times file photo

Former U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon. | Sun-Times file photo

Fardon’s tenure came to an abrupt end after Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked 46 U.S. attorneys appointed during former President Barack Obama’s administration to resign. Fardon was one of them.

“After President Trump’s firing last Friday of 46 U.S. attorneys, including Northern District of Illinois U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon, there is a timely need to provide Illinoisans with clarity on how the process for recommending nominees will move forward,” Durbin and Duckworth wrote in their letter to Shimkus.

The Democrats wrote in the letter that Shimkus wouldn’t agree during a phone call last January to follow the “bipartisan approach we have followed for almost twenty years” until he “consulted with the Trump White House and the new attorney general.” The senators called on Shimkus to renew talks.

A Durbin spokesman said the letter was emailed to Shimkus’ chief of staff and hand-delivered to his office in Washington D.C. before news broke. However, Shimkus spokesman Jordan Haverly said, “the senator has the congressman’s phone number” and could have called rather than expressing such a concern through the media.

When asked specifically how the search for Fardon’s replacement will play out, Haverly said only one person will nominate a U.S. attorney for Chicago, and that’s Trump. Before that happens, Shimkus is “going to listen to a lot of people,” Haverly said.

“He’s going to make the best recommendation he can for who the president should appoint to root out corruption and stop the violence in Chicago,” he added.

Rauner may be one of the people Shimkus listens to before making his decision. Durbin and Duckworth questioned in their letter why Rauner’s deputy chief of staff for federal affairs, Kathy Lydon, was invited to participate in the January discussion.

“The governor of Illinois has no authority when it comes to choosing federal prosecutors and judges,” the senators wrote. “In fact, recent history suggests we should make every effort to avoid even an appearance of impropriety when it comes to the selection of federal prosecutors.”

That may because two of the three governors who preceded Rauner — Republican George Ryan and Democrat Rod Blagojevich — were prosecuted by the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago and sent to prison.

But Haverly countered: “By that standard, is there any concern about Sen. Duckworth being involved in this process? She worked for Rod Blagojevich.”

Contributing: Tina Sfondeles

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