Nominated NC U.S. attorney facing questions

December 1, 2009 9:56:56 PM PST
The Obama administration has nominated a replacement for the U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of North Carolina.The job is currently held by George Holding, a President Bush appointee, who has led the ongoing investigations of John Edwards and Mike Easley, who are both Democrats.

Easley and Edwards have received campaign contributions from the new nominee, Democrat and Charlotte attorney Thomas Walker, in years past.

It's leading to big questions about the future of those investigations.

"The average guy looking at this is going to say that's politics," political consultant Carter Wrenn."They put a Democrat contributor in charge of investigating a former Democratic governor."

But Lisa Griffin, a Duke Law professor and former federal prosecutor, says it's common that an attorney up for political appointment would have some track record as a campaign donor.

She also says it's common for long public corruption probes to pass from one U.S. attorney to another, while career prosecutors closest to the case continue the probe.

"There are non-politically appointed assistants and supervisors in every office who are well versed in those cases and investigations and will see them through," Griffin said.

The nomination also raises questions about North Carolina's Senator Kay Hagan and Richard Burr.

"Without the support of the North Carolina senators, it's unlikely this nomination would have gone forward to begin with," Griffin said.

Hagan, a Democrat, has said many times she has urged Obama to keep Holding in place until his work on Easley and Edwards are done.

But senators also have the power to block an U.S. attorney nomination.

"Any Senator has the power to hold up the nomination for a U.S. attorney in their home state," Wrenn said. "Helms did it. Robert Morgan did. Terry Sanford did it. It's just not unusual at all."

Wrenn was an aide to Senator Jesse Helms, who blocked every one of President Bill Clinton's judicial nomination in North Carolina.

The Senate confirmation process of other recent U.S. attorneys this year has taken about two months.

If confirmed Walker would not likely come in and Holding would not leave until well after the new year.

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