The next US attorney for Utah: a Republican?

With David Schwendiman no longer a nominee for US attorney from Utah, the Obama Administration has had to look elsewhere for the lead federal prosecutor in Utah.  And their gaze seems tohave fallen on Scott Burns, Iron County attorney and former candidate for Utah attorney general.  His post recent position is as executive director of the National District Attorneys Association in Alexandria, Va.  He’s also a Republican, a fact that has some Democrats in Congress, as well as Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Todd Taylor, less than happy.  Although he did confirm that Burns is being vetted and that the Department of Justice was speaking to several people in the state, Taylor did not confirm that anyone had called him.

However, we don’t have to guess what Taylor would say if the Obama Administration did ask his opinion.  He told the Salt Lake Tribune quite clearly:

Taylor was not pleased that the administration’s focus apparently has shifted to Burns, a Republican who twice ran for Utah attorney general and lost both times to Democrat Jan Graham.

“If they were just going to pick another [Republican],” Taylor said, “I don’t know why they didn’t stick with Brett Tolman [U.S. Attorney under the Bush Administration],” the past U.S. attorney who stepped down in December.

“Scott Burns is a lousy, horrible choice. This is a guy who went through two very divisive statewide races and lost both of them,” he said. “He does not enjoy the confidence of the people of Utah. When a Republican can lose a statewide race twice, this is someone who is clearly not acceptable.”

The opinion was not necessarily shared by Utah Republican Party Chair Dave Hansen, who said that Burns is a “very capable, very competent person. … He has that valuable experience working in Washington[.]”  But Hansen was as in the dark as Taylor about why the Obama Administration would nominate Burns, or any Republican, for that matter.

Neither Hansen nor Taylor were alone in their ignorance.  When contacted by the Salt Lake Tribune, Congressman Matheson’s office, which had helped nominate Schwendiman, was out of the loop, too.

“After the White House declined to move Schwendiman’s nomination forward, Matheson said, ‘Well, we’ll put forward another name,’ ” [Matheson spokesman] Heyrend said. “But before he put forward another name he wanted to check with the White House and find out what their process was and that conversation hasn’t taken place.”

The US attorney’s office in Utah has been temporarily run by Carlie Christensen, a career Department of Justice attorney.  He’s been covering the job since Tolman stepped down last year.

So the big question is: why Scott Burns?  Typically, U.S. attorneys are nominated by the current administration in consultation with the elected representatives of the state, especially those from the President’s party.  In a red state such as is Utah, that leaves only Congressman Jim Matheson.  If he’s not consulted, and Todd Taylor–the state party’s executive director–has not been consulted, who have the President’s people been speaking with?

Another way of looking at this might be: who owes Scott Burns a favor sufficient that he can obtain the nomination for the US attorney spot in Utah?  How does a Republican get nominated by a Democrat?  Is Obama really more bi-partisan than his critiques claim?

But most of all–where’s the consultation with locals?

(Thanks to Main Justice, the Salt Lake Tribune, and ABC4)

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7 responses to “The next US attorney for Utah: a Republican?

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