Aerial view of the Chicago skyline looking east along Chicago Avenue to Lake Michigan on April 17, 2017.
Several former federal prosecutors have emerged as finalists to be the next U.S. attorney in Chicago, but how the selection process will ultimately play out between the Trump administration and the state’s two Democratic senators is a wild card that few venture to predict.
After weeks of vetting by Illinois’ top congressional Republicans, candidates whose names have been sent to the White House for consideration include Michael Scudder, Andrew Porter and John Lausch, all former assistant U.S. attorneys in Chicago who are now at high-profile private firms in the city, sources have told the Tribune.
Another former federal prosecutor, Maggie Hickey, was also highly touted by the selection team. But sources said she is no longer considered viable because the state’s two Democratic senators —who would play a key role in confirming President Donald Trump’s nominee — are wary of her prominent role as executive inspector general in Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration.
All four finalists have been interviewed by White House officials, a Capitol Hill source said Thursday. They emerged from a field of about 20 people who told U.S. House Republicans from Illinois that they were interested in the job, the source said, and the lawmakers passed on their names to the Trump administration.
The process got rolling in March after U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon resigned along with about 40 other Obama-era prosecutors whom the Justice Department asked to step down.
The first crack at vetting candidates went to three local Republican lawmakers — U.S. Reps. Peter Roskam, Randy Hultgren and Adam Kinzinger — who were given the task by Downstate Rep. John Shimkus, the state’s most senior Republican in Congress.
Though the Republicans have forwarded candidate names to Trump’s administration, Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth have flexed their muscles to stress they have a say in the process.
Earlier this month, the Tribune reported that the senators had named 15 legal experts to "Senators’ Screening Committees" to weigh who should get the job.
Either senator also has the ability to essentially veto any nominee under the "blue slip" tradition of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Durbin sits on the Republican-led committee, which will hold a confirmation hearing for Trump’s eventual pick.
Duckworth is not on the committee, but both she and Durbin will have a say in the nomination since the panel’s chairman traditionally asks both home-state senators to weigh in in such cases.
How the simmering, monthslong feud will play out is anyone’s guess. A White House spokesman told the Tribune on June 1 that the recommendations "will be reviewed in a few weeks and then the interviews begin," but declined to answer further questions.
Sean Savett, a spokesman for Duckworth, said it was "best to check with the White House to see where they are in the process, what their timeline is and who they are considering." A spokesman for Durbin did not return calls seeking comment.
Meanwhile, sources have told the Tribune a behind-the-scenes push has mounted to promote Scudder, a onetime federal prosecutor in Manhattan who is now partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where he specializes in government enforcement and white-collar crime.
Scudder recently represented former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was sentenced in April to 4 1/2 years in prison in a massive contract kickback scheme.
Scudder’s colleague at Skadden is Patrick Fitzgerald, the legendary U.S. attorney in Chicago who prosecuted former Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, along with a slew of other high-profile public corruption and terrorism cases. Scudder also served as general counsel of the National Security Council under President George W. Bush from 2007 to 2009.
The other names sent to the White House also have strong pedigrees. Porter, now a partner at Drinker, Biddle & Reath, spent 15 years as an assistant U.S. attorney under Fitzgerald and Fardon, where he most notably helped lead the massive narcotics conspiracy case brought against Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and dozens of Sinaloa cartel leaders.
Lausch, a partner in Kirkland and Ellis’ Chicago office, was a supervisor in the U.S. attorney’s office under Fitzgerald, where he handled corruption cases involving Chicago police officers as well as several complex racketeering conspiracy trials. Lausch was also a finalist to replace Fitzgerald as U.S. attorney after he stepped down in 2012 — the job that ultimately went to Fardon.
Scudder, Porter and Lausch all were unavailable for comment Thursday. Hickey declined to comment.