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Utah congressmen urge Obama administration to appoint federal prosecutor

Published: Sunday, May 8 2011 10:29 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah congressman has sent a second letter to President Barack Obama urging him to nominate a U.S. attorney for the state.

Utah has been without a president-appointed federal prosecutor since Brett Tolman resigned in December 2009.

"Utahns have been patient in this matter, as have I," wrote Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. "But this has simply gone on too long."

Chaffetz wants Obama to submit a name by June 30. He sent the president a similar letter in October.

Carlie Christensen was named acting U.S. attorney after Tolman's resignation. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder then appointed her to a 120-day term as U.S. attorney in July 2010. She has acted in an interim capacity since that term expired, said Department of Justice spokeswoman Jessica Smith.

Although Christensen didn't receive a presidential appointment, Smith said, she is an experienced federal prosecutor who oversees the office's traditional prosecutorial and litigation functions.

"Under her leadership, the office continues to effectively fulfill its responsibilities to promote and protect public safety and defend the interests of the taxpayers," she said.

Still, Rep. Jim Matheson, the lone Democrat in Utah's congressional delegation, and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch agree a presidential nomination has been too long in coming. Both have submitted names to the White House in recent months. The Senate must confirm the nominee.

Matheson said he doesn't know where in the vetting process those names sit.

Though he said he respects the need for thoroughness, "I also believe that there has been ample opportunity for the selection to move forward. I hope that the administration will take seriously the need to fill this position in a timely way."

Hatch, too, said he remains hopeful the president "will yet give this appointment the priority that it deserves." He said he will continue to work with the administration to find qualified candidates who can be confirmed.

Utah Democratic Party executive director Todd Taylor said he is frustrated with the Obama administration as well, though he suggested Hatch may share blame for the delay.

"Whether it's the administration's fault or an intractable Orrin Hatch, I can't tell," he said. "It's now a question of, is it a problem between the two of them? If it's a lack of the White House vetting people, they need to get busy."

Taylor said he's heard the names of several Salt Lake-area attorneys bandied in past months, including Jim McConkie, Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake, and former state Sen. Scott McCoy. There's also the possibility that Christensen could fill the job permanently.

Efforts to get a nominee to the Senate the past 16 months failed. The Obama administration passed on Democrat David Schwendiman, who was recommended by Matheson, for reasons that were never explained.

Former Iron County attorney Scott Burns, a Republican with support from Hatch, also came and went last fall.

Email: romboy@desnews.com

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