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White House considering Republican for U.S. Attorney for Utah

Published: Monday, July 11 2011 7:35 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The White House is finally considering someone for Utah's next U.S Attorney, but some Utah Democrats aren't happy with the choice.

The Obama Administration is checking the background of David Barlow, legal counsel to freshman GOP Sen. Mike Lee.

"I recommended him. Sen. Lee recommended him, too," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah's senior senator who plays a key role in judicial and U.S. attorney nominations to Utah. "I recommended him about two or three months ago, so it takes quite a while down at the White House. They do a lot of vetting."

Lee declined to discuss the matter.

Barlow graduated from Brigham Young University and earned his law degree from Yale University. Before joining Lee's staff, he was a partner with the Chicago law firm Sidley Austin, with experience in litigation and product liability.

Utah has been without an permanent appointment to the U.S. Attorney job for more than 18 months, and some Utah Democrats see it as a missed opportunity. They are also frustrated this latest name under consideration is not a Democrat, particularly when another qualified Democrat was offered for consideration but rejected.

One attorney said the move is baffling, especially when Democrats are being asked to support, financially and otherwise, the president and his reelection.

"It has an impact when you get questions about positions like the U.S. attorney, federal judge appointments and you really don't have an answer to give people," said Jeff Eisenberg, a member of the Utah Democratic Lawyers Council.  "So it's frustrating and it may well very well have an impact at election time."

First lady Michelle Obama will be in Park City later this month for a fundraiser and another Democrat, who asked to remain anonymous, questioned why anyone would donate.

"Why give money (to the president's campaign) if we're just going to be ignored," he said

"I think it's a fair criticism of the Obama administration," said Matthew Burbank, a political science professor at the University of Utah. "One of the things they have not done very aggressively is fill these kinds of … positions."

This isn’t the first time the White House has ignored its party’s suggestions for U.S. attorney nominees.  Obama snubbed Texas Democrats last month by nominating Republican picks for all four U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Texas, according to the website Main Justice.

In Utah, Barlow is the second Republican the White House has considered for U.S. Attorney. The first was Scott Burns, a southern Utah native who served as deputy director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2002 to 2009. Burns followed former Utah Assistant U.S. Attorney David Schwendiman, a Democrat, who was dropped from consideration without explanation.

If Barlow is confirmed, he would replace interim U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen, who has been there since 2009 when Brett Toman stepped down.

E-mail: jdaley@desnews.com

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