WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will nominate a new U.S. Attorney to oversee the Washington D.C. office, which handles both local and national cases including several high-profile prosecutions of the president’s allies.
Justin Herdman, the U.S. attorney in Cleveland, would take the position now filled by Timothy Shea, who came to the office in February. The nomination of Herdman comes as the office has been pummeled by political controversies involving the cases of Trump confidant Roger Stone and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Shea, 60, was considered by many as the District’s newest U.S. Attorney when Attorney General William Barr selected him as acting U.S. attorney. But within weeks of taking over the office, Shea came under fire for sidelining the prosecutors in his office and aligning with Justice officials who softened sentencing recommendation for Stone in February after Stone was convicted by a federal jury of lying to Congress and tampering with a witness. Shea was criticized against earlier this month when he aligned with Justice officials to dismiss federal charges against Flynn that he lied to the FBI to which had pleaded guilty and was awaiting sentencing.
In both cases, senior prosecutors in Shea’s office resigned from the cases, leaving other federal prosecutors, both current and retired, to question if Shea had more allegiance to Barr and the White House than he did to justice.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Washington has 300 lawyers is the largest in the country. Unlike other U.S. attorney offices, federal prosecutors who work out of the office at 555 Fourth St. NW prosecute both national and local crimes from security cases and political corruption across the federal government to homicides, drug, sexual assault, trafficking and gun crimes in the District. The office also recently took over cases handed off by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe.
In a statement, Barr thanked Shea and praised Herdman, saying, “This nomination is a reflection his sharp intellect, sound judgment, and dedication to the mission of the Department of Justice. Justin has proven himself to be a fair prosecutor, capable litigator, and excellent manager.”
Michael R. Sherwin, whom Barr had picked to serve as Shea’s No. 2, will take over the office on an acting basis effective May 19, and can remain through mid-December without need of Senate approval pending Herdman’s re- confirmation. Herdman could also take over on an acting basis for seven months awaiting Senate action, and the department said the timing of his arrival has yet to be set. Barr’s decision to name Sherwin, the prosecutor who oversaw the conviction of a Chinese trespasser at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida in September – as Shea’s deputy, instead of allowing Shea to pick his deputy was viewed as unsual for the office where previous U.S. attorneys had picked their own deputies.
Before the pandemic locally, Shea held various meetings with neighborhood groups, including a March meeting with residents in Ward 8, which has seen an increase in crime in various parts of the ward. Shea also met with various leaders within the city’s LGBTQ community, where he assured members he would focus on hate crime prosecutions. But several of the attendees at that hour-long meeting were concerned how long Shea would be in his position, fearing a revolving door of U.S. attorneys could jeapordize the city’s conviction efforts.
“Our concern was how long are you going to be here,” said attendee Kent Boese, a member of the Rainbow Caucus, a group of LGBTQ neighborhood commissioners.
Boese said Shea assured the group he had no intentions of leaving the position. But Shea also told them, that such a decision ultimately was not up to him. “I got the impression that he didn’t think this was a temporary thing,” Boese said.
Herdman’s nomination happened swiftly as the deadline for Shea’s interim appointment was scheduled to expire June 2 if he was not appointed by Washington’s federal district court. On Tuesday, U.S. District Court judges were expected to convene to take up Shea’s status although no decisions had been made, two people involved in the meeting said.
Herdman, 44, is a former Navy and active Air Force reserve officer and judge advocate. He holds a law degree from Harvard, a bachelor’s from Ohio University and a master’s from the University of Glasgow.
From 2006 through 2013 in Northern Ohio, Herdman prosecuted criminal cases within the office’s terrorism squad, including the prosecution of five activists who plotted to blow up the Ohio 82 bridge spanning the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in 2012.
Before Trump tapped him as U.S. attorney in Northern Ohio, Herdman worked as a partner at Jones Day, the Cleveland-based law firm, which also has a Washington office and was home to former Trump White House counsel, Donald McGahn.
The Ohio-born Herdman was confirmed by the Senate to U.S. attorney for Cleveland in 2017 after both Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, recommended his nomination to Trump.
Six weeks after being named U.S. attorney, Herdman dismantled that office’s civil rights unit -which also handled sex trafficking, labor trafficking and excessive force by police claims – and established a new division that focused on violent crime by working with federal officials to target gangs and build stronger conspiracy cases. Herman’s priorities, he would tell prosecutors were national security, narcotics and violent crime. Cases that had been handled by the civil rights units had been been divided into other units within the office.
The Washington Post’s Alice Crites contributed to this report.
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