Earlier versions of this story misstated the salary of the U.S. attorney in Alexandria. The position pays $153,200 a year.
Ex-Lobbyist in Running for U.S. Attorney's Job in Alexandria, Virginia
Friday, March 27, 2009
A former corporate lobbyist has emerged as a top candidate for U.S. attorney in Alexandria, raising questions about how his appointment would square with the Obama administration's efforts to change the culture of Washington, according to legal and political sources.
Neil MacBride, 43, lobbied federal officials as recently as mid-2007 on behalf of the Business Software Alliance, which represents Microsoft, IBM and a host of other leading computer companies, U.S. Senate records show. MacBride, a former chief counsel to Vice President Biden, was appointed in January as an associate deputy attorney general.
Justice Department officials and former colleagues described MacBride, who spent four years as a prosecutor, as savvy and highly ethical and said lobbying was a small part of his career. But MacBride would probably have to recuse himself from some cases involving former clients, because the Alexandria prosecutor's office is one of the nation's most aggressive in targeting copyright enforcement and cyber security -- areas in which he lobbied.
The $149,000-a-year job is among the nation's most prominent law enforcement posts and has grown increasingly visible in recent years as the U.S. attorney has handled high-profile terrorism and national security cases.
MacBride, who briefly lobbied in the mid-1990s for a high-powered D.C. law firm stocked with leading Democrats, declined to comment. Officials said no decisions have been made in the hotly contested race for U.S. attorney, one of nearly 100 top prosecutor positions the administration is trying to fill.
President Obama campaigned on a pledge to change Washington, vowing to upend the K Street lobbying culture, and at one point, he said lobbyists wouldn't work in his White House. Immediately after taking office, he imposed lobbying limits that have been hailed as historically strict. Although officials said MacBride's appointment would not violate those rules, some prosecutors and governmental watchdogs wonder whether it would violate their spirit.
"The issue is whether Obama is being consistent," said Melanie Sloan, a former prosecutor who heads Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "They wanted the American people to think they weren't going to hire any lobbyists, and that was never realistic."
Sloan, who worked with MacBride in the U.S. attorney's office in the District, described him as "a really smart, good prosecutor." MacBride was hired in 1997 as an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington by Eric H. Holder Jr., now the attorney general. Sources said his relationships to Holder and Biden have helped fuel his candidacy for the politically appointed U.S. attorney post.
Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said MacBride was hired "in strict accordance" with lobbying rules and "because of his longtime record as a government lawyer and public servant."
"This administration has imposed the toughest ethics rules in history," Miller added.
Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, said the administration has not focused on the U.S. attorney post because it has not yet received a list of names from U.S. Sens. James Webb (D-Va.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.). Recommendations from home-state senators are traditionally key. Spokesmen for Webb and Warner declined to comment.
There are at least six other candidates, sources said. They include Dwight C. Holton, a 12-year federal prosecutor and the brother-in-law of Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), and three assistant U.S. attorneys in Alexandria: Gene Rossi, a 20-year federal prosecutor; Erik R. Barnett, a 14-year federal and state prosecutor; and Jack Hanly, a 23-year federal prosecutor. Additional candidates include former Roanoke U.S. attorney Robert P. Crouch Jr. and Richmond lawyer Timothy Heaphy, a former 12-year federal prosecutor.