Former Lobbyist Called Top Candidate for Alexandria, Va., U.S. Attorney

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Justice Department official who briefly worked as a corporate lobbyist has emerged as the leading candidate for U.S. attorney in Alexandria, one of the nation's most prominent law enforcement posts, sources familiar with the selection process said Wednesday.

Neil MacBride, who has been an associate deputy attorney general since January, is undergoing FBI background checks for the Alexandria job, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because no appointment has been announced.

MacBride, 43, is a former federal prosecutor and a former chief counsel to Vice President Biden, and he was a vice president at the Business Software Alliance, which represents Microsoft, IBM and several other leading computer companies. He was a registered lobbyist for that organization in 2007, lobbying the Senate on topics such as copyright enforcement and cybersecurity, according to Senate records and federal officials.

It would be unusual for a recent corporate lobbyist to be a U.S. attorney, and some prosecutors and governmental watchdogs have asked whether appointing MacBride would run counter to the spirit of the Obama administration's efforts to change the lobbying culture of Washington.

But numerous Justice Department officials and former colleagues describe MacBride as savvy and highly ethical, and they say his mix of law enforcement and political experience makes him an ideal choice for the U.S. attorney position, which is a presidential appointment. MacBride has declined to comment. A Justice Department official also declined to comment.

A White House spokesman also declined to comment Wednesday on when an appointment would be announced for the Alexandria job, one of nearly 100 top prosecutor slots the administration is trying to fill nationwide. The position, which pays $153,200 annually, requires Senate confirmation. The Alexandria-based U.S. attorney also oversees offices in Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News.

The position has grown increasingly visible in recent years, as the Alexandria office has handled some of the nation's highest-profile terrorism and national security cases. Law enforcement officials said it is especially important to have a new U.S. attorney in place because Alexandria is competing with the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan for the opportunity to prosecute Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and his accused co-conspirators.

They are being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which President Obama has vowed to close by January. Law enforcement sources said MacBride's close relationships with Biden and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. -- who hired MacBride in 1997 as an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington -- could help the Eastern District of Virginia get Guantanamo cases if the administration sends them to federal courts.

Sources said Biden is pushing for MacBride's appointment.

MacBride was among four U.S. attorney candidates recommended to the White House by Virginia's U.S. senators, James Webb (D) and Mark R. Warner (D).

The others were Erik R. Barnett, a federal prosecutor in Alexandria; Dwight C. Holton, a federal prosecutor in Oregon and the brother-in-law of Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D); and Robert P. Crouch Jr., a former U.S. attorney in Roanoke.

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