A number of private lawyers and prosecutors are emerging as possible candidates for U.S. attorney in Alexandria, a key law enforcement job that will be vacated by Paul J. McNulty when he moves to the Justice Department in Washington.
The list includes Lewis F. Powell III, 53, a Richmond lawyer and son of former Supreme Court justice Lewis F. Powell, according to a variety of political and law enforcement sources. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because it is very early in the process of replacing McNulty, whom President Bush announced Friday he will nominate to be deputy attorney general. Other candidates may emerge, and political and other factors that could influence the selection are not clear.
Also likely to be considered are Howard C. "Toby" Vick Jr., 53, a Richmond lawyer and former federal prosecutor; Chuck Rosenberg, 45, the U.S. attorney in Houston and a former federal prosecutor in Alexandria; and Stephen E. Baril, 50, a Richmond lawyer who lost the primary for Virginia attorney general this year, the sources said.
Two more possible candidates come from within the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, the sources said. They are McNulty's deputy, Kenneth E. Melson, 57, who has served as acting U.S. attorney three times; and Robert A. Spencer, 43, chief of the criminal division who led the team of prosecutors that convicted Sept. 11, 2001, conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.
A number of people have already contacted the office of Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) suggesting candidates for the $140,300 job, Allen's communications director, John Reid, said this week. Allen and Virginia's other senator, John W. Warner (R), will recommend candidates to Bush, who will choose the new prosecutor.
The interest reflects the prestige and importance of the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who is based in Alexandria but who also oversees Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News. The job was always considered a law enforcement plum, but its visibility has grown in recent years as the Justice Department made McNulty's office the central front in the government's legal war on terrorism.
McNulty has overseen the prosecutions of Moussaoui, the only person convicted in a U.S. courtroom in the Sept. 11 attacks; John Walker Lindh, a suburban Californian convicted of fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan; and a group of Muslim men convicted of training overseas for holy war against the United States. Other priorities of the office include national security cases, violent gangs, corporate fraud and cyber crime.
"There was tremendous interest in the job when McNulty was named, and I anticipate there will be tremendous interest again this time,'' said Susan Magill, Warner's chief of staff. Spokesmen for Warner and Allen said interviews are unlikely to occur until the Senate makes a decision on whether to confirm McNulty.
It remains unclear when that will be; Magill said "we will make every effort to get McNulty confirmed" by the time the Senate adjourns for the year, which could be as late as December. In the meantime, McNulty will remain U.S. attorney and also serve as acting deputy attorney general. He is expected to start at the Justice Department in Washington this week.
Each of the possible candidates declined to comment other than Baril, who said he is "flattered and honored that I would be considered and mentioned for that position.''
Two other scenarios floated by Virginia political sources are that Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore or state attorney general candidate Robert F. McDonnell could be considered for the job if either loses in the Nov. 8 election. Kilgore is a former Virginia attorney general and state and federal prosecutor; McDonnell is a Virginia House of Delegates member and former Virginia Beach prosecutor.
Spokesmen for Kilgore and McDonnell said they both remain focused on their campaigns and expect to win.