D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy and other city Democratic leaders have formally told the White House that they want Togo D. West Jr., a top assistant to the secretary of Defense, to be selected as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
U.S. Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, however, has said that he favors former special Watergate prosecutor Charles Ruff for the job, informed sources said yesterday.
The choice of a U.S. attorney in most jurisdiction usually is heavily influenced by recommendations made by the state's senior U.S. senator and by state party leaders.
Since the District has no senators, Fauntroy, the city's nonvoting delegate in Congress, and Mayor Marion Barry have joined party leaders in supporting West, in part because they want a black to hold the prosecutor's post. If appointed, West would be that city's first black U.S. attorney. Ruff is white.
Sources have indicated that Bell has interviewed six persons for the U.S. attorney's job, including West and Ruff. Others interviewed, the sources said, were Carl S. Rauh, who temporatily took over the presecutor's job after the resignation of Earl J. Silbert last month; Henry F. Greene, chief of the D.C. Superior Court division of the U.S. attorney's office here, and Roger Adelman, also an assistant U.S. attorney here.
Silbert, the U.S. attorney here for more than five years, left the office to practice law with a private firm here.
The process of choosing Silbert's successor has been complicated by discussions and plans for the transfer of virtually all criminal prosecutions from the U.S. attorney's office to a local prosecutor.
Unlike most jurisdictions, almost all purely local criminal cases here, such as murder and robbery, are prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office. If the proposed transfer takes place, the new U.S. attorney would supervise all civil cases brought by or against the federal government and would oversee some criminal cases, such as major narcotics violations.
The transfer proposal, strongly supported by Mayor Barry, has been characterized as a major step toward full home rule for the District. Silbert and the judges of the Superior Court have opposed the switch, which they contend would hurt the quality of law enforcement in the city.
Some Justice Department staff attorneys also oppose the transfer and Attorney General Bell has also expressed concern about such a move, sources have said.
Two sources said yesterday that the Justice Department had suggested it would withdraw whatever opposition it had to the transfer if city officials would support Ruff's nominations.
A Justice Department spokesman said last night that Bell has not singled out a candidate and that he intends to send several names to President Carter for his consideration. The spokesman said the recommendations would be made in the near future.
The city's Democratic leaders have written two letters to the Carter administration supporting the nomination of West.
A June 18 letter to White House counsel Robert J. Lipshutz was signed by Barry, Fauntroy, City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon and the four top officials of the D.C. Democratic State Committee - Chairman Robert B. Washington Jr., Vice Chairman Barbara Clark, National Committeewoman Sharon Pratt Dixon (the council chairman's wife), and National Committeeman John Hechinger.
The letter said that West is "well endowed with the skills, integrity and commitment to such a sensitive post."
Fauntroy wrote a separate letter to Bell on July 10 formally nominating West for the position.
Fauntroy sadi yesterday that he hopes the selection of new U.S. attorney here will establish a precedent in which the District's highest elected federal official - the House delegate - will be given the same right of nomination now enjoyed by the senior senators from the 50 states.
"It is Walter Fauntroy nominating Togo West, but it is Walter Fauntroy doing so after consulting with the leadership of the party and the elected leadership," Fauntroy said in an interview.
Fauntroy said yesterday that the effort to gain the appointment for West was "first and moremost a home rule initiative." But he also said that he thinks it will help secure the post for a black.
"I think it is time that the U.S. attorney for a jurisdiction of the nature of the District of Columbia should be black," Fauntroy said. "I think that, obviously, if the leadership were not united the opportunity to have a person with local sensitivity - and someone black - would be diminished."
In a recent telephone interview, West said he had been informed that some letters of recommendation were under consideration but he refused further comment on the U.S. attorney's job.
Sources said there is some concern at Justice that West, unlike Ruff or others reportedly interviewed for the job, has limited trial experience. There is speculation, however, that with the transfer of most prosecutorial authority out of the U.S. attorney's office, trial experience may not be a critical factor in selecting a new federal prosecutor.
Ruff, 39, has consistently declined to comment when asked if he was a candidate for federal prosecutor. A graduate of Swarthmore College and Columbia University Law School, Ruff was chief prosecutor in the 1972 trial of former United Mine Workers president W.A. (Tony) Boyle, and was chief of the Justice Department's labor management section.
In 1976, Ruff, who is confined to a wheelchair as a result of polio, supervised an investigation into former president Gerald R. Ford's campaign finances just before the 1976 election. Ford was cleared by the investigation. Ruff is now associate deputy attorney general.
In 1977, after Ruff closed down the special prosecutor's office, his nomination to a post as deputy inspector general for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare was held up by Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.). Dole, Ford's vice presidential running mate, reportedly felt Ruff had delayed clearing Ford until just before the election.
West, 36, an honors graduate of Howard University School of Law, served as an attorney with the U.S. Army. He was an attorney-adviser to the assistant secretary of the Army for management and reserve affairs, an associate deputy attorney general and an associate at the private law firm of Covington and Burling here before he was named general counsel to the Navy in 1977. He has been Defense Secretary Harold Brown's special assistant since January. CAPTION: Picture 1, TOGO D. WEST JR. . . . top Defense aide; Picture 2, CHARLES RUFF . . . former special prosecutor.