Senate Republicans are delaying the confirmation of President Donald J. Trump’s nominee to be the U.S. attorney in Maryland until they receive information from the Department of Justice related to the special counsel’s Russia probe, The Baltimore Sun has learned.
Robert K. Hur, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland who has worked at the Justice Department since June, was nominated in November to be the state’s top federal prosecutor. His confirmation stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee even as nearly a dozen others nominated at the same time or after him have advanced.
The delay comes as Baltimore wrestles with a violent crime rate that, while below last year’s surge, continues to trend higher than past years. There were 41 homicides during the first two months of this year, down 13 from last year but above the average for the previous five years.
“We had a follow-up question,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said during a brief interview when asked if there was opposition to Hur’s confirmation. “I suppose it will depend on what answers we get.”
Two sources with knowledge of the process said Republicans on the committee have asked the Justice Department for additional information about the oversight of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election. Hur is the principal associate deputy attorney general under Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.
Rosenstein, the former U.S. attorney in Maryland, named Mueller to lead that investigation in May and became the top department official overseeing it after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself.
Asked if the information he has requested deals with the special counsel’s office, Grassley said he didn’t know. An aide to the Iowa Republican said the “material” was not related directly to Hur’s job.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, did not respond to a request for comment.
Hur, 45, was nominated in November to fill the vacancy left by Rosenstein, a career prosecutor who served as Maryland’s U.S. attorney under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Hur worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland from 2007 to 2014.
Trump nominated 58 U.S. attorneys in 2017, including seven on the day Hur was named in early November. Fifty-six of those have been confirmed by voice vote in the Senate, according to a review by The Baltimore Sun. Another, William M. McSwain, who was nominated in December to be the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was approved Thursday by the Judiciary Committee.
That leaves Hur — who has not yet been scheduled for consideration by the committee — as the only one left over from 2017.
Others, appointed this year, also are pending.
The White House, which has frequently complained that nominees are being “slow walked” by Senate Democrats, did not respond to a request for comment.
Grassley has been pressing Sessions to name a separate special counsel to look into the events leading up to Mueller’s appointment. In a letter released Thursday, Grassley and three other Judiciary Committee Republicans wrote that an inspector general’s review of those events is insufficient because that office “does not have the tools that a prosecutor would to gather all the facts.”
In addition to Baltimore’s enduring struggle with crime, Maryland has faced a number of violent crimes involving MS-13, the best known of the gangs that originated in the 1980s among Central American immigrants in Los Angeles.
Both Sessions and Trump have made tackling that gang a priority, and the attorney general visited Baltimore in December to discuss it. Most of that gang activity has taken place in the Washington suburbs.
The U.S. attorney’s office also prosecuted the corrupt and now-disbanded Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force, securing convictions of eight officers.
During Hur’s seven years as a federal prosecutor in Maryland, he handled financial and regulatory offenses. Before that, he worked in the Justice Department as counsel to the assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division, overseeing counterterrorism, corporate fraud and appellate issues.
Hur, who lives in Silver Spring, earned a bachelor’s degree in English and American literature from Harvard University and a law degree from Stanford University. He clerked for the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Judge Alex Kozinski in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
Stephen M. Schenning has been serving as the acting U.S. attorney in Maryland since late April. A Baltimore native, Schenning was the first assistant U.S. attorney from 2011 until Rosenstein’s departure.
Experts said there is no legal distinction between an acting U.S. attorney and one confirmed by the Senate. However, several noted that it is difficult for any manager to set long-term goals and to make staffing decisions when the length of their tenure is uncertain.
“There’s certainly a symbolic difference. Presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys confirmed by the Senate certainly have more long-term stature,” said Richard A. Rossman, the executive director of the National Association of Former United States Attorneys.
“I would think that presidentially appointed U.S. attorneys probably have at least symbolically a stronger standing at the Department of Justice itself than an interim U.S. attorney,” said Rossman, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.