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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

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D.C.’s Newest U.S. Attorney: What Went into My Decision to Recommend Channing Phillips

Nov 5, 2015

By Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Some have wondered why I recommended a new U.S. Attorney for the District, Channing Phillips, instead of Vincent Cohen, who was Principal U.S. Attorney under former U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, and why President Obama, after doing his own investigation, nominated Mr. Phillips.

Mr. Phillips and Mr. Cohen were both exceptionally well-qualified candidates with virtually the same experience in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Some have focused on former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s case as the reason Mr. Cohen was not nominated. However, an unfinished case, barring obvious flaws, tells us nothing about a U.S. Attorney.  Consequential cases, such as the successful prosecution of three former D.C. Council members while Mr. Cohen was in office, should be considered, however.

In response to a question at a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder said, “If the Justice Department had waited until after the election, we would have been charged potentially with withholding information that would have been relevant for voters to have” and “we . . . bring the cases when they’re ready to go.”

We relied on appraisals of the tenures of both candidates from judges, Justice Department officials, past and present attorneys in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and others. The president and I focused on selecting the candidate we regarded as best for this important office at this time.