Who will be Oregon’s next U.S. attorney?

Democrats have led the office since 2009

A gavel (Public Domain Photos, George Hodan)
A gavel (Public Domain Photos, George Hodan)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — President-elect Donald Trump won’t take office until January, but legal circles are already buzzing with speculation about who will take on the powerful appointed position of Oregon’s top federal prosecutor.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Bounds is one of several names circulating as potentially becoming Oregon's top federal prosecutor. (PIONEER COURTHOUSE HISTORICAL SOCIETY via Portland Tribune)
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Bounds is one of several names circulating as potentially becoming Oregon’s top federal prosecutor. (PIONEER COURTHOUSE HISTORICAL SOCIETY via Portland Tribune)

The office of the U.S. Attorney for Oregon is an arm of the federal Department of Justice, with a staff of more than 100 employees, including more than 40 criminal prosecutors. The office goes after drug traffickers, scam artists, and oversees other high-profile cases, such as the influence-peddling probe of former Gov. John Kitzhaber and the prosecution of the Bundy-led occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Since 2009, Democrats have led the office, and until recently speculation about the job has centered on whether Billy Williams, the acting U.S. Attorney, would be appointed in a permanent capacity.

But now, conservative lawyers who’ve long been out of power again have a shot at the office, and new potential names for the top job are circulating.

“There are conversations going on right now within the (Republican) party about who the most appropriate person to be Oregon’s U.S. Attorney is,” says Daniel Crowe, the Republican nominee who ran against Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, a Democrat, in November.

Crowe, a Multnomah County public defender who specializes in representing veterans, says he’d be interested in the job, noting that he garnered more than 740,000 votes, or nearly 42 percent of those cast in the attorney general race. “I’m interested in any position by which I can serve our people,” he says.

The job of proposing names for a Republican president to consider for U.S Attorney traditionally falls to the ranking Republican in the Oregon congressional delegation — a position now held by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River.

While that process hasn’t formally begun, the names that are coming up in conservative legal circles include Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Bounds and Mike McLane, the Republican leader of the Oregon House of Representatives.

A former federal court law clerk, Bounds served a stint in Washington, D.C., as chief of staff at the federal DOJ’s Office of Legal Policy, and from 2008 to 2009 served as a special assistant to President George W. Bush for justice and immigration policy, assigned to the White House Domestic Policy Council. In Oregon, he’s handled environmental, fraud and immigration cases.

Bounds hails from a prominent Hermiston family. His brother, Tucker, served as a national spokesman for John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008; his sister, Lorissa, is a longtime congressional staffer who’s worked for California Congressman Duncan Hunter, a prominent Trump ally. Walden gave a 2011 speech in Congress extolling Ryan’s mother, Karen, upon her retirement following a distinguished teaching career.

In an email, Bounds referred questions to a DOJ spokesman, declining to comment other than to say a reporter’s email “came as a surprise to me.”

McLane, a Powell Butte lawmaker since 2010, also is well-connected. He’s a former clerk to Oregon Supreme Court Justice Mick Gillette, and was admitted to practice law in Oregon in 1990. With a background in business law, McLane has worked for two prominent local law firms, Stoel Rives and Miller Nash.

While in law school, he served as a law clerk to the U.S. Attorney’s office, helping with drug cases there. He’s since handled nine federal cases in Oregon, according to the federal court records website PACER. He’s also a lieutenant colonel and JAG lawyer in the Oregon Air National Guard.

On the political side, McLane has enjoyed good relations with Walden, and recently formed a law firm based in Bend with former state lawmaker and congressional candidate Jason Conger as well as state Rep. John Davis, R-Wilsonville.

McLane, through a spokesman, declined to comment.

Perhaps the most qualified candidate for the job would be Karin Immergut, a Republican who held the U.S. Attorney’s job from 2003 to 2009. She is now a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge, and also would be a logical appointment to a federal judgeship. She declined to comment.

When former U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith was the delegation’s ranking Republican, he used to gather an advisory committee of lawyers, then give his colleague across the aisle, Sen. Ron Wyden, the chance to veto any names.

“They had a gentleman’s agreement,” recalls former Smith staffer Kerry Tymchuk.

Walden spokesman Andrew Malcolm said it’s unclear how exactly the process will work this time, and the question of who his boss might propose for the job is premature. “Greg’s going to make his views known where it’s appropriate,” Malcolm said.

Kristine Olson, a Democrat who held the job from 1994 to 2001, called Trump’s nomination of a conservative partisan, Sen. Jeff Sessions, for U.S. Attorney General a “travesty.” She hopes Walden joins with Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley to select a nonpartisan candidate in the Oregon tradition, adding “We cannot afford to have a mini-Jeff Sessions.”

Lawyer Kevin Mannix, the prominent conservative activist who was considered for the U.S. Attorney job in 2000, called the opening an “important opportunity … to bring fresh perspective into Oregon.” Regardless, he doesn’t expect a decision anytime soon because of the exhaustive vetting process involved. “It can take three or four months,” Mannix said.