WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's nomination of Jessie Liu for the third-highest spot in the Justice Department creates a vacancy that could allow Trump to name the person who will oversee the most politically charged cases in Washington, including those stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.
As Mueller winds down his Russia investigation, lawyers from the U.S. attorney's office in Washington — the office Liu runs — have been assigned to key Mueller cases, including the one against Trump confidant Roger Stone. The office is also generally responsible for handling potential prosecutions if Congress finds a witness in contempt.
Trump had met with Liu before he nominated her to the U.S. attorney's post in 2017, but her confirmation — just months after Mueller's appointment — didn't generate much controversy. But anyone Trump nominates to replace her will likely face more scrutiny, with Mueller believed to be nearing the end of his two-year investigation.
While Mueller's team has handled the prosecutions for most of the probe, prosecutors from the U.S. attorney's office in Washington — the nation's largest — appear poised to take over some cases when Mueller is finished. That includes the case against Stone, who has pleaded not guilty to charges he lied to Congress, engaged in witness tampering and obstructed a congressional investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.
The office is handling other Russia-related cases that do not directly involve Trump or his associates, including a case against the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm indicted in February 2018 and accused of running an expansive social media campaign intended to influence the 2016 presidential election.
It also handled the case of Sam Patten, which was referred to the U.S. attorney's office by Mueller. Patten pleaded guilty to failing to register as a foreign agent for a Ukrainian political party, admitted his role in a $50,000 donation scheme involving the presidential inauguration and conceded he lied to the Senate intelligence committee during its investigation into Russian election interference.
Other federal investigations are under way in New York City, including a probe into campaign finance violations committed by Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen, who bought the silence of two women who alleged affairs with Trump. Those prosecutors also subpoenaed Trump's inaugural committee for a wide range of documents as part of an investigation into various potential crimes, including possible illegal contributions from foreigners to inaugural events.
Liu, 46, was an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington from 2002 until 2006 and prosecuted violent crimes, drug trafficking and fraud cases. She later served as deputy chief of staff for the Justice Department's national security division, a counsel to the deputy attorney general and as a deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division.
Liu also worked as deputy general counsel at the Treasury Department and was a partner at the law firms Morrison & Foerster and Jenner & Block.
As associate attorney general, Liu would primarily be responsible for overseeing the department's civil litigation.
"Jessie has distinguished herself as a first-class attorney in private practice, in the Treasury Department, and in five different positions over her career at the Department of Justice," Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.
This story has been corrected to show that court records indicate prosecutors from Mueller's office, not the U.S. attorney's office, are handling a case against Russian intelligence officers.