The search for a U.S. attorney in Chicago has narrowed as the Trump administration has sent the name of its top candidate to Illinois' two Democratic senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, for consideration.

Meanwhile, a Stark County judge and the attorney prosecuting former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock are among the finalists for the job in the Central District territory that includes Peoria.

The finalists for the central Illinois post, the Tribune has learned, are: Timothy Bass, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Central District who is prosecuting Schock, R-Peoria, in a trial now set for early next year; Joe Hartzler, a special counsel in Gov. Bruce Rauner's office and a former assistant U.S. attorney in the district; Judge Thomas Keith, a Peoria-area state judge and former federal prosecutor; and John Milhiser, the Sangamon County state's attorney.

The downstate group was winnowed down after interviews and recommendations from central Illinois Republican congressmen, including U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria; Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville; and the senior-most GOP congressman, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville.

Keith served as an assistant U.S. attorney focusing on cyber-crime and was named to the bench in 2013 to fill a vacancy and was elected in 2014 as the resident circuit judge for Stark County. He now presides over courtrooms in the so-called "Northern Circuit," the smaller-population counties of Marshall, Putnam and Stark in the 10th Judicial Circuit. If selected to the top prosecutor job, he would need to resign the bench.

Keith on Tuesday neither confirmed nor denied that he was in the running for the post. He did, however, say that he had separately informed the Illinois Supreme Court and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts in May that he would not seek re-election next year. Keith, who was sworn in as a judge in April 2013, will retire from the bench in early December 2018, a few weeks after the general election.

Hartzler has served in Rauner's administration since he took office in 2015. He was the lead prosecutor in the case against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. The Rauner administration declined to comment Tuesday on the report that he was a finalist.

Bass and Milhiser had previously been reported as having expressed interest in the position.

When contacted Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of Illinois said it would not comment on the process. Bass had previously told GateHouse Media Illinois he was privileged to have served as a federal prosecutor and "it would be an even greater honor and privilege to be considered to lead the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the future."

Milhiser had previously said he was "focusing on the important work" of his current office.

The Chicago-area finalist, who has not been publicly identified, is believed to be one of three men who catapulted to a short list from an original field of about 20. The three are Michael Scudder, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP; Andrew Porter, a partner at Drinker, Biddle & Reath LLP; and John Lausch, a partner in Kirkland and Ellis LLP's Chicago office. They are well-respected attorneys whose experience and integrity make them prime candidates, sources told the Tribune.

The U.S. attorney in the Chicago-based Northern District of Illinois will replace Zachary Fardon, who resigned. In the Central District, whomever is selected will replace Jim Lewis, who resigned at the end of last year.

For the Northern District, Durbin spokeswoman Emily Hampsten divulged that the White House has selected one prospective nominee. That person now is undergoing a standard background check, a source told the Tribune. More vetting is ahead, since Durbin and Duckworth have set up a screening committee of legal experts in the Northern District, including Laurie Mikva, who teaches at Northwestern University School of Law and is the daughter of former federal judge and congressman Abner Mikva. A similar committee has been established in the Central District, including civil rights attorney and former Peoria NAACP head Don Jackson. 

That's a process "that's worked in the past," Durbin said in a Capitol Hill interview earlier this month. At the time, Durbin said he wasn't familiar with all the potential nominees for the Central District, but having seen some of the names from previous press reports he acknowledged that "there's some talented people in there."

The Northern District screening committee members have spoken by phone, but have not yet scheduled a meeting, Laurie Mikva said Friday. She and others would not divulge the name of the finalist.

The finalists emerged after interviews with House Republicans from Illinois and White House and Justice Department officials. By tradition, a nominee will not be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee unless both home-state senators approve.