PEORIA — More than 14 months after taking office, and eight months after downstate Republicans recommended four men for the post, President Donald Trump has not named a top prosecutor in central Illinois.
The wait is too long in the eyes of a Peoria congressman who helped narrow down the list of candidates for the job.
"I'm very frustrated by that process. It's gone on way too long," U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood said recently of the delay in a U.S. attorney being nominated to the Senate for confirmation. "U.S. attorneys have been selected across the country. I've weighed in with the Justice Department and the White House. We did just get our (U.S. Marshal) approved, but the U.S. attorney needs to happen."
The person holding that position will inherit an office overseeing multiple high-profile cases related to Peoria, including the prosecution of ex-U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock and an investigation into Caterpillar Inc. that involved a raid on the company headquarters last year.
LaHood, R-Peoria, was among the lawmakers consulted as part of a process by which, traditionally, the longest-serving member of Congress from the president's party oversees the process of evaluating and recommending candidates for federal judgeships, and for top prosecutors and U.S. Marshal positions in the northern, central and southern districts of the state.
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, led that work this year with involvement from LaHood and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, for the Central District that includes Peoria, Galesburg, Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, Springfield and Decatur.
In June they forwarded four names to the White House and Justice Department for consideration: retiring Stark County Judge Thomas Keith, a former federal prosecutor; Sangamon County State's Attorney John Milhiser; Joe Hartzler, who has served as a special counsel for Gov. Bruce Rauner and was the lead prosecutor in the case against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh; and Tim Bass, an assistant U.S. attorney in Springfield who had been prosecuting Schock.
Under the protocol for such appointments, both U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth also evaluated the names and forwarded their recommendation to the White House "months ago," Durbin said earlier this month in Peoria.
"Nothing has happened. I can't explain what is happening, but from the Senate side, we had a timely review of each of the applicants, we gave our approval to one of the applicants, we sent that to the White House and just haven't heard back," he said.
For the first 10 months of Trump's term, the job was filled by Patrick Hansen, who served as acting U.S. attorney after predecessor Jim Lewis retired at the end of President Barack Obama's term. At the end of his appointment to the acting position, a temporary U.S. attorney was named by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
John Childress, who headed the criminal division in the U.S. attorney's office, received that four-month appointment in November last year, and a spokeswoman for the office told GateHouse Media Illinois at the time that if a nominee didn't come before the end of that term, judges in the district will be able to select who fills in until a nominee is named and then confirmed.
White House officials pointed to the fact that 60 out of 94 U.S. attorney positions have been filled across the country, but did not indicate when an announcement might be forthcoming for central Illinois.
Though frustrated, LaHood said he hoped one would be forthcoming "shortly."
What does that mean?
"I'd say within the next three months," he said.
Chris Kaergard can be reached at email@example.com or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.