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GOP Insiders May Have A Big Say in Picking Next U.S. Attorney

One political insider said leading Illinois Republicans will have a say in choosing the Chicago area’s next top federal prosecutor after Zack Fardon, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, resigned on Monday. Traditionally, the senior U.S. Senator from the President’s party gets dibs on recommending new U.S. attorneys in his or her state. With no Republican senators in Illinois, that role falls to the longest-serving GOP congressman, John Shimkus. However former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson said the White House ultimately makes the call, with advice from a variety of party leaders. Thompson expects people who supported Donald Trump’s presidential run here will be especially influential.

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Former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson seen here in April 2012. Thompson said politics will play a role in the selection of the next U.S. attorney for Illinois’ Northern District. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Zachary Fardon resigned Monday as the U.S. attorney in the Chicago area, and one longtime political insider said leading Illinois Republicans will have a say in picking his successor.

Traditionally, the senior U.S. senator from the president’s party recommends new U.S. attorneys in his or her state. But with no Republican senators in Illinois, that role falls to the longest-serving GOP congressman, John Shimkus.

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson said the White House ultimately makes the call, with input from local party leaders.

“Others in the Republican Party will weigh in,” Thompson said. “I’m sure Gov. Bruce Rauner will weigh in and have his say about it. And other Republican congressmen may weigh in.”

Thompson should know: before being governor he was appointed by then-President Richard Nixon to serve as U.S. Attorney in Chicago in the early 1970s.

“It depends, in the end, who the White House listens to,” he said. “People who supported Trump in the state of Illinois will have more influence than people who did not.”

As governor, Thompson said he put in his two cents on successors.

“U.S. attorneys — for all their great work as prosecutors who don’t play political favorites once they’re U.S. attorney — you’ve got to remember, it’s a political position,” Thompson said. “That is, any position in the federal government that’s appointed by the President of the United States always has a little politics in the background.”

Fardon’s resignation came days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked 46 prosecutors who were holdovers from President Barack Obama’s administration to step down.

The 50-year-old assumed Chicago’s top federal law enforcement job in 2013. He came under pressure to put violent crime at the top of his agenda. But from the start, Fardon tempered expectations about what a U.S. attorney’s office could do.

Fardon’s highest profile prosecution was the one involving former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. The Illinois Republican is serving a 15-month prison sentence for breaking banking laws by seeking to pay $3.5 million in hush money to someone Hastert sexually abused.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Dan Weissmann is a reporter for WBEZ. You can follow him at @danweissmann.

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