By Maxine Bernstein The Oregonian/OregonLive September 8, 2017
Oregon’s U.S. senators have urged President Trump to retain Billy J. Williams as the state’s top federal prosecutor.
Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden say Williams is a prosecutor with integrity who enjoys bipartisan support and should remain Oregon’s U.S. attorney.
The two signed an Aug. 16 letter to White House counsel Donald F. MGahn II and included a letter of support from the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association.
So far, no word has come from the Trump administration regarding the post.
Williams was named acting U.S. attorney in April 2015 after Amanda Marshall resigned amid a sexual harassment investigation. Early last year, he was appointed to the post by Chief U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman.
Williams started working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in October 2000 after working as a prosecutor for the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.
He’s served as chief of the criminal division, chief of the violent crimes unit, as the office’s liaison to the tribal community and as a first assistant before moving into the top job.
At Multnomah County, he worked as a senior deputy district attorney and supervised the career criminal unit.
He received his law degree from Willamette University College of Law in 1989.
The senators wrote that the district of Oregon has been “well-served” by Williams and he has the support of his peers.
The sheriff association said Williams has a “deep understanding” of the issues facing law enforcement and called him a “strong partner” who has led his office during “some challenging and difficult times,” noting the 2016 armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
“The many years that Mr. Williams has spent building solid relationships with state and local law enforcement partners throughout the region was hugely beneficial in his effort to ensure cooperation and teamwork between state, local and federal partners to resolve this extraordinarily difficult issue,” the association letter said.
The leaders of the 41-day occupation, Ammon Bundy, his brother, Ryan Bundy, Shawna Cox and four others were acquitted of federal conspiracy charges in a high-profile trial under Williams’ watch last fall. Others involved have pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lesser players were convicted of conspiracy and misdemeanor charges in the armed occupation.
In March, Williams wasn’t among the 46 prosecutors whose resignations were requested by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions’ request applied to presidential appointees. Williams wasn’t appointed by President Barack Obama.
It’s fairly customary for the 93 U.S. attorneys to leave their positions after a new president is in office, but the departures aren’t automatic and don’t necessarily happen all at once. U.S. attorneys are federal prosecutors who are nominated by the president, generally upon the recommendation of a home-state senator, and are responsible for prosecuting federal crimes in the territories they oversee.
Williams on Friday declined comment about the recommendation.
In the same August letter, the senators also urged the Trump administration to retain Russ Berger, a Republican and former Lane County sheriff, as U.S marshal in Oregon.
“The District of Oregon has been well-served by both U.S. Marshal Russ Berger and U.S. Attorney Billy Williams during their tenures, and they both have our support to continue in those roles,” the letter said. “On the recommendation of their peers in law enforcement, we hope the administration will reappoint Mr. Berger and Mr. Williams for the remainder of the president’s time in office.”
In a follow-up letter Thursday after the president nominated Oregon Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Bounds to fill a vacancy on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Wyden and Merkley wrote that it was clear the administration wasn’t interested in their recommendations. Bounds is a conservative from Hermiston with ties to U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican.
The senators had recommended U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez to sit on the federal appellate court. They told the White House counsel they will work to block Bounds’ confirmation before the Senate Judiciary Committee because he hadn’t been vetted through the bipartisan judicial committee process.
“In August, as promised, we provided you with recommendations for two positions: United States Marshal for the District of Oregon and United States Attorney for the District of Oregon,” Merkley and Wyden wrote. “Unfortunately it is now apparent that you never intended to allow our longstanding process to play out. Instead, you have demonstrated that you were only interested in our input if we were willing to preapprove your preferred nominee.”