Schumer urges three Black nominees for top U.S. attorney jobs in New York

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday called on President Joe Biden to choose Damian Williams as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, which would make him the first Black man to oversee the powerful federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) holds a news conference to announce the "For the People" act, aimed voting rights and campaign finance, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. March 17, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Schumer, a New York Democrat, also urged the president to name two other Black lawyers for top U.S. attorney posts in New York: Breon Peace for New York state’s Eastern District, which covers Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, and Trini Ross for upstate New York’s Western District, based in Buffalo and Rochester.

“All three of these superb and accomplished attorneys have dedicated their careers to equal justice under the law and will bring a passion for the rule of law, civil rights and justice to their respective posts,” he wrote in a statement.

Schumer’s role as the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate and senior senator in New York gives his recommendations weight.

All three would have to be nominated by the White House and confirmed in a narrowly divided Senate led by Schumer and Biden’s fellow Democrats.

Asked about Williams’ chances of becoming U.S. attorney for the Southern District, a source close to Schumer said it was all but virtually certain. Representatives for the White House could not be immediately reached for comment.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan is at the heart of high-profile cases ranging from terrorism to wrongdoing on Wall Street, cyber attacks and corruption.

It has been investigating former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who headed the office in the 1980s, and more recently became known for representing then-President Donald Trump.

The office also has been pursuing a case over an alleged border wall fundraising scam involving Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon, who was pardoned after he was charged. In addition, it is handling a case against British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who was charged with helping financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein groom teenage girls for sex. She has pleaded not guilty.

Williams is now chief of a securities task force in the prosecutor’s office. Before his current post, he prosecuted former New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for bribery and extortion. He also prosecuted the case against former U.S. Representative Christopher Collins for insider trading and lying to the FBI.

Williams graduated from Yale Law School and clerked for U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, when Garland was a judge at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Peace, who is up for the top post in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, is currently a partner at the law firm of Cleary Gottlieb.

He is a former assistant U.S. attorney in the criminal division of the federal prosecutor’s office in Brooklyn, which also handles high-profile matters, currently including a case against Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications equipment maker, and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou.

Meng was arrested in Canada on behalf of the United States for allegedly misleading HSBC about business in Iran, and the case has strained ties between the United States, China and Canada. Huawei has pleaded not guilty and Meng has said she is innocent.

Reporting by Karen Freifeld and Susan Heavey; editing by John Stonestreet and Jonathan Oatis