ALBANY — Joe Bruno, a former leader of the State Senate who was rung up on federal corruption charges, has been urging the White House not to elevate any current federal prosecutors as the next U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of New York.
Bruno, 88, made calls to administration officials and also weighed in with the local vetting team that is assisting the White House, four people familiar with his efforts told POLITICO. He had been advocating for Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan, the sources said, hoping to block an in-house successor for U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian, who retired at the end of June. But Hogan is no longer being considered: she was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on June 19 to the Court of Claims , which hears civil cases against the state and certain public authorities. The post is considered a plum in upstate legal circles.
"He was pushing for his friend Kate Hogan as opposed to anyone now in that office," said a senior Republican official in New York who heard about the effort. "I think the reason why is obvious."
His lobbying is an illustration of the slow, amorphous process taking place to appoint 93 U.S. attorneys around the country, including four in New York. Two in New York City — Preet Bharara in the Southern District and Robert Capers in the Eastern District — were asked to resign in March.
Bruno, a Republican from suburban Troy, served more than 30 years in the Senate but did not seek re-election in 2008 amid an F.B.I. probe. He was charged with trading official favors for what prosecutors said was a sham telecommunications consulting arrangement and found guilty in 2009.
The conviction was thrown out after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling narrowed the scope of the "honest services" law under which Bruno was charged. Hartunian brought new charges in 2012, and Bruno was acquitted in 2014.
The former senator declined to comment. But he has spoken and written frequently about "abuse" by federal prosecutors and what he sees as his own mistreatment.
Bill Hochul, the husband of Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, resigned from the Western District last fall for a corporate job. Hartunian was allowed to linger in order to complete the 20 years of service needed to buttress his federal pension.
Since every statewide elected official in New York is a Democrat, the White House has relied on an informal network of advisers to submit candidates to the Oval Office and Department of Justice, sources said. Rep. Chris Collins, who was the first House member to endorse President Donald Trump, has taken the lead in the Western District, and ex-Rep. John Sweeney — who worked for Trump’s campaign — coordinated efforts in the Northern District.
Sweeney pushed to keep the U.S. Attorney sitting in Albany as opposed to Syracuse, which has several more prosecutors. Onondaga County Republican chairman Tom Dadey pushed for the county comptroller there, Bob Antonacci, but officials in Washington were cold to the idea. Sources familiar with the process said they are seeking prosecutorial experience, preferably in a federal setting.
Bruno weighed in with Sweeney as well as White House officials, one official involved in the process said. Another person communicating with the White House is Jeanine Pirro, the former Westchester County district attorney and current Fox television host. She has interviewed Trump on air and is said to communicate with him regularly.
With Hogan out of the running in the Northern District, sources said officials in Washington are now looking at internal candidates. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Grant Jaquith, a Republican who took over for Hartunian on an acting basis, was one of several candidates interviewed in Washington by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
"We are moving very expeditiously," Rosenstein said on June 13 while testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee. "The last two Saturdays I’ve spent in the department interviewing candidates for about 10 districts each weekend, and so we anticipate that by the end of the summer we’ll see a large number of U.S. Attorneys nominated throughout the country."
The White House announced the nomination of nine U.S. Attorneys last Thursday but none was in New York.
Jaquith did not return an email seeking comment and could not be reached by phone. According to sources and the Albany Times-Union, other internal candidates for the job include Ransom Reynolds in the Syracuse office and Paul Silver in the Albany office.
Whomever is selected must also win the approval of Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, who can block a nomination through the "blue slip" process. A Schumer spokesman declined to comment; a Gillibrand spokesman did not return an email.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice did not comment.
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.