The chief federal judge for Western Washington has appointed Jeffrey Sullivan as U.S. attorney, a position he has been filling on an interim...

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The chief federal judge for Western Washington has appointed Jeffrey Sullivan as U.S. attorney, a position he has been filling on an interim basis since the controversial firing of John McKay.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik said 11 federal-court judges agreed unanimously on Sullivan’s appointment and that he signed the order Wednesday.

Sullivan, 64, has been serving as the interim U.S. attorney since the firing of McKay and eight other federal prosecutors last winter. The uproar led to congressional hearings, and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales eventually resigned.

Sullivan will serve out the rest of his interim term before his appointment becomes effective Oct. 12. The White House still could name a new U.S. attorney for the state’s Western District, but that nominee wouldn’t replace Sullivan unless confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

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The White House on Wednesday declined to comment on Sullivan’s appointment.

Until earlier this year, a provision of the Patriot Act allowed the Bush administration to name interim U.S. attorneys — who serve as the Justice Department’s top lawyer in each district — without Senate confirmation. That provision was repealed amid the uproar over the U.S. attorney firings.

In March, the Senate passed a bill that limits the term of interim U.S. attorneys to 120 days. The bill was approved by the House and signed by the President June 14, and the clock began ticking for Sullivan then.

Once the provision was repealed, the law regarding U.S. attorney appointments returned to its former state: If someone isn’t nominated and confirmed to the position within 120 days, the federal court in the district gets to make the appointment. The appointment lasts until someone is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

“Our court has great regard for the United States Attorney’s Office in this district and we wanted to maintain the standard of excellence and professionalism that John McKay set and that Jeff Sullivan has continued as Interim U.S. Attorney,” Lasnik wrote in an e-mail.

Sullivan joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2002 after 27 years as the elected Yakima County prosecutor. In that capacity he tried more than 100 jury trials and argued twice before the U.S. Supreme Court. Sullivan, a Yakima native, graduated from Gonzaga University School of Law.

“The United States attorney position is a fairly sought-after position. It’s a position that many prosecutors would like to have,” Sullivan said Wednesday. “The number-one priority of this office is to investigate, prosecute and disrupt terrorism.”

When Sullivan joined the office in 2002 he was chief of the office’s Criminal Division, said office spokeswoman Emily Langlie. Sullivan played a key role in prosecutions involving material support for terrorism, cross-border organized crime, domestic terrorism, public corruption and corporate fraud.

Sullivan’s name was among three presented by U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, to the White House in March as potential McKay replacements. The others were Seattle attorney Mike Vaska and former U.S. Rep. Rick White. The administration asked for more names, and former Republican U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton provided several.

Gorton said this week that he had not heard from the White House about whether it planned to nominate someone, and he could not understand why the administration would decline to exercise its prerogative.

Asked about the impending appointment by the judges, Gorton said, “I hope it will prompt the White House to act.”

Information from The Associated Press and Seattle Times reporter Alicia Mundy is included in this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or

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