Twin Cities trial lawyer Andrew Luger was recommended Tuesday to become the next U.S. attorney for Minnesota, even though his predecessor hasn’t left office yet.
The news comes as Senate Republicans signaled that they might not block B. Todd Jones, Minnesota’s current U.S. attorney and President Obama’s pick to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Luger, a former assistant U.S. attorney and a 2006 DFL candidate for Hennepin County attorney, is a partner at the Greene Espel law firm in Minneapolis, where he specializes in civil litigation and white-collar criminal defense.
Like Jones, who serves simultaneously as U.S. attorney and acting ATF chief, Luger faces a potentially lengthy Senate confirmation process.
Jones cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month on a party-line vote after Republicans raised sharp questions about his management style and views on gun control. Still, no final vote has been scheduled, and it remains unknown if any individual GOP senators might still object to his nomination and will force a filibuster.
Despite the uncertainty, Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office indicated that the Luger recommendation was being made in preparation for Jones’ possible confirmation as the permanent ATF director.
Luger was an assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., from 1989 to 1992 and an assistant U.S. attorney in Minnesota from 1992 to 1995.
He capped his tenure in the U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota with the prosecution of Gary Lefkowitz in a $120 million tax and real estate fraud. Lefkowitz received a prison sentence of 23 years without parole, the longest white-collar sentence in the United States at the time.
In the past four years, Luger headed two high-profile investigations, one involving wrongdoing by the Metro Gang Strike Force and the other concerning security around the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) in St. Paul that culminated in mass arrests.
Luger and his wife, Ellen, are regular contributors to Democratic Party candidates. He made $22,400 in contributions going back to the 2010 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Luger and his wife have contributed $5,800 to Klobuchar’s campaign since 2005, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
It is common for U.S. attorney appointees to be deeply involved in the political party of the sitting president.
Luger won the DFL endorsement for Hennepin County attorney in 2006 but lost to Mike Freeman in the general election. He also was a contender for the U.S. attorney post in 2009. But Jones, who had previously been U.S. attorney in the Clinton administration, won the appointment.
The U.S. attorney is the chief federal law enforcement official in the state, responsible for the prosecution of federal criminal cases as well as the prosecution and defense of civil cases involving the federal government. The position oversees 65 assistant U.S. attorneys.
Reactions to the news
By tradition, as the state’s senior senator, Klobuchar has primary responsibility for recommending a new U.S. attorney to the Obama administration, which must formally make the nomination. However, she and Sen. Al Franken formed a bipartisan advisory committee to review candidates and assist them in making a recommendation.
Klobuchar issued a statement praising Luger’s “experience, character and drive.” She added that he has “earned the respect of the legal and law enforcement community and has proved to be a tireless advocate for the people of Minnesota.”
“Andy’s invaluable experience serving in both the public and private sectors make him an exceptional candidate for the job,” Franken’s statement said.
While Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said Luger’s report on the RNC arrests should have come down harder on the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office and federal agencies, he approved of the choice.
“Do I think he’s competent? Yes,” Samuelson said. “Do I think he demonstrates good judgment? Yes. Do I agree with him all the time? No.”
In a statement accompanying the announcement, Luger said the U.S. attorney “plays a critical role in ensuring justice for and protecting the safety of all Minnesotans,” and vowed to work closely with local and state officials.
Former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug, who was recently appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, said Luger “would be a very strong nomination,” Lillehaug said. “I saw firsthand Andy Luger’s tenacity and commitment to justice when he served as an assistant U.S. attorney.”
Jon Hopeman, a former assistant U.S. attorney, describes Luger as productive and effective. “He has good peripheral vision,” Hopeman said. “In other words, he sees all of the picture … You never know until you give someone a lot of power, how they’re going to be. But I think he’ll be fine.”
‘A team player’
Tom Heffelfinger, who was the Minnesota U.S. attorney under Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, served on a committee that interviewed the U.S. attorney candidates. He called Luger a “team player” with the “qualifications and skills necessary to excel in this position.”
Heffelfinger also has defended Jones against GOP attacks in the Senate. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has questioned Jones’ handling of a whistleblower complaint brought by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen.
On Monday, Grassley said that despite his reservations he is unlikely to try to block Jones’ nomination. Under Senate rules, however, any senator could object, possibly forcing a filibuster.