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Drew Wrigley's future as U.S. attorney uncertain as Biden prepares to take office

Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer back keeping Wrigley as North Dakota's U.S. Attorney, but Presidents typically replace the previous administration’s picks with their own.

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North Dakota U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley announces federal charges against Shawn Ray Larkin during a press conference with ATF agent Todd Willard Thursday, Sept. 17, in front of the Quentin N. Burdick federal courthouse, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO — U.S. senators from North Dakota are pushing for Drew Wrigley to keep his position as the state’s U.S. attorney, but it remains unclear if President-elect Joe Biden will take up that recommendation or put in his own appointee.

The office of Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement to The Forum he and fellow North Dakota Republican, Sen. Kevin Cramer, reached out to the transition team to make the case for Wriglely, who has held the office twice over the last two decades. His most recent stint started in April 2019.

“Drew Wrigley has done a tremendous job as U.S. Attorney and we appreciate his service,” Hoeven’s office said, adding the senator will work to ensure a qualified candidate gets the position.

No official recommendations have been made to Biden's office, Hoeven's spokeswoman said.

Presidents typically replace the previous administration’s U.S. attorneys with their own picks. The Biden transition team did not return a request for comment on this story that asked whether the president-elect has started the process of considering candidates for U.S. attorneys.

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Political tensions are high in Washington, D.C., especially after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to stop members of Congress from certifying the results of the presidential election.

Despite the political divide, Wrigley and others said they have no reason to believe the process of Biden nominating a U.S. attorney shouldn’t move forward smoothly.

“I feel confident in saying, here in North Dakota, I don’t know why it wouldn’t move along in a professional, straightforward way,” Wrigley said. “I think that has been the history, and I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t continue.”

Wrigley was first appointed in October 2001 before leaving office in September 2009. That makes him the 17th and 19th North Dakota U.S. attorney.

For now, Wrigley said his focus is on work at the office. If he is replaced, he said he would support the next U.S. attorney.

“When No. 20 shows up, I can guarantee you, Nos. 17 and 19 are going to be cheering loudly for him or her and making sure the transition is smooth, productive and that they continue the great work,” Wrigley said.

When asked if he would continue in the post if Biden agrees to allow him to continue, he said it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to say.

“Someone would read that as I’m trying to apply pressure to them … and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “That is their determination to reach.”

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Typically, a president asks senators to provide a list of nominations for their own states, said Tim Purdon, who took over for Wrigley in August 2010.

The president then picks a nominee. After background checks and the greenlight from home-state senators, the Senate will meet to potentially approve the appointee.

The process is less clear for Biden, since North Dakota has two Republican senators, Purdon said. It’s possible he will consult members of North Dakota’s Democratic Party for input, he added.

Biden will likely want his own pick in the office, Purdon said.

“If President Biden nominates someone who is not acceptable to Sen. Hoeven and Sen. Cramer, that nomination is not going to move forward,” Purdon said.

It’s possible Biden, Hoeven and Cramer can come to a consensus, he added.

"I'm hopeful this will not become a political mud fight between the senators and the president," Purdon said.

Cramer said in a statement he is looking forward to "working with the Biden Administration on choosing who will fill that role and to ensuring a seamless, orderly transition.”

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It wouldn’t be the first time North Dakota senators have to work with a president who represents the opposite party. Wrigley was appointed for his first term by former President George W. Bush when U.S. Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, two Democrats from North Dakota, were in office.

Each transition is different, though it typically takes months to find a new U.S. attorney. The top assistant U.S. attorney is appointed by the court to take over as an acting U.S. attorney during the time it takes to find the previous attorney's successor.

Purdon resigned from the post in March 2015 to return to private practice. He said he doesn’t intend to return to public office.

He said there are several qualified attorneys who are interested in the position. That group includes several assistant U.S. attorneys and Mac Schneider, a personal injury lawyer and former Democratic state senator from Grand Forks.

Schneider said he has not been asked by anyone to take the position, but he would be honored to do it if nominated.

“If the president of the United States asks you to serve in that capacity, of course the answer would be yes,” he said.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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