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Sens. Wyden and Merkley set up a screening panel for potential nominees by President Biden.

PMG FILE PHOTO  - Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams at a pre-pandemic press conference. He is one of many U.S. attorneys asked to step down by President Joe Biden. Billy Williams has resigned after six years as the top federal prosecutor for Oregon.

He was one of 56 U.S. attorneys appointed by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate who will resign at the request of President Joe Biden. The resignations usually are routine upon a change in administrations, but they can have political overtones. They take effect by Feb. 28.

The Department of Justice has 94 U.S. attorneys. Some states are divided into districts; Oregon is a single district.

Williams has been the U.S. attorney for Oregon since May 2015. He originally was appointed by President Barack Obama, and stayed on under President Donald Trump.

As U.S. attorney, Williams oversaw the prosecutions stemming from the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County in 2016. A dozen people pleaded guilty, and five more were convicted at trial. Seven people, including ringleader Ammon Bundy, were acquitted in court.

Williams also led the aggressive federal response in summer 2020 to protests near the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Portland.

Williams' successor will be nominated by Biden, presumably after the Senate confirms Biden's nomination of Merrick Garland as attorney general. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled hearings Feb. 22-23. Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley are setting up a panel to screen potential nominees to recommend to Garland and Biden. The eventual nominee is subject to Senate confirmation.

A statement released jointly Tuesday, Feb. 9, by Wyden and Merkley reads: "Senators Wyden and Merkley are working to assemble a selection committee that will consider all applicants interested in filling the job of U.S. attorney for Oregon and then recommend finalists to forward to the Biden administration for its selection. Both senators thank Billy Williams for nearly six years of service to Oregon in this post as the state's chief federal law enforcement official." 

The process is similar to what the senators use to screen and recommend potential nominees for federal judgeships.

Wyden and Gordon Smith, Merkley s Republican predecessor, set up the process in the 1990s to remove some of the politicization of selecting nominees.

Among the potential nominees back in 2000, after George W. Bush was elected president, was Kevin Mannix of Salem, who had just come off campaigns for Oregon attorney general in 1996 as a Democrat and 2000 as a Republican. Bush ultimately named Michael Mosman, a career prosecutor whom Bush appointed a U.S. district judge in 2003. Mosman has announced he will take senior status as a judge at the end of this year.

After Trump was elected in 2016, state Rep. Mike McLane of Powell Butte, then the Republican leader of the Oregon House, was mentioned as a potential candidate for U.S. attorney. Trump ultimately kept Williams in that job. Gov. Kate Brown appointed McLane as a circuit judge in 2019.

Among the other recent U.S. attorneys for Oregon are Karin Immergut, Mosman s successor in 2003, whom Gov. Ted Kulongoski named as a Multnomah County circuit judge in 2009, and whom Trump appointed as a U.S. district judge on a second try in 2019; and Amanda Marshall, a former Oregon assistant attorney general who served from 2011 until she resigned under pressure in 2015.

Dwight Holton was the acting U.S. attorney for Oregon from February 2010 until Marshall was confirmed in October 2011. He ran for the Democratic nomination for Oregon attorney general in 2012 but lost to Ellen Rosenblum, also a former assistant U.S. attorney, who remains attorney general. Holton is chief executive of Lines for Life, a nonprofit that focuses on suicide prevention and addiction treatment.

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NOTE: Adds details of Williams' tenure.

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