Burr to delay approval of U.S. attorney nominee

Washington correspondentDecember 10, 2009 

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr does not plan to return his “blue slip” on U.S. attorney nominee Thomas Walker until the current investigations into two of the state’s most prominent Democrats are completed.

Burr informed President Barack Obama of his decision through the White House counsel’s office.

Burr, a Winston-Salem Republican, wants the current U.S. attorney, George Holding, to complete his probes into former Gov. Mike Easley and two-time presidential candidate John Edwards. Holding was appointed by President George W. Bush.

In a statement, the senator said he supports Walker, a Charlotte lawyer who works for the same legal firm as former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, the husband of former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

Burr said he told Obama his opinions in a letter in July about the nominations; his office has refused to release the letter.

“I believe Thomas Walker, who was nominated by the president to be Mr. Holding’s successor, is well-qualified to serve as U.S. attorney, and I support his nomination,” Burr said in his statement.

“It is clear, though, that political contributions made by Mr. Walker to the former North Carolina elected officials currently under investigation represent a conflict of interest, and would potentially require his recusal from those very investigations,” Burr continued.

Walker has been a donor to Easley.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, recommended Walker to Obama, and she, too, said she wants Holding to complete his investigations.

Hagan, who has repeatedly answered reporters’ questions about the case, has not said whether she will withhold her blue slip.

Burr has not returned calls on the matter, but he issued a lengthy statement today.

“Upon conclusion of those investigations by Mr. Holding, I will sign Mr. Walker’s blue slip,” Burr said.

“Delaying this nomination will ensure that the investigations and potential prosecutions will proceed with impartiality, and in turn provide the public with full confidence that justice is served in an even-handed manner,” he continued. “At the same time, it will allow Mr. Walker to start his tenure as U.S. attorney free from any unfair specter of speculation and cynicism.”

The blue slip is, by tradition, a form that home-state senators return to the Senate Judiciary Committee with their thoughts on judicial and U.S. attorney nominees. A senator could delay or block a nomination by withholding his or her blue slip.

bbarrett@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0012

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