The top federal prosecutor for the eastern third of North Carolina is expected to be replaced upon conclusion of the investigation of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, whose actions are under review by a grand jury.
If there isn't a plea deal, Edwards could be indicted as soon as this week, marking the beginning of a pre-trial phase for the case.
George E.B. Holding, a Republican, has been the U.S. attorney in Raleigh since his appointment by President George W. Bush in 2006 - and he has remained in the post under an agreement involving North Carolina's two senators to allow the probes of Edwards and former Gov. Mike Easley to finish on Holding's watch.
Edwards and Easley are Democrats, and the senators agreed to let Holding see the probes through to eliminate any questions about stifling the probes by removing the top prosecutor. Easley pleaded guilty to a felony last year in state court, ending the federal interest in him.
President Barack Obama has already nominated a replacement, Thomas Walker of Charlotte, who still must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, said in a statement Wednesday: "I am looking forward to (Walker) being the next U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District - as soon as the investigation is complete."
Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican, has been "aware of the progress being made" and also backs Walker for the job, said a spokesman, David Ward.
The senators had used a procedure known as withholding a "blue slip" to keep Walker's nomination from advancing. Burr "will return his blue slip once it is clear that all investigations have been completed," Ward said.
Neither Hagan nor Burr would publicly elaborate on precisely when they would take action to begin confirmation of Walker for the post.
Obama has the authority to ask Holding to step down at any time, aside from the nomination process to replace him. An acting U.S. attorney would step in on an interim basis.
The White House has generally been deferring to the Senate process of replacing U.S. attorneys.
Holding has overseen a range of prosecutions in the Eastern District, which stretches from Raleigh to the coast, but he has not been an active prosecutor in trials. He is not expected to handle any of the courtroom duties in an Edwards prosecution, if there is one.
Prosecutors are examining whether payments from Edwards' supporters to his mistress and a campaign staffer were intended to keep his 2008 campaign alive, and whether he knew about them. Any charges would likely revolve around violations of campaign finance law.
The case would be led by Washington-based prosecutors from the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, with assistance from a prosecutor based in Raleigh. Most of the Edwards case decisions in recent months have been made in Washington.
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