At least two Denver attorneys interviewed with Jeff Sessions to become the next U.S. attorney for Colorado, offering a sign that they are the top candidates, Colorado Politics has learned.
Multiple sources confirmed the interviews with Jason Dunn and James Hearty, two of the four candidates competing for the position. The interviews were conducted separately in the spring with U.S. Attorney General Sessions.
Sources were unable to speak on the record, as the selection process is ongoing and confidential.
Dunn and Hearty need to complete extensive FBI background checks before the confirmation process can move forward. Hearty’s background check has been “postponed,” according to sources, and Dunn is awaiting his.
With the interviews, the two applicants likely surpassed other candidates who were floated for the position, including Chief Colorado Deputy Attorney General David Blake, who was originally believed to be the front-runner.
The fourth candidate is Richard Hosley, who works with Hearty at Denver-based global kidney dialysis giant DaVita HealthCare Partners. Hearty is senior vice president and chief compliance officer at DaVita, and Hosley is DaVita’s associate general counsel and vice president for litigation.
Dunn is an attorney at powerhouse law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
A vacancy in the Colorado U.S. attorney’s office was left last summer when John Walsh stepped down from the post. Bob Troyer, second in command of the office, became acting U.S. attorney when Walsh vacated the position.
Troyer will remain the acting U.S. attorney until President Trump appoints someone new and that person is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, or Troyer resigns.
The two finalists for the Colorado slot met with Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for an estimated 30-minute interview each, according to sources.
But uncertainty still swirls around the confirmation process, with Sessions continuing to face a rocky relationship with Trump. Trump on Monday called Sessions “beleaguered” as he tweeted about the ongoing Russia probe.
Those who know Dunn say he would likely survive partisan squabbling related to a confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate.
A former deputy attorney general of Colorado – serving under former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers – Dunn is chairman of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s political law group. He represents corporations, business groups, trade associations, and political organizations, with a focus on public and political law.
“He’s really smart, I think he’s very strategic,” said Doug Friednash, a Democrat who serves as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff, and who was a shareholder at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, where he managed government relations and public policy.
“One of the things I care the most about is somebody who will collaborate and listen to state concerns and make sure that we have a good working relationship,” Friednash continued, pointing out that the U.S. attorney position is nonpartisan by nature. “While we may disagree on things, I always know he (Dunn) will be fair and listen.”
Marijuana policy could be one of the first issues a new U.S. attorney in Colorado is asked to focus on. It’s still unknown how the Trump administration will handle cannabis in states that legalized it, including Colorado. Recent statements and meetings suggest that the Department of Justice wants to crackdown on illegal diversion, which would leave the legal retail market intact. Sessions is adamantly opposed to marijuana legalization.
Immigration is another issue that a new U.S. attorney may be directed to prioritize under a Trump administration. Enforcing illegal immigration could be a challenge for federal prosecutors, as cities like Denver may try to fight a crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
Online crime appears to also be a priority for the administration, with a focus on going after child predators and businesses engaged in internet abuse, such as hiring hackers to break into corporate financial information.
Pete Weir, the Republican district attorney in Jefferson and Gilpin counties, said Dunn has the background to face a wide berth of issues.
“He is an outstanding lawyer and an outstanding individual,” Weir said. “He’s extremely intelligent, he’s got a broad background with respect to complex civil litigation. When you think U.S. attorney, I think you normally would think about criminal work, but a large proportion of what the U.S. attorney’s office does is also focus on civil cases.”
Prior to his position at DaVita, Hearty worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Denver. Perhaps his biggest case was acting as the second lead prosecutor in the case against ex-Qwest Chief Executive Joe Nacchio, who was convicted in 2007 of insider trading. At that time, it was the biggest insider trading case in the nation’s history.
Hearty was promoted to lead the major crimes section of the U.S. attorney’s office in Colorado.
Some have raised concerns that Hearty would face a conflict of interest in the U.S. attorney’s office, as DaVita is under investigation by the Justice Department. But Hearty would be recused from any DaVita investigations, and there is a procedure in the U.S. attorney’s manual for how to deal with such conflicts.