Joseph Harrington has led the federal prosecutor’s office in Spokane for more than a year, even though no president appointed him and no Senate committee has confirmed him.
President Donald Trump has left the job of picking the region’s top federal prosecutor to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and now to the 10 judges who make up the U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington.
Harrington, a 28-year veteran of the federal prosecutor’s office, was next in line when Trump asked for U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby’s resignation in March 2017.
Harrington served as “acting” U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington until that designation timed out in early January under a federal law called the Vacancies Reform Act. That’s when Sessions appointed him to continue as the “interim” U.S. attorney, along with attorneys in 16 other federal court districts.
Session’s appointment of Harrington lasted the maximum of 120 days, and Trump still did not recommend Harrington for Senate confirmation or appoint someone else. So the decision was punted again to the U.S. District Court judges, who reappointed him on Friday.
Harrington declined to comment in a phone call Friday, but in a written statement he said: “I am humbled that the District Court extended me the honor of serving as the U.S. attorney. I consider it a great honor and privilege.
“I look forward to continuing to work with the outstanding, dedicated assistant U.S. attorneys and staff in this office, together with our federal, state, county, local and tribal law enforcement partners, to carry on the remarkable work being accomplished in the Eastern District of Washington,” he continued. “The office continues to ‘punch above its weight.’ ”
His reappointment by the District Court has no fixed time limit. He can continue serving as U.S. attorney until he retires or the president picks someone else.
The reappointment, while mostly inconsequential, highlights the unprecedented amount of time Trump has waited to fill many positions in the Justice Department.
Harrington, 60, received his law degree from Gonzaga University in 1986. Before joining the U.S. attorney’s office in Spokane, he worked for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C.
Holding various titles, Harrington helped prosecute members of the Phineas Priesthood white-supremacist group who carried out attacks on an area Planned Parenthood location and The Spokesman-Review’s former Spokane Valley office.
He also helped prosecute Kevin Harpham, who placed a bomb on the route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march in 2011, and former Spokane police Officer Karl Thompson Jr., who was convicted the same year of using excessive force on Otto Zehm and lying to investigators about the encounter.