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Biden officially nominates Spokane native Vanessa Waldref as U.S. attorney for Eastern District of Washington

UPDATED: Mon., July 26, 2021

Vanessa Waldref, a Spokane native, served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Eastern Washington from 2013 to 2020.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Vanessa Waldref, a Spokane native, served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Eastern Washington from 2013 to 2020. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Monday announced his first eight nominees to serve as U.S. attorneys across the country, including the first woman picked to be the top prosecutor for the Eastern District of Washington.

If confirmed by the Senate, Vanessa Waldref would be the first woman to lead the U.S. attorney’s office in Spokane. The nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys are responsible for federal criminal prosecutions in their respective districts. Monday’s announcement came a month after the Biden administration announced an initiative to curb a nationwide rise in violent crime.

In a news release, the White House said the eight nominees “were chosen for their devotion to enforcing the law, their professionalism, their experience and credentials in this field, their dedication to pursuing equal justice for all, and their commitment to the independence of the Department of Justice.”

The announcement came after Attorney General Merrick Garland, the nation’s top law enforcement official, vowed last week the Justice Department would crack down on gun trafficking. The administration’s anti-violence initiative also aims to put more police on streets and support community violence prevention programs.

After growing up in northeast Spokane, Waldref earned bachelor’s and law degrees from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. before returning home to serve as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District from 2013 to 2020. She has worked as a trial attorney in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division since 2020 and has taught as an adjunct professor at Gonzaga Law School since 2015.

After Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell recommended her for the post in January, Waldref told The Spokesman-Review the Eastern District of Washington – which covers all of the state east of the Cascades – presents a unique range of legal issues for a federal prosecutor.

“With the diversity of the federal lands – beautiful national forests, the Grand Coulee Dam, tribal lands – one of the responsibilities of the U.S. Attorney’s Office is to protect these lands and all the people who live here,” she said. “This area is vast and diverse, so to keep our communities safe and strong really means engaging with stakeholders.”

Biden’s eight nominees represent a series of historic firsts. Nick Brown, a former chief counsel to Gov. Jay Inslee, is set to become the first Black U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington. The nominations of Waldref, Brown and the six others are subject to confirmation by a majority vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate. They are likely to be confirmed later this year.

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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