WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department will name veteran prosecutor Channing Phillips as acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, a role he also played in the Obama administration, according to one current and one former department official.
Phillips will take over the helm of the U.S. Attorney’s Office at a time when prosecutors there are consumed with a sprawling probe into the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol by former Republican President Donald Trump’s supporters.
The case is considered unprecedented in its size and scope, also making it difficult for the U.S. District Court to handle the workload as it continues conducting hearings virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Phillips’ new role as acting attorney general was announced in an internal Justice Department email earlier on Tuesday. He is expected to start the new post on Wednesday.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers in testimony earlier that more than 300 people have already been charged, and many more are still under investigation. An increasing number of defendants have been tied to right-wing extremist groups and militias, including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.
Michael Sherwin, the outgoing acting U.S. attorney for the district, has agreed to remain in Washington, D.C., to ensure a smooth transition with oversight of the Capitol riots probe, a department official told Reuters.
After that work is complete, he is planning to rejoin the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.
Phillips previously worked in the Justice Department as a trial attorney for the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section from 1990 to 1994, before serving in other various roles, including as a counselor to the attorney general.
He was nominated by former President Barack Obama as U.S. attorney in 2015 and was designated as acting U.S. attorney. He remained in that post until Trump in 2017 nominated his successor, Jessie Liu.
(This story corrects to remove incorrect reference to criminal case against El Chapo’s wife)
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)