Securities lawyer Craig Carpenito has emerged as the front-runner for the job of U.S. attorney in the District of New Jersey, according to sources familiar with the search process. Carpenito came under consideration for the job after Geoffrey Berman, a Greenberg Traurig lawyer previously the favorite, became a candidate for the job of U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, those sources said.
The candidacy of Carpenito, a lawyer at Alston & Bird in New York, as New Jersey’s top federal law enforcer is supported by Gov. Chris Christie. The two were colleagues when Christie was U.S. attorney for New Jersey, and Carpenito defended Christie from a citizen’s complaint accusing him of official misconduct in connection with the Bridgegate scandal.
Berman was supported for the New Jersey job by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, his law partner at Greenberg Traurig and a stalwart of President Donald Trump’s campaign. But the White House began to consider him as U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York about a month ago, after several other candidates bowed out, said one person familiar with the search.
Carpenito, who was with the U.S. Attorney’s Office from 2003-08, appears to enjoy wide support as U.S. attorney. In May, the state’s five Republican members of the House of Representatives—Chris Smith, Frank LoBiondo, Tom MacArthur, Leonard Lance and Rodney Frelinghuysen—have signed a letter to Trump supporting Carpenito for the U.S. attorney post. And in June, a group of about 25 former assistant U.S. attorneys sent a letter to Trump supporting Carpenito as U.S. attorney, according to two people familiar with the letter.
But Christie’s low approval ratings and his connection to the Bridgegate scandal were expected to hurt Carpenito’s chances of being named U.S. attorney. Speculation has focused on the role that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, would play in the choice—Kushner is said to be an ally of Giuliani and to resent Christie for prosecuting his father, Charles Kushner, for making illegal campaign contributions. But one politically active lawyer said the notion that Christie is a pariah in the White House is overblown. Nominating Berman in New York and Carpenito in New Jersey is a compromise that would appease both Giuliani and Christie, this lawyer said.
“I think the president wants to keep his friends,” this lawyer said.
It’s unclear when a nomination for U.S. attorney might be announced. William Fitzpatrick has been in charge of the office on an acting basis since March 10, when the previous U.S. attorney, Paul Fishman, resigned. He, along with 45 other U.S. attorneys, was asked to resign by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Any nomination for U.S. attorney is subject to approval by New Jersey’s two senators, who indicate their approval or disapproval of the White House’s picks through the so-called blue slip process, in which the senators indicate on a blue piece of paper whether they support a nominee. If Carpenito is nominated, it may be part of a package along with nominees for one or more federal judges to win the support of the state’s senators for the nominee, said one lawyer familiar with the nomination process. U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker might be more inclined to support Carpenito if his nomination is presented along with judicial candidates who are women, black or Hispanic, this lawyer said.
Berman, 57, served from 1990 to 1994 an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, handling tax and securities violations. Before that, he was associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel-Iran Contra, where he prosecuted a former CIA employee for tax fraud.
Carpenito, 43, previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of New Jersey, assigned to the securities and health care fraud unit. He also worked as senior counsel in the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s New York regional office.
Carpenito recently said he was undergoing interviews with federal officials but “suggested to me he thinks he is going to get it,” said one lawyer who is acquainted with him.
Carpenito’s background in securities and health care law would serve him well at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said another lawyer who knows him.
“He’s a fantastic attorney—hard-working, shows excellent judgment. It’s also fun to work with Craig. He takes the work seriously but doesn’t take himself too seriously,” said this lawyer.