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White House names nominee for new Oregon US attorney

If President Joe Biden gets his way, federal prosecutor Natalie K. Wight will be Oregon’s next U.S. Attorney.

The president officially nominated Wight on Monday, more than a year and a half into his term.

Wight is currently deputy chief of the organized and violent crime section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland.

If confirmed, she would be the first Black person and second Asian American person to serve as Oregon’s top federal prosecutor.

“It is an honor to be nominated and I look forward to the confirmation process,” Wight said in a statement.

Wight was chosen from three nominees submitted to the White House last fall by Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats. Wight’s nomination requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate. A confirmation hearing date has not yet been announced.

“We strongly support President Biden’s nomination of Natalie Wight to be the next U.S. Attorney for Oregon,” Wyden and Merkley said in a joint statement. “She brings an outstanding combination of leadership, integrity, independence and community connections to this crucial post. We look forward to advancing her through the Senate confirmation process.”

Wight graduated from the University of Notre Dame Law School in 2003. She’s spent her career working for the federal government, first as a lawyer for the Federal Bureau of Prisons before becoming an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of California in 2008.

In 2012, Wight became an assistant U.S. Attorney in Oregon, where she’s worked on both civil and criminal prosecutions.

One of her highest-profile cases involved the 2019 prosecution of Jason Paul Schaefer, a then-28-year-old Beaverton man convicted of ordering materials to make a bomb in 2017 and then later setting off an explosive device after federal agents and members of the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force searched his home. Schaefer was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

“Natalie Wight is both a formidable opponent and a strategic partner on issues of criminal justice in Oregon,” said Lisa Hay, Oregon’s federal public defender. “We welcome the opportunity to work with her.”

Former Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams said he’s known Wight since she joined the office in 2012. He called her nomination ”fantastic news” and “historic” as the first woman of color to be nominated for the position in Oregon.

“It’s a thrill for me seeing this happen for her, knowing how well-liked she is and well suited she is for being in that position,” Williams said. “She understands how important it is to be apolitical in that position. That is absolutely a priority in my view in that position.”

If confirmed, Wight would take over from U.S. Attorney Scott Asphaug, who stepped in an acting and interim role after Williams resigned in 2021. Asphaug is taking a U.S. Department of Justice job in Kenya.

The other suggestions Wyden and Merkley submitted for the president’s consideration were Craig Gabriel, an assistant U.S. attorney in Oregon who currently runs the office’s criminal division, and Vivek Kothari, who works at the law firm Markowitz Herbold and previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.