Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams will resign his post effective Feb. 28.
Williams, the top federal law enforcement officer in Oregon, took over as U.S. attorney in May 2015, during the Obama administration. He was later appointed to the seat by former President Donald Trump.
“On an all-U.S. Attorney call this morning, Acting Attorney General (Robert “Monty”) Wilkinson instructed most presidentially-appointed U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Attorney Williams included, to submit resignations effective February 28, 2021,” Oregon’s U.S. Attorney’s office said in a statement Tuesday. “Our office is taking all necessary steps to ensure a smooth transition and will provide more information soon.”
Typically, incoming presidents replace U.S. attorneys appointed by their predecessors. The fact that Williams served under both Obama and Trump is unusual.
Williams has cultivated close relationships with law enforcement across the state, especially among county sheriffs. During his tenure, he also advocated for local law enforcement to work with federal immigration officials, despite a state law that prohibits such actions.
During this summer’s racial justice protests in Portland, Williams took on a high profile role as part of the Trump administration response and the federal government efforts to protect the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse in downtown Portland. At times, the tension between the federal government, city leaders and Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt burst into the open.
Schmidt declined to prosecute hundreds of minor protest-related offenses as part of a policy he announced days after taking office. But as the summer turned to fall, the FBI and Williams’ office took a more aggressive role, bringing federal charges that defense attorneys said made it look as though the federal government was trying to undermine Schmidt.
Williams has worked for more than 20 years in the Department of Justice, beginning his career in 2000. He’s headed up the criminal division in the U.S. attorney’s office, among other positions. Before joining the federal government, Williams worked as a top prosecutor in the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office.
One of Williams’ most high-profile cases was the prosecution of Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with others behind the 41-day long occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. The Bundys and other leaders of the occupation ultimately won acquittals from a jury, to the surprise of many. Others charged in that case pleaded guilty or were convicted during a second trial.
Williams also oversaw the trial of an elite FBI agent who the government accused of lying after firing shots during the arrest of the occupation leaders. That trial also ended in an acquittal.
Several people have publicly expressed their interest in becoming Oregon’s next top federal attorney. OPB has confirmed at least three people who are interested, including Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, one of the state’s progressive prosecutors. Donna Maddux is also considering seeking the position. Maddux is a former federal prosecutor in Oregon’s U.S. Attorney’s Office, worked as a former Assistant Attorney General at the Oregon Department of Justice and now is in private practice. Craig Gabriel, who works as the deputy criminal chief in the U.S. Attorney’s office has also confirmed interest in the job.
The selection process is expected to done by a committee brought together by Oregon’s two Democratic senators.
“Senators Wyden and Merkley are working to assemble a selection committee that will consider all applicants interested in filling the job of U.S. Attorney for Oregon and then recommend finalists to forward to the Biden administration for its selection,” Wyden and Merkley said in a joint statement Tuesday. “Both senators thank Billy Williams for nearly six years of service to Oregon in this post as the state’s chief federal law enforcement official.”
An acting U.S. attorney will be named to lead the office after Williams’ departure and before the Biden administration appoints a successor. Whoever that is will need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.