CEDAR RAPIDS — An Iowa City native who for the last three years directed federal prosecutions in a district encompassing more than half of Iowa’s counties resigned late Friday, one of the 46 U.S. Attorneys across the nation who were appointed by President Barack Obama but ordered to leave by the Trump administration.
The departure means that the two top federal prosecutor jobs in Iowa — for the Northern District based in Cedar Rapids and the Southern District based in Des Moines — are being filled on a temporary basis while a search goes on for presidential appointees.
In the Northern District, which includes 52 counties, Kevin Techau, 58, of Cedar Rapids, was nominated by Obama in 2013 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2014.
Monday, his office verified he resigned effective midnight Friday.
“Iowa has excellent federal, state and local law enforcement officers across the state,” Techau said in a statement. “It has been a fulfilling and rewarding experience to have served in this office for the past three years with those professionals. I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to lead the men and women who work so hard in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa. They are a top-notch group of public servants and I am very honored to have been their colleague.”
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Berry will serve as acting U.S. Attorney for the district, pending an interim being named or a permanent appointment by President Donald Trump.
One of the most celebrated prosecutions recently under Techau’s administration was that of Gervais “Ken” Ngombwa, 56, of Cedar Rapids.
Now sentenced to 15 years in prison, Ngombwa actively participated in the Rwandan genocide, then spun lies to gain entry to the United States as a refugee.
Two assistant U.S. attorneys from the office were honored for their work on the case by the Anti-Defamation League.
Techau, who grew up in Marion and graduated from the University of Iowa, previously had served as commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety under Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack, among holding other positions,
He was nominated as the top federal prosecutor by former Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin and supported by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley in getting his nomination confirmed by the Senate.
As a U.S. Attorney, Techau also promoted cooperation and teamwork between federal, state and local authorities and worked on initiatives to bring offenders back into the workforce after they had served their prison time.
Last week’s ouster of Obama holdovers did not directly affect Iowa’s southern district, which covers 47 counties. The acting U.S. Attorney there is Kevin VanderSchel, who has been with the office since 1989.
“Kevin is not presidentially appointed so he can stay on until the transition happens,” said Rachel J. Scherle, an assistant U.S. Attorney.
The previous political appointee, Nicholas Klinefeldt, resigned in 2015 to take a job with a Des Moines law firm. He had been appointed in 2009 by Obama.
Typically, the senior U.S. senator of the same party forwards names to the president to fill the posts. In a statement, Grassley said the decision to remove the remaining U.S. attorneys is in keeping with tradition, and that he has prepared for it.
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“U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, who has a right to hire or fire a U.S. attorney for almost any reason,” he said. “When President (Bill) Clinton came into office, he fired all U.S. attorneys with little or no notice. Every president handles it in his own way.
“Knowing that a new president will seek to fill the U.S. attorney positions, I’ve been preparing and in the coming weeks will be forwarding to President Trump nominees to fill these positions,” Grassley said.
Ed Tibbetts of the Quad City Times contributed to this report.