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Durbin: I’ll work with Kirk to pick Patrick Fitzgerald’s successor

U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald speaks reporters during news conference May 24 2012 Chicago Illinois (Phoby Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald speaks to reporters during a news conference on May 24, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

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Updated: July 3, 2012 10:36AM

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Friday he will partner with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill) to recommend a replacement for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald — a move not only cordial and collegial but politically practical because of the November presidential election.

“We’re going to do this together on a bipartisan basis,” Durbin said in Springfield.

Durbin also said he will cast a nationwide net for a successor to Fitzgerald, who announced on Wednesday that he will step down on June 1. In the meantime, Durbin — who discussed transition with Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday — said they will rely on Fitzgerald’s recommendation for an interim replacement.

Durbin said he talked to Kirk and they decided to convene a “small group of people we trust” to come up with nominees to send to President Barack Obama.

Later on Friday, Durbin said in a statement, “I’m committed to conducting an open, transparent and nonpartisan search” to replace Fitzgerald. The Illinois senators will develop “over the next few weeks,” Durbin said, “a formal search process to fill the vacancy left by Patrick Fitzgerald’s resignation. We will announce that process once it is established.”

Durbin was asked if he favors the approach of former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.), who is credited with bringing Patrick Fitzgerald to Chicago from New York, where he was a federal prosecutor.

Sen. Fitzgerald, who is not related to the federal prosecutor, believed it was important to choose someone from outside the state without political affiliations in order to be an aggressive force against political corruption in Illinois.

“We’re going to look for someone who brings that same quality, that same level of integrity to the office,” Durbin said of the outgoing federal prosecutor. “I believe we can find a person that does that.”

Asked if that means he’d favor someone from outside Illinois as opposed to inside the state, Durbin answered, “I’m not going to rule out any person. I’m not going to rule out any state, let alone the state of Illinois. But it has to be a person who meets his standard of integrity to fill this spot.”

Peter Fitzgerald was able to influence the selection of the U.S. attorney in 2001 because by tradition, the senator from the party in the White House takes the lead in sending names to the White House — and Republican George W. Bush was the president.

With Democrat Obama in the White House, this time Durbin has the lead in making recommendations to the president.

No matter if Obama or Mitt Romney is elected in November, a U.S. attorney contender strongly backed by both Illinois senators may avoid having to do another search next year.

The entire process will take time. On average, it takes two to four months to confirm a U.S. attorney once that nomination is sent to the Senate, Durbin’s office said. It could also take the White House months to vet a potential nominee.

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