A new and surprising name has surfaced as a contender to become New Orleans’ next U.S. attorney: Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
Rumors that the aggressive DA has a shot at the high-profile federal post have begun circulating in political circles, and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy — who holds the most sway over the appointment — confirmed that Cannizzaro is in the mix.
“Leon would be a good U.S. attorney, but I haven’t made any decision,” Kennedy said Thursday.
The DA joins a list of a half-dozen or so informal candidates for the post whose names began circulating shortly after former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr. stepped down in March just as President Donald Trump dismissed dozens of his peers around the country.
The nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Typically, the state’s U.S. senators provide the president with a list of choices; a similar process is used to select federal judges.
Kennedy and fellow U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy are each taking the lead on a handful of positions in Louisiana. The U.S. attorney in New Orleans is one of Kennedy’s picks.
The Trump administration opted not to nominate Kennedy’s first choice, lawyer Kyle Schonekas. It wasn’t clear what sank his chances, but Schonekas had recently undergone an FBI background check. His firm also has represented some controversial clients, including Planned Parenthood and activist Deray Mckesson of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Cannizzaro is a lifelong Democrat, which could hinder his chances of getting the post. Schonekas had been a registered independent until shortly before his name surfaced for the job, when he switched to the GOP. Presumably, Cannizzaro would also have to change parties to be considered for the job. He had not done that as of Thursday, according to a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's Office.
Cannizzaro's public statements on gun control could also put him at odds with the Trump administration. In 2012, he came out against a state constitutional amendment that made it harder to uphold gun ownership restrictions in court. He argued that the amendment, which passed, could jeopardize concealed-carry permit requirements and invite a flurry of legal challenges to gun laws.
In 2015, Cannizzaro called on the National Rifle Association to be "part of the solution, rather than an organization with a single-word vocabulary — no,'" as he pledged to lobby the state Legislature for gun control measures.
Meanwhile, Cannizzaro has recently been enmeshed in a series of public controversies, including his office's use of bogus subpoenas and arrest warrants to force recalcitrant witnesses to cooperate. A recent poll commissioned by The Advocate and WWL-TV measured his approval rating at 46 percent, a marked drop from a year earlier that pollster Ron Faucheux said could be fallout from those scandals.
Were Cannizzaro to get the job, it would set off a scramble to fill his job as DA. His term expires in early 2021.
"Out of respect for the process, I have no comment at this time," Cannizzaro said Thursday through a spokesman.
Staff writers Bryn Stole and John Simerman contributed to this report.