U.S. Attorney Andy Luger, right, with the FBI's Richard Thornton at FBI headquarters in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, earlier this month. Credit: Evan Frost | MPR News

Andrew Luger, a former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, has reached a short list of three final candidates for the top federal prosecutor job in Minnesota, sources tell Sahan Journal.

Luger served his first role as U.S. attorney for Minnesota from 2014 to 2017 under former President Barack Obama. The post, appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases brought by the federal government and leading civil cases where the United States is a party.

In his previous term, Luger oversaw a number of high profile and controversial cases, including the prosecution and conviction of nine young East African men for attempting to join ISIS, the decision not to file charges against the Minneapolis police officers who killed Jamar Clark, and the Jacob Wetterling prosecution.

The potential appointment raised concerns among members of the Somali American community, given Luger‘s history administering an anti-extremism program during his previous tenure. Luger also drew criticism from Minneapolis civil rights leaders following the Jamar Clark case.

Sahan Journal learned of Luger’s status among the finalists from sources in Washington and Minnesota with knowledge of the matter. These sources asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the U.S. attorney pick. Luger could not be reached immediately for comment. 

By practice, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith suggest the state’s U.S. attorney to the president for appointment. Klobuchar recommended Luger for the same position during the Obama administration. 

Neither senator responded immediately to Sahan Journal’s request for comment on Luger’s possible selection and appointment. 

In 2017, Klobuchar urged then-President Donald Trump to consider keeping Luger in his post, saying: “Andy took on sex traffickers, terrorism recruitment cases, major white collar offenders, and built strong, positive relationships with Minnesota’s Muslim community.” 

She also called Luger “a good friend and a dedicated public servant.”

The two senators formed a selection committee in February tasked with picking candidates for the U.S. attorney and U.S. marshal positions in Minnesota. Chaired by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, the seven-member committee reviews applications and recommends candidates to the senators. Klobuchar and Smith then bring those selections to President Joe Biden for consideration and approval; the U.S. Senate ultimately gives its consent for the appointment.

The selection committee highlighted its diverse participation as a way to reflect the concerns of immigrants and people of color. In an interview last month, one member, attorney Amran Farah, said it may be hard for members of the community to trust the deliberations of the committee since meetings are confidential.

“On the committee, my role is going to be to make sure that the senators and the candidates know that this is an act of service for all Minnesotans,” Amran told Sahan Journal in February. “That includes Black Minnesotans, Muslim Minnesotans, Somali Minnesotans.”

Luger led ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ program directed at Muslims in Minnesota 

In 2016, Luger oversaw the prosecution and conviction of nine young East African men for attempting to join ISIS from Minnesota. He also led a federal counterterrorism program focused on Minnesota’s Somali community.

Launched in early 2015, the Countering Violent Extremism program aimed to use a variety of approaches to prevent young people from becoming radicalized. At the time, Minnesota law enforcement described these efforts as based in community outreach and youth mentorship. 

But as soon as the pilot program launched in Minnesota, civil liberty organizations and Muslim advocacy groups contended that it singled out the Muslim community. They raised fears that the anti-radicalization program could be used as a way to spy on the Somali community. Luger signed a memo with a task force comprising Somali American community members, pledging the program wouldn’t be used for surveillance.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN), raised concerns about Luger’s role in the Countering Violent Extremism program.

“Luger failed the Muslim community and the Black community in Minnesota,” Jaylani said. “With the killing of George Floyd, it is important to have a person of color who can represent communities impacted by white supremacy and unchecked police violence.”

Burhan Israfael, a Somali American activist in Minnesota was involved in organizing against the Countering Violent Extremism program. He said he’s “terrified” by the power the U.S. attorney can employ.

“His role and what he was able to accomplish was devastating,” Burhan said of Luger. “For him to be in that position again, knowing what he’s done and what he’s capable of doing, is pretty tragic.”

Seamus Hughes, deputy director for George Washington’s “Program on Extremism,” worked closely with Luger to develop the Countering Violent Extremism program. Hughes said the purpose of the program was to provide a safety net for young people veering toward recruitment by ISIS and other extremist groups. The program was one of the first of its kind in the nation.

“Andy’s a hard charger,” Hughes said. “He’s the type of guy who’s not going to take no for an answer. If he thinks it’s the right thing to do, he’s going to do it—politics be damned.”

“Minneapolis was, in many ways, the locus point for most of the cases in the U.S.,” Hughes said of the Countering Violent Extremism program. He added that he wonders if any prevention program the next U.S. attorney program develops will be similar to Countering Violent Extremism.  “That’s a larger debate of where the Biden administration wants to go with this.”

In a 2015 interview with Minnesota Public Radio News, Luger defended the Countering Violent Extremism program as something separate from his office’s criminal prosecutions. “The investigative work that we do is designed to investigate criminal activity,” he said. “The community engagement work we’re doing is completely separate, and is really built out of concerns from the community about how together we can stop the cycle of recruiting.”

Hughes added that the nature of terrorism in the United States has changed since Luger was last a U.S. attorney. White supremacy—particularly, in Minnesota, the Boogaloo Boys—will become the new focus for the next U.S. attorney, Hughes said.

Police shootings don’t lead to civil rights charges

Luger also ran into opposition from civil rights leaders in Minnesota related to a pair of high-profile police shootings. 

In 2015, Minneapolis police officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze fatally shot Jamar Clark, a Black man, during an attempted arrest. In 2016, St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile during a routine traffic stop. 

Luger declared that the evidence in both cases did not meet the high threshold for federal civil rights prosecutions. 

Minnesota Representative John Thompson (DFL–St. Paul), who was also a close friend of Castile’s, said that the only time he met the then-U.S. attorney was after Castile’s death, when gave Thompson his business card. He added that he’s concerned about seeing history repeat itself.

“We need to stop using the same players over and over again,” Thompson said of Luger’s position as a finalist. “Bring some of these young, innovative, charismatic future leaders in. Some of the old players and the old ideologies just aren’t working for my community.”

After leaving the U.S. attorney post—as is customary when a new president takes office—Luger became a partner at the prominent international law firm Jones Day. His biography there lists Luger’s service on the board of directors for The Fund for Legal Aid, “which provides resources for free legal assistance to Minnesota’s neediest residents.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.