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Former assistant U.S. attorney nominated for top job in Western Virginia

Former assistant U.S. attorney nominated for top job in Western Virginia


The next U.S attorney for Western Virginia could be Chris Kavanaugh, who headed the federal prosecutions of white supremacists in Charlottesville and four Blackwater contractors involved in a massacre in Iraq.

Kavanaugh was nominated for the position Tuesday by President Joe Biden.

Chris Kavanaugh


The White House said Kavanaugh and seven other nominees “were chosen for their devotion to enforcing the law, their professionalism, their experience and credentials in this field, their dedication to pursuing equal justice for all, and their commitment to the independence of the Department of Justice.”

The Senate must confirm Kavanaugh to head a Roanoke-based office that prosecutes criminal cases in a broad swath of Virginia that runs from the Lynchburg area north to Winchester and to the western tip of the state.

Kavanaugh is currently senior counsel to the U.S. deputy attorney general in Washington, D.C.

Previously, he worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Charlottesville, where he led the domestic terrorism prosecution of white supremacists involved in the Unite the Right rally of August 2017.

He tried that case along with the prosecutor he might replace — former U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen, who was appointed last year to a federal judgeship in the Western District of Virginia.

The U.S. attorney’s office is headquartered in Roanoke and has branch offices in Abingdon and Charlottesville. Since Cullen became a judge, it has been headed by acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Bubar.

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond’s law school, wrote in an email that Kavanaugh’s past tenure in the Western District’s office “means that he is highly experienced in the types of cases they pursue, and knows the WDVA judges, how the office works, and where issues of priorities and day-to-day operations arise.”

Before Kavanaugh joined the federal prosecutor’s office in Charlottesville in 2014, he worked for seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C.’s federal court.

There, he oversaw the investigation and prosecution of a mass shooting in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007. Four employees of what was then Blackwater Security Consulting were charged with opening fire on Iraqi civilians — killing 17 and injuring 20 — while escorting a U.S. embassy convoy.

All four men were convicted but were later pardoned by former President Donald Trump.

The Anti-Defamation League twice honored Kavanaugh for his role in the Iraq and Charlottesville prosecutions with its SHIELD award, citing his “significant contributions towards protecting the American people from hate crimes, extremism, and domestic and international terrorism,” according to the University of Virginia, where he currently teaches as an adjunct law professor.

After receiving his law degree from UVa in 2006, Kavanaugh served as a law clerk for Judge James Cacheris in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. One year later, he became a prosecutor.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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