As a rookie prosecutor in 1995, Benton Campbell wasted no time making a name for himself at the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn. Shortly before jury selection for his first trial began, Mr. Campbell, fatigued after an all-nighter of trial preparation, fainted in open court as he stood before the judge. Details of the story — the podium came down on top of him as he collapsed, and the defendant's shrieks of "he's faking, he's faking" — are a part of office folklore. Since regaining his balance, Mr. Campbell has been ascending the hierarchy at the Justice Department. Last week, he was selected to be the interim U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, which will bring him back to the city from Washington, where he has been the no. 2 man in the department's criminal division. Current and former colleagues say Mr. Campbell cuts a noticeable figure: a Midwesterner who never raises his voice and is scrupulous to the point that he bills his credit card for personal calls he makes from the office phone.
"There's a sincerity and genuineness about him," a former U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, Alan Vinegrad, now of Covington & Burling LLP, said. "Whether that's because he's from Iowa or because he's Ben Campbell or both, I couldn't tell you, but that's the way he is."
"Ben's just not an edgy person," the prosecutor who succeeded Mr. Campbell in 2003 as deputy chief of the criminal division in Brooklyn, David Pitofsky, said. "He's a down-to-earth, supportive, work-from-a-consensus type of person."
For the last year, many line prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn have said privately that they have been pained to hear of partisanship at the Justice Department in Washington on decisions involving the hiring and, by some accounts, the firing of prosecutors. Mr. Campbell's name did appear briefly at the periphery of the Senate investigation into the reasons for the firings last year of several U.S. attorneys.
According to news accounts about the Senate investigation, Mr. Campbell was asked last year by an aide to Attorney General Gonzales for a briefing about districts in which voter fraud was being pursued aggressively and districts in which it wasn't. The Senate investigation has generated speculation that information Mr. Campbell provided in that conversation may have factored into the firing of the U.S. attorney in Nevada, Daniel Bogden. But no evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Campbell did more than provide a routine update at the request of the attorney general's office. One source close to Mr. Campbell said Mr. Campbell's involvement boiled down to seeking information from a subordinate and then passing it to Mr. Gonzales's aide, with no reason to question why the information was requested.
In Washington, Mr. Campbell has served as the chief of staff to the associate attorney general of the criminal division, Alice Fisher. He also served as the Justice Department's nonvoting representative to the federal Sentencing Commission, and during his tenure amended sentencing guidelines on crimes involving child pornography and crack cocaine. Mr. Campbell, 41, is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Chicago Law School.
In interviews, current and former Brooklyn federal prosecutors say they do not see Mr. Campbell, who spent nearly a decade in the U.S. attorney's office here, as an outsider foisted upon the office by Washington.
A registered Republican, Mr. Campbell, does not have a reputation for discussing politics.
"I worked closely with him for years and I didn't even know he was a Republican until he was appointed," Mr. Pitofsky, who is now at Goodwin Procter LLP, said. "Ben is in the best tradition of nonpartisan prosecutors."
Unless President Bush nominates somebody to the position, several former prosecutors speculate that Mr. Campbell will keep the position for the next 15 months.
"I'm happy the department picked somebody who knows the office," the chief judge of U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, Raymond Dearie, said. Judge Dearie, who once held the U.S. attorney position, described Mr. Campbell as a "prosecutor who is respected not only by his colleagues but by his adversaries as well."
During his years in Brooklyn, Mr. Campbell led the committee of prosecutors who gave recommendations to the U.S. attorney on whether to pursue the death penalty. He prosecuted a capital trial involving a gas station magnate, who was convicted of murder for hire. The jury did not vote for death.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Mr. Campbell played a supporting role to investigators in the city, assisting with subpoenas and warrants, a colleague from that time said. Although he has never tried a terrorism case, he oversaw the investigations of a Yemeni Muslim cleric who helped financed Hamas and Al Qaeda and the American fundraising network for the Tamil Tigers. Both investigations resulted in charges after Mr. Campbell moved to Washington.
In 2003 Mr. Campbell left the Brooklyn office after he was recruited away to investigate the collapse of Enron. The case against an executive in Enron's broadband unit, which Mr. Campbell prosecuted, resulted in a mistrial. Mr. Campbell did succeed in securing cooperation agreements from Enron executives such as Kevin Hannon and Kenneth Rice, the onetime director of the task force, Andrew Weissmann, recalled.
Correction from October 17, 2007:
Assistant attorney general for the criminal division is Alice Fisher's title. Her position at the Justice Department was incorrectly described in an article on page 1 of the October 12-14 New York Sun.