President Bush on Wednesday nominated one of the Justice Department's lead prosecutors in the Jack Abramoff corruption probe to a U.S. District Court seat.

Noel Hillman, chief of the department's public integrity section, was nominated for the federal judgeship in New Jersey, where he served in the U.S. Attorney's office under Michael Chertoff, now secretary of Homeland Security.

The White House was poised to nominate Hillman last summer, after New Jersey's two Democratic senators took the opportunity to weigh in on Hillman and other nominees in exchange for lifting their objections to another candidate Bush had nominated in 2003.

White House press officials did not immediately comment on the timing of the nomination.

Hillman will step down as chief of the public integrity unit next week, but remain in the Justice Department's criminal division until he is confirmed, a department official said. Andrew Lourie, a career prosecutor in Miami, will lead the public corruption-fighting office on a temporary basis, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss personnel matters.

Lourie performed the same role until Hillman took over early in 2003.

During a news conference earlier this month following Abramoff's guilty plea on corruption-related charges, Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher said Hillman played an important role in providing leadership in the investigation.

Hillman came to Washington in 2001. Before that, he was an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey from 1992 to 2001, coming in while Chertoff was the U.S. attorney.

Last summer, Democratic Sens. Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg signed off on the nominations of Hillman and two others nominated to judgeships in New Jersey on Wednesday. They gave the OK as part of an agreement to lift their objections to Bush's nomination of Peter Sheridan, a lawyer and Republican activist, to the federal bench.