President Barack Obama intends to nominate a New York City federal prosecutor to become the next attorney general and the first black woman to lead the Justice Department.
Obama’s spokesman said Friday that he will announce his selection of Loretta Lynch from the White House on Saturday. She would replace Eric Holder, who announced his resignation in September. If confirmed by the Senate, Lynch would be Obama’s second trail-blazing pick for the post after Holder served as the nation’s first black attorney general. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell took the stance that her nomination should be taken up in the new year.
Obama had planned to wait until after a trip to Asia next week to announce the choice but then moved up the decision after CNN reported that she was his choice.
Lynch, 55, is the U.S. attorney for Eastern New York, a position she also held under President Bill Clinton.
Lynch has overseen bank fraud and other public corruption cases. She also charged reputed mobster Vincent Asaro and his associates for the 36-year-old heist of $6 million in cash and jewelry from a Lufthansa Airlines vault at Kennedy Airport, dramatized in the movie “Goodfellas.”
“Ms. Lynch is a strong, independent prosecutor who has twice led one of the most important U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the country,” Obama press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.
Obama decided against the option of trying to push Lynch’s confirmation while Democrats still control the Senate and instead will leave it up to the Republican-controlled Senate to vote on the choice in 2015, according to the people who described Obama’s plans. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
Republicans won control of the Senate in midterm elections Tuesday. The new Congress takes over in January.
Democrats have told the White House it would be difficult to win confirmation for a new attorney general during the session of the outgoing Congress beginning next week, especially considering all the other competing priorities they face before relinquishing power to Republicans. Pushing through a nominee so quickly could have tainted the new attorney general’s start in the office.
It’s unusual for Obama to pick someone he doesn’t know well for such a sensitive administration post. But at a time when Obama is under political fire, Lynch’s distance from the president could be an asset in the confirmation process. Another candidate Obama asked to consider the job, former White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler, asked not to be nominated out of concern her close relationship to Obama could lead to a difficult confirmation effort.
During her first tenure in the Eastern District, Lynch helped prosecute police officers who severely beat and sexually assaulted Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.
Lynch grew up in North Carolina, the daughter of a school librarian and a Baptist minister. She received undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard, where Obama graduated from law school seven years after her.
Holder was an unflinching champion of civil rights in enforcing the nation’s laws and is leaving as the department grapples with several prominent civil rights issues. They include possible federal charges in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida; enforcement of the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court threw out a major protection; reduction of racial profiling in federal investigations; changes in how federal prosecutors negotiate sentencing; changes in the death penalty system; and efforts to reduce tensions between local police departments and minority communities.
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