Loretta Lynch, Federal Prosecutor, Is Called a Leading Candidate for Attorney General
By Julie Hirschfield Davis and Matt Apuzzo
WASHINGTON — Loretta E. Lynch, the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, has emerged as a leading contender to be the next attorney general, officials close to the process said, as President Obama looks outside his inner circle to fill a crucial post.
The White House declined to comment on whether Mr. Obama would tap Ms. Lynch, who if chosen and confirmed would be the first African-American woman to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement official. She would replace Eric H. Holder Jr., who is stepping down.
Ms. Lynch, a low-profile prosecutor, has risen to the top of the president’s short list in recent days, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the nomination publicly. Officials said that a formal White House announcement could come soon, although it is unlikely to happen before Mr. Obama returns to Washington on Nov. 16 after a trip to Asia.
A Lynch nomination might carry substantial political benefits for a White House recalibrating its strategy after Republicans took over the Senate. Indeed, Ms. Lynch is a two-time United States attorney who has twice been confirmed by the Senate by acclamation — in 2000 and again in 2010. She has no personal ties to Mr. Obama or his policies, freeing her of the political baggage that has weighed down other candidates once thought to have an edge in the process.
The nomination would also allow the president, questioned in recent days about what he might do differently after the electoral thrashing by Republicans, to bring a fresh face into an administration many have criticized as too insular.
Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, another contender for the post, is known to be close with Mr. Obama and faced virulent Republican opposition to his confirmation last year. A Perez nomination could be seen as a provocation to the newly ascendant Republicans, who would probably pick a fight over selection. That would leave open the top job at the Labor Department, which could engender a second messy confirmation fight.
Similarly, Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the solicitor general, has ties to Mr. Obama and his administration that could prove problematic during a confirmation process, including his role in defending the Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court.
Kathryn Ruemmler, the former White House counsel who had been a top choice for the job, took herself out of the running last month after concluding that her confirmation process would likely devolve into a partisan free-for-all in a highly polarized political environment.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman the Judiciary Committee, said this week that with control of the Senate passing to the Republicans, Mr. Obama “has to look at somebody who would be easier to confirm.”
“There are some names that have been out there” that “could easily get confirmed,” Mr. Leahy told a Vermont public radio station on Wednesday, without offering any names. “Others would be far more difficult.”
The White House declined to comment on Mr. Obama’s choice or when he would announce it.
“We’re not going to speculate on this in advance of the president’s decision,” Eric Schultz, the deputy White House press secretary said.
Ms. Lynch declined through a spokesman to comment.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who twice recommended Ms. Lynch to the White House as United States attorney, said she would make “an outstanding attorney general.”
She supervised the successful prosecution of a white New York police officer who sodomized a Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, with a broken broomstick in 1997. The case became a national symbol of police brutality.
As United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Ms. Lynch oversaw all federal prosecutions in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island. The office’s many terrorism cases have given it a reputation as a hub of expertise on national security matters. She also leads the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, a panel of United States attorneys who advise the attorney general on policy and operational issues.
If Ms. Lynch is nominated and confirmed, it would be the first time in nearly two centuries that a president had elevated a United States attorney directly to the position of attorney general. The last time was in 1817, when President James Monroe chose William Wirt, the top prosecutor in eastern Virginia, for the job.
Ms. Lynch, who was born in Greensboro, N.C., has undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard.
After graduating law school in 1984, she spent six years as an associate for the New York law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel before becoming a federal prosecutor. She rose through the ranks to become the chief assistant United States attorney in 1998 and was nominated the following year to lead the office for the remainder of President Bill Clinton’s term. Before returning to the job in 2010, she was a partner at Hogan & Hartson, the large law firm now known as Hogan Lovells.