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Loretta Lynch Would Be First Black Female Attorney General


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer sitting in for Scott Simon. The president has picked a new chief law enforcement officer. President Obama will nominate Brooklyn prosecutor Loretta Lynch to be the next attorney general. Joining us to talk about that choice and what happens next is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Who is Loretta Lynch, and does she have the chops to do this huge job?

JOHNSON: Linda, she's been the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn twice - once during the Obama administration now and previously during the Clinton years. And this district she covers serves 8 million people. It's huge. So she has a really long record of prosecuting people, including policemen who brutalized Haitian immigrant Abner Louima back in 1997, a lot of old-school mobsters in Brooklyn and Queens, the man who tried to bomb the New York City subway system a few years ago who had ties to al-Qaida, and more recently, Linda, Congressman Michael Grimm, a Republican from Staten Island who she's prosecuting on fraud charges. Grimm was just reelected. He pleaded not guilty in that case.

WERTHEIMER: Now lots of lawyers were lining up to lead the Justice Department. So why did the White House decide to go with Lynch?

JOHNSON: First of all, she has a reputation for working well with others. She's very understated and under the radar. Another important factor for the White House I hear from sources is that she's diverse and historic. She'd be the first black woman on the job. She descends from a long line of Baptist preachers in the south. And she has a rich, rich voice and an ability to speak and communicate a message. She's also, Linda, quite noncontroversial.

WERTHEIMER: So about that. What is the reaction from Republicans in the Senate? Can she be confirmed? It's kind of late in the term.

JOHNSON: It is kind of late in the term. She's going to have a year and a half or two years to make her mark. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican who's in line to lead the Judiciary Committee next year, says Lynch is going to get a thorough vetting. And he's going to make sure that happens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another Republican, sounded relatively positive, too, about this election. And finally, Linda, Mitch McConnell, who's going to run the Senate as majority leader starting in January, said he is willing to consider her nomination. He wants it to happen in 2015 instead of during this lame-duck session.

WERTHEIMER: I was going to ask you about that. The Senate has changed hands, but they have a few weeks. Sometimes the president does get lame-duck nominations.

JOHNSON: It's possible. The White House is telling me they're not going to push or jam her through. They think Loretta Lynch is so noncontroversial that there is a chance the Senate will take her up in the next few weeks before the Christmas holiday. But more likely, they could start the process with Democrats in control. Pat Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee now, a Democrat from Vermont, could start the process. And then the nomination would continue into the new Congress. That's what happened with the John Ashcroft nomination to lead the Justice Department in the Bush years.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, as we note, she's not the first woman to head the Justice Department. That was Janet Reno in the Clinton Administration. Is she going to be the same kind of figure that Janet Reno was? Janet Reno was very separate from President Clinton, unlike most attorneys general.

JOHNSON: Well, this is an important point, Linda, because the White House says she's going to be apolitical and independent. The current attorney general, Eric Holder, who's vowed to stay on until Lynch is confirmed as his successor, has really been a political lightning rod. And Lynch is more going to a steward.

She is not angered people in the same visceral way on the hill that Eric Holder has over the years. And she has not been held in contempt as Eric Holder was over that fast and furious scandal involving guns on the southwest border a few years ago. She is going to be apart from the White House in some ways, but also apart from the hill. The White House hopes she can have a better relationship with Congress.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much. NPR's Carrie Johnson.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.