President Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch, would be the first African American woman to serve in that post if she’s confirmed by the Senate.
Lynch already has quite a track record as a federal prosecutor in New York. In accepting the nomination, she said: “The Department of Justice is the only cabinet department named for an ideal. And this is actually appropriate, because our work is both aspirational and grounded in gritty reality.”
Behind that ideal is a lot of power. The attorney general has wide latitude in setting priorities and will decide the scope of financial fraud investigations.
“Decisions about how you allocate your troops – what you prioritize,” says John Coffee, a Columbia University law professor. “You can set up a special task force at the Department of Justice level.”
Lynch has served twice as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which includes parts of New York City. She’s prosecuted cases against mobsters and corrupt politicians. But Lynch also worked as a criminal defense lawyer, at the firm Hogan and Hartson, now known as Hogan Lovells.
“Loretta is low key, but if she believes in something she will push it until she reaches the conclusion she wants,” says Dennis Tracey, managing partner of Hogan Lovells’ New York office. He worked with Lynch for about six years.
Of course, it’s not clear yet what Lynch’s priorities would be as attorney general. Her office declined our request for an interview.
Current Attorney General Eric Holder has faced criticism for punishing banks and not the individuals running them. So, how tough would Lynch be on banks, considering her time at Hogan Lovells?
“She was a white-collar defense lawyer, but she spent just as many or more years as a prosecutor,” Tracey says.
Lynch is part of a Justice Department task force on Wall Street’s role in the financial crisis, along with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who says he thinks Lynch would be tough.
“There’ve only been settlements with three banks,” Schneiderman says. “The work of the task force is not done. She’s independent, and she’s willing to follow an investigation wherever it leads, regardless of the politics.”
But, of course, politics is involved. Democrats want the Senate to vote on Lynch’s nomination this year, before Republicans take control. Schneiderman doesn’t think she’ll have any trouble. After all, he says, the Senate already confirmed her as a U.S. Attorney – twice.
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