On the second day of the confirmation hearing for U.S. attorney general, one thing was clear: Loretta Lynch is not Eric Holder. But Holder still hovered over this hearing, too.
Of the nine witnesses at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, none raised their hand when Sen. Patrick Leahy asked whether they opposed Lynch’s nomination for U.S. attorney general.
But their testimonies, and lawmakers’ line of questioning, focused on past and current Department of Justice policies — something that Holder would have to answer for, not Lynch. Many committee members barely touched on Lynch’s ability to serve as attorney general, and instead focused on what happened at the department under Holder’s tenure.
“So much of this arena has become so partisan that … a hearing of the qualifications of a nominee [is being] used to criticize the administration and areas that Loretta Lynch had nothing to do with,” said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. “I guess that’s the coin of our realm here.”
Still, many of the committee members, including Holder’s fiercest critics, seemed convinced that Lynch could be an acceptable alternative to the current attorney general. By the end of Wednesday’s hearing, Lynch and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who said he didn’t expect to agree with Lynch on every issue, were cracking jokes. At the start of this hearing, GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah praised Lynch’s nomination.
“I’m going to be a strong supporter of her nomination,” he said. “And I believe she’s not only qualified but exceptionally well qualified, and a very good person.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he was “inclined” to support Obama’s pick.
Thursday’s witnesses are a mix of people who spoke highly of Lynch, and people who slammed the Obama administration. Three of the four witnesses whom Republicans have called to the hearing are involved in lawsuits against the government. One of those is Sharyl Attkisson, a former investigative reporter for CBS News, who alleges that the administration hacked into her computer while she was writing about the Fast and Furious scandal, the 2012 attack in Benghazi, and the Affordable Care Act. On Lynch’s side is a pastor, two law professors, and a former assistant director at the FBI.
Attkisson said Thursday that Lynch would have her work cut out for her in alleviating some people’s distrust of government surveillance programs. “There are members of Congress and staff and whistleblowers and other journalists who commonly talk about the idea that they believe, whether it’s true or not, that they believe they’re being monitored on their phones or computers and/or computers,” she said. “How you get past that suspicion that’s been created by the actions that we’ve seen — it’s going to be difficult.”
Jonathan Turley, a Georgetown law professor who is representing House Republicans in their lawsuit against Obama, said the Department of Justice “is at the epicenter of a constitutional crisis” that “consumed her predecessor and his department.”
“My focus, therefore, of my written testimony and my oral testimony today, is less on Ms. Lynch than the department she wishes to lead,” he said.
During the eight-hour hearing on Wednesday, Lynch fielded questions about a myriad of things, including the legality of the president’s immigration executive action, torture, the death penalty, and marijuana legalization. Republicans wanted to know: Would Lynch emulate Holder’s liberal policies and close relationship with Obama?
“I will be myself, Loretta Lynch,” the nominee said when asked how she would be different than Holder, for whom Republicans didn’t hide their contempt on Wednesday.
This story has been updated with more information.