The Senate Has Confirmed Loretta Lynch Is Not Eric Holder. Will It Confirm Her?

Nine witnesses testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the attorney general nominee Thursday.

National Journal
Jan. 29, 2015, 6:22 a.m.

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.

Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this article.
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