President Obama knew what he was doing when he nominated prosecutor Loretta Lynch as the next attorney general. Tuesday was the first day of Lynch's confirmation hearing, and Lynch faced an onslaught of challenging questions from Republican senators. But if her answers during the session are any indication, she'll make one tough-as-nails attorney general.
When Obama first nominated her in November, he had nothing but confidence in her abilities, saying at the ceremony:
It’s pretty hard to be more qualified for the job than Loretta. Throughout her 30-year career, she has distinguished herself as tough, as fair, an independent lawyer who has twice headed one of the most prominent U.S. attorney offices in the country.But she also has a distinct advantage over most prospective candidates.
Loretta might be the only lawyer in America who battles mobsters and drug lords and terrorists, and still has the reputation of being a charming people’s person.So when she stepped into the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, which was a veritable lions' den, on Wednesday, she was wholly undaunted by even the toughest questions the GOP had prepared for her. In her opening remarks, she highlighted the need to mend a fraught relationship between the Department of Justice and the new GOP-controlled Congress, saying:
I look forward to fostering a new and improved relationship with this committee, the United States Senate, and the entire United States Congress—a relationship based on mutual respect and constitutional balance.
If she's confirmed as the next U.S. attorney general, Lynch stated she would focus on rebuilding the relationship between the public and law enforcement, investigating and prosecuting terrorists, and protecting the country against cyberattacks.
Republicans, however, were not convinced. They
kicked off the hearing by presenting the current situation with the DOJ,
which Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
called "deeply politicized." Grassley remarked:
But that's what happens when the attorney general of the United States views himself, in his own words, as the president's "wingman." I don't expect Ms. Lynch and I will agree on every issue. But I for one need to be persuaded Ms. Lynch will be an independent attorney general.
Grassley is referring to Attorney General Eric Holder's April 2013 comment that he was Obama's "wingman" as a way to criticize the overlapping of the White House and the DOJ when Holder headed the department. Holder, who frequently butted heads with Republicans, became the first AG and cabinet member in U.S. history to be held in contempt of Congress. Hence the GOP's emphasis on Lynch proving she can set herself apart.
Then Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, launched a series of questions at Lynch that was meant to shake her. They didn't.Cornyn began with:
Let me for Sen. Schumer's benefit — you're not Eric Holder, are you?Lynch responded:
No, I'm not.Cornyn then summed up the GOP's biggest concern over the AG's role:
But Attorney General Holder's record is heavy on our minds now. I agree with the chairman about his concerns when the attorney general refers to himself as the president's wingman, suggesting that he does not exercise independent legal judgment, as the chief law enforcement officer for the country. You wouldn't consider yourself to be a political arm of the White House as attorney general, would you?Lynch:
No, senator, that would be an inappropriate use of the —Cornyn interrupted:
I'm sorry, you'd be willing to tell your friends "no" if, in your judgment, the law required that?
I think I have to be willing to tell not just my friends but colleagues "no" if the law requires it. That would include the president of the United States.Cornyn asked Lynch to emphasize how she would be different from Holder. She replied:
I will be myself. Loretta Lynch.Boom. That is what you'd call a microphone-drop moment right there.
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