The Cable

Obama’s Attorney General Pick Will Be Stranger to National Security Law

President Obama’s reported choice to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch, has vast experience as a prosecutor and, from a survey of articles written about her in the past, is well respected by her peers. But a review of her background reveals that she ...

Andrew Burton / Getty Images
Andrew Burton / Getty Images

President Obama’s reported choice to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch, has vast experience as a prosecutor and, from a survey of articles written about her in the past, is well respected by her peers. But a review of her background reveals that she has little to no experience dealing with the legal issues surrounding national security that dominated Holder’s time as the nation’s top law enforcement official.

Holder was a strong advocate of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay and of civilian trials for detainees there, but made little progress toward making it happen. He also outlined the administration’s controversial  legal justification for the use of drones against U.S. citizens after Anwar al-Awlaki, an American member of al Qaeda, and his son, 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, were killed in CIA strikes in Yemen in 2011. Holder argued that the president was permitted to order the attacks under the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force.

Holder was also in charge of the Justice Department during the ATF gun tracking program, better known as Fast and Furious, that put American guns in the hands of Mexican drug cartels in an attempt to track them. One of these guns ended up killing United States Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, setting off a congressional investigation of the program. For years, he and Republican lawmakers faced off over his role in the plan, with Congress eventually holding him in contempt.

The former attorney general also had to deal with the fallout from Edward Snowden’s revelations and the subsequent debate over the powers of the National Security Agency. Holder initially defended the NSA, but allowed for a review of its practices that led to Obama scaling back some surveillance activities. He eventually came to support the Senate’s NSA reform bill that would end bulk collection of American phone records.

Lynch, 55, while accomplished, has had little experience dealing with these kinds of issues. She is the only person to be named U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York twice. Prior to her second appointment in 2010, Lynch was a partner at Hogan & Hartson, LLP. According to a July 2014 profile in the Wall Street Journal, Lynch’s experience lies primarily with political corruption and corporate crime.

Her office has indicted Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) for fraud. She has also prosecuted mobsters involved in the 1978 Lufthansa airline cargo heist immortalized in the movie "Goodfellas."

Her fight big case came in 1997, when she was part of the prosecution team in the Abner Louima police-brutality case. Officer Justin Volpe sodomized Louima, a Haitian immigrant, with a broomstick. The officer pled guilty halfway through the trial and is currently serving 30 years.

The Journal’s profile highlighted her lack of experience on issues related to terrorism.

"Ms. Lynch doesn’t have one of the world’s financial capitals in her jurisdiction. Notorious international terrorists mostly don’t appear in her courtroom. And what happens in Manhattan usually gets more media attention than the other boroughs," the Journal’s Sean Gardiner wrote.

 

 

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