Holder Shadow Looms Large as Senate Considers His Successor
Loretta Lynch went to Capitol Hill to discuss her qualifications to be the next attorney general. She ended up telling lawmakers she isn't Eric Holder.
Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch issued dire warnings about the explosion of cybercrime and the risks of homegrown jihadis Wednesday on Capitol Hill. But lawmakers were much more interested in bashing Eric Holder.
Lynch, the current U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, spoke to lawmakers with a calm prosecutorial demeanor and seemed to impress them with her journey from humble beginnings in North Carolina to the highest rungs of the American legal system. If Republicans were looking for a glaring reason to derail her nomination Wednesday morning — she would be the first African-American woman to head the Justice Department — they are likely to come away disappointed.
“She certainly has the credentials,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said during the hearing. “I look upon her as a pretty good appointment, but I have to listen along with everybody else.”
Lynch calmly defended President Barack Obama’s executive order easing the threat of deportation for millions of people in the United States illegally, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I don’t see any reason to doubt the reasonableness of those views.” But she assured lawmakers that she would have no problem standing up to the president if she disagreed with him. She added that she believed the NSA’s controversial surveillance programs were “constitutional and effective.” Lynch also vowed to improve relations between Congress and the Justice Department after years of confrontations between lawmakers and Holder.
The scars of the fights between Holder and Republicans were on display from the start. In his opening statement, committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) took Holder to task for a litany of supposed misdeeds, from the alleged Operation Fast and Furious gunrunning scandal to allegations of executive overreach to being a “wingman” who refused to stand up to Obama.
“Over the last few years, public confidence in the department’s ability to do its job without regard to politics has been shaken, with good reason,” Grassley said. He added that Justice Department officials “bullied and intimidated whistleblowers, members of the press, and anyone who had the audacity to investigate and uncover the truth.”
These charges were repeated by GOP members of the committee while Democrats tried to rebuke them. The back-and-forth overshadowed Lynch’s concerns about the uptick in cyberattacks and homegrown terrorism.
“Cybercrime has increased numerically and qualitatively. We need to make sure we have the resource[s] we need in terms of protection,” Lynch said, adding that she would work with lawmakers to develop a comprehensive approach.
Lynch also warned about the possibility of radicalized Americans posing a threat to the homeland. Those concerns flared when then Army Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009, and have grown in recent years as the Islamic State and other militant groups have grown more sophisticated in their use of social media and other ways of reaching potential new recruits.
“We have seen individuals who started off as relatively peaceful but were dragged into radical extremism,” she said.
But the start of the afternoon session gave little confidence that these national security issues would be addressed in depth. Sen. Ted Cruz opened with, “I have long expressed my very deep concerns with the conduct of Attorney General Eric Holder,” then asked Lynch who she would be if she becomes attorney general.
Lynch responded, “I will be Loretta Lynch.”
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