President Barack Obama on Saturday formally nominated Loretta Lynch, the federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, to become the next attorney general and the first black woman to lead the Justice Department. He urged the U.S. Senate to confirm her "without delay."
"It’s pretty hard to be more qualified for this job than Loretta,” Obama said in a White House press conference. "She is not about splash, she is about substance," he added.
More on Lynch the Associated Press below:
She would replace Eric Holder, who announced his resignation in September. If confirmed by the Senate, Lynch would be Obama's second trail-blazing pick for the post after Holder served as the nation's first black attorney general.
Obama had planned to wait until after a trip to Asia next week to announce the choice but then moved up the decision after CNN reported that she was his choice.
Lynch, 55, is the U.S. attorney for Eastern New York, which covers Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, a position she also held under President Bill Clinton.
"Ms. Lynch is a strong, independent prosecutor who has twice led one of the most important U.S. Attorney's Offices in the country," Obama press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.
Obama decided against the option of trying to push Lynch's confirmation while Democrats still control the Senate and instead will leave it up to the Republican-controlled Senate to vote on the choice in 2015, according to the people who described Obama's plans. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have told the White House it would be difficult to win confirmation for a new attorney general during the lame-duck session of Congress beginning next week, especially considering all the other competing priorities they face before relinquishing power to Republicans in January. Pushing through a nominee so quickly could have tainted the new attorney general's start in the office.
It's unusual for Obama to pick someone he doesn't know well for such a sensitive administration post. But at a time when Obama is under political fire, Lynch's distance from the president could be an asset in the confirmation process. Another candidate Obama asked to consider the job, former White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler, asked not to be nominated out of concern her close relationship to Obama could lead to a difficult confirmation effort.
Republicans are promising tough scrutiny after years of battles with Holder. He is close to Lynch and appointed her as chair of a committee that advises him on policy. Since Lynch is unfamiliar to many on Capitol Hill, senators will have to get up to speed on her record quickly.
One lawmaker in particular — in the House — is familiar with her work. Lynch filed tax evasion charges against Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican accused of hiding more than $1 million in sales and wages while running a restaurant. Grimm, who won re-election Tuesday, has pleaded not guilty and is to go to trial in February.
Lynch has overseen bank fraud and other public corruption cases, including the March conviction of New York state Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. after he was caught accepting bribes in a sting operation and the 2013 conviction of former state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. for looting taxpayer-subsidized health care clinics he ran.
She also charged reputed mobster Vincent Asaro and his associates for the 36-year-old heist of $6 million in cash and jewelry from a Lufthansa Airlines vault at Kennedy Airport, dramatized in the movie "Goodfellas."
During her first tenure in the Eastern District, Lynch helped prosecute police officers who severely beat and sexually assaulted Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.
Lynch grew up in North Carolina, the daughter of a school librarian and a Baptist minister. She received undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard, where Obama graduated from law school seven years after her. Personally, she goes by Loretta Lynch Hargrove, having married Stephen Hargrove in 2007.