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Loretta Lynch, Federal Prosecutor, Will be Nominated for Attorney General

Loretta Lynch
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Loretta Lynch

President Obama will announce on Saturday that he intends to nominate Loretta E. Lynch, the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, to be the next attorney general, bringing a new face into his inner circle at the White House, administration officials said Friday.

A White House statement said Mr. Obama would announce the nomination Saturday at an event in the Roosevelt Room, where he will be joined by Ms. Lynch and Eric H. Holder Jr., the current attorney general.

"Ms. Lynch is a strong, independent prosecutor who has twice led one of the most important U.S. attorney's offices in the country," Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said. "She will succeed Eric Holder, whose tenure has been marked by historic gains in the areas of criminal justice reform and civil rights enforcement."

The decision to announce Ms. Lynch's nomination came after days of speculation in the news media that she was a leading contender to replace Mr. Holder, who is stepping down early next year after being a central figure in Mr. Obama's cabinet since the first days of his presidency.

If confirmed she would be the first African-American woman to serve as the nation's top law enforcement official. She would also be a rare instance of Mr. Obama reaching outside his inner circle to fill a crucial post.

Mr. Obama's nomination of Ms. Lynch might carry substantial political benefits for a White House recalibrating its strategy after Republicans took over the Senate.

Indeed, Ms. Lynch is a two-time United States attorney who has twice been confirmed by the Senate by acclamation, in 2000 and again in 2010. She also has no personal ties to Mr. Obama or his policies, freeing her of the political baggage that has weighed down other candidates once thought to have an edge in the process.

Her nomination also allows the president, questioned in recent days about what he might do differently after the electoral thrashing by Republicans, to bring a fresh face into an administration many have criticized as too insular.

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By contrast, other candidates on Mr. Obama's short list had close ties to the president. They included the labor secretary, Thomas E. Perez; Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the solicitor general; and Kathryn Ruemmler, the former White House counsel.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman the Judiciary Committee, said this week that with control of the Senate passing to the Republicans, Mr. Obama "has to look at somebody who would be easier to confirm."

"There are some names that have been out there" that "could easily get confirmed," Mr. Leahy told a Vermont public radio station on Wednesday, without offering any names. "Others would be far more difficult."

Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who twice recommended Ms. Lynch to the White House as United States attorney, said she would make "an outstanding attorney general."

Ms. Lynch first gained prominence for her work prosecuting members of the New York City Police Department for the 1997 beating and sexual assault of a Haitian immigrant with a broom handle. The case became a national symbol of police brutality.

As United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Ms. Lynch oversaw all federal prosecutions in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island.

Her office is known for its work on organized crime, terrorism and public corruption, including the prosecutions of the planner of a subway-bombing plot, Mafia members and public officials like Representative Michael Grimm, a Republican; and State Senator John L. Sampson, State Senator Pedro Espada and Assemblyman William F. Boyland Jr., all Democrats.

Her office has also done aggressive work on gang-related cases, including winning a rare death-penalty conviction for Ronell Wilson, who killed a police officer.

The office's many terrorism cases have given it a reputation as a hub of expertise on national security matters. She also leads the Attorney General's Advisory Committee, a panel of United States attorneys who advise the attorney general on policy and operational issues.

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If Ms. Lynch is confirmed, it would be the first time in nearly two centuries that a president had elevated a United States attorney directly to the position of attorney general. The last time was in 1817, when President James Monroe chose William Wirt, the top prosecutor in eastern Virginia, for the job.

Ms. Lynch, who was born in Greensboro, N.C., has undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard.

After graduating from law school in 1984, she spent six years as an associate for the New York law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel before becoming a federal prosecutor. She rose through the ranks to become the chief assistant United States attorney in 1998 and was nominated a year later to lead the office for the remainder of President Bill Clinton's term. Before returning to the job in 2010, she was a partner at Hogan & Hartson, the large law firm now known as Hogan Lovells.

Although Ms. Lynch is not a part of Mr. Obama's inner circle, she is a Democrat who donated to the president's campaign in 2008. But unlike Mr. Holder, who is a friend and former campaign adviser to Mr. Obama, Ms. Lynch has little history with the president or with Washington politics.

During her confirmation process in 2000, when Congress asked about her political background, she summed it up succinctly: As a teenager, she stuffed envelopes for her father's unsuccessful campaign for mayor of Durham, N.C., and as a fresh law school graduate, she volunteered to review petitions and election filings in Chris Owens' failed primary campaign for New York City Council.

Besides donating to Mr. Obama and a handful of other Democrats in the years she was out of government, Ms. Lynch has few political ties to anyone. That could help her confirmation chances by making it harder for the president's staunchest opponents to use her as a proxy to criticize the White House.

Alan Vinegrad, a lawyer now in private practice who worked on the Louima case with Ms. Lynch, was her chief assistant in her first stint in office, and was the United States attorney for the district after she left, described Ms. Lynch as "the whole package."

"She's probably one of the smoothest, most even-tempered people I know, lawyers or non-lawyers," he said. He was particularly impressed by her ability to talk with everyone from witnesses to government agents. "She's got top-flight education credentials, but she can talk like a real person to real people," he said.

Unlike some United States attorneys who court the press, Ms. Lynch is publicly reserved but known to be well-informed and seemingly unflappable at appearances. If she ever says "um," it does not appear she does it in public.

—Stephanie Clifford contributed reporting from New York.