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A step closer to top DOJ job

February 26, 2015

A Senate committee has backed Loretta Lynch for US attorney general. If confirmed by the upper house of the US Congress, Lynch would become the first black woman to serve as the nation's top law enforcement official.

Lynch - USA
Image: Reuters

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Loretta Lynch 12-8 in Thursday's vote, clearing her path to a confirmation hearing in the Senate. The 55-year-old career prosecutor is currently the chief US attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Only three Republicans - Arizona's Jeff Flake, Utah's Orrin Hatch, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - endorsed Lynch's nomination. The panel's nine Democrats unanimously backed her.

Lynch would replace Eric Holder, the first black US attorney general, who has held the post since 2009. At her confirmation hearing in January, Lynch emphasized her desire for a "new and improved" relationship between the Department of Justice and Republicans, who have repeatedly clashed with Holder.

The prosecutor pledged to improve relations between law enforcement and minorities and fight cybercrime. She would also have to lead counterterror initiatives and balance privacy rights against government surveillance efforts. Senators expect that she will win confirmation when the vote comes before the full upper house of the US Congress.

'Turn the page'

Republicans had delayed the vote to scrutinize Lynch's support of an immigration policy US President Barack Obama instituted by executive order in November, as well as a settlement she forged with HSBC Holdings PLC in 2012 over money-laundering. Allegations have since emerged that HSBC helped clients evade taxes in their home countries. Republicans, not normally tax hawks, have criticized Lynch for not probing HSBC further while negotiating a $1.2-billion (1.1-billion-euro) accord with the bank.

In February, a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction against Obama's immigration plan. On Wednesday, Lynch said that she would abide by the ruling.

That reassured enough Republicans to secure her nomination: "It's time to turn the page on Eric Holder's tenure as attorney general," South Carolina's Lindsey Graham said. "We need a fresh start in the position."

There was also prominent dissent, however. Judiciary panel chairman Senator Chuck Grassley, who during Lynch's confirmation hearing pressed her to call Obama's immigration executive actions legal - or not - opposed the nomination.

"I remain unconvinced she will lead the department in a different direction," he said.

mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP)