Loretta Lynch will sit before the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday and Thursday for what is effectively a mass job interview for one of government's most difficult positions: attorney general. If she's confirmed, Lynch can look forward to a non-stop parade of crises and criminals. But that's already familiar territory for a woman who has twice served as the U.S. attorney in one of the most complex jurisdictions in the country, the Eastern District of New York.
After opening statements from the chairman and ranking member, Lynch will deliver her own opening statement and then face questions from committee members. She will try to distinguish herself from her predecessor, Eric Holder, while laying out her credentials on key issues like cybercrime, terror prosecution, and public corruption.
Here are five key topics to watch for in the hearing.
Cyber Attacks by Foreign Actors
The Sony Films hack brought the issue of cyber warfare into the public consciousness, but the Justice Department has been grappling with the rules of engagement for a long time. In May 2014, the Justice Department indicted five ChineseChinese military hackers for economic espionage and other offenses directed at American victims in the U.S. nuclear power, metals and solar products industries. It was the highest-profile case brought against state actors engaged in cyber hacking, but so far none of those hackers have been extradited to face charges. As the threat of cyber-attacks from state actors continues to increase, the committee will undoubtedly want to test Lynch's response to the ever-multiplying threats in the cyber realm and get a sense of whether she believes the Justice Department's National Security Division is up to the task of using prosecution to deter such threats.
Since 9/11, the Eastern District of New York has conducted more terror related prosecutions than any other district, so Lynch will be able to draw upon her experiences in those cases, but the threat continues to evolve. The committee will want to know how Lynch plans to combat social media campaigns used to recruit young Americans to terrorist organizations like the Islamic State. These terror organizations have become increasingly adept at targeting young people, including young women. Just last week, a 19-year-old Denver woman was sentenced to four years in prison for attempting to travel to Syria to provide medical assistance for jihadi fighters after she met one of the fighters online. She is just one of many individuals being prosecuted by the Justice Department for trying to support the Islamic State. The committee will likely quiz Lynch on how she intends to prevent other Americans from following the same path.
Holder has aggressively pursued police reform in departments across the country. Under Holder, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has opened over 20 investigations into police departments -- over twice as many investigations as were opened in the previous five years. If confirmed, Lynch would be responsible for completing a high-profile ongoing probe into the Ferguson Police Department. Holder has been accused of contributing to "anti-police rhetoric" by supporting protests in the wake of high-profile killings by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York. In light of Holder's sometimes strained relationship with law enforcement, Lynch will likely defend her own relationship with local and federal law enforcement during the hearing. In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said he was confident that Lynch will be able to bring police and communities together.
Holder has steadily worked to reform drug laws by reducing federal prosecutions of low-level drug offenses, especially those involving marijuana. On this issue he even found Republican support from Republicans lawmakers like Senator Rand Paul. Holder has pushed to make those changes retroactive by letting nonviolent, low-level drug offenders currently serving sentences apply for clemency. It remains to be seen whether Lynch will continue down this path. She has a record of aggressively prosecuting drug offenses in the Eastern District but no public record on reforming drug sentencing laws. This topic is ripe for questions by committee members of both parties.
Holder has had a contentious relationship with Congress. The 82nd attorney general became the first sitting attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress for failing to pass over documents in the "Fast and Furious" investigation into the ATF's controversial gun walking operation. Representative Darrell Issa called Holder "the most divisive U.S. attorney general in modern history." Holder's appearances on Capitol Hill were often combative. In one especially heated exchange, Rep. Louie Gohmert suggested that the contempt finding was unimportant to the attorney general. Holder retorted,"You don't want to go there, buddy! You don't want to go there, okay? You should not assume that that is not a big deal to me. I think that it was inappropriate, I think it was unjust. But never think that that was not a big deal to me. Don't ever think that," Holder said pointing his finger at the congressman.
Holder subsequently suggested that race was a motivating factor in the way he was treated by Congress. "You look at the way the attorney general of the United States was treated yesterday by a House committee -- [it] has nothing to do with me, forget that. What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?" Holder told the crowd at a meeting hosting by Al Sharpton's National Action Network.
It may be the Republican senators will be especially respectful and polite to Lynch, in order to blunt Holder's assertion that their House colleagues were motivated by race. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley promised a fair hearing. "I look forward to hearing from Ms. Lynch in a couple weeks. She'll receive a fair, but thorough, hearing from the Judiciary Committee, and I expect that she'll be forthright in return," Grassley said.