President Obama will nominate Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, to replace Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general, the White House said Friday, a historic choice that would make her the first black woman to hold the post.
If Lynch is confirmed, she would replace Holder, the first African American to serve as attorney general.
Obama will make the official announcement Saturday with Lynch and Holder at the White House before he leaves Sunday on a weeklong trip to Asia. The White House had originally planned to wait until Obama returned to Washington, but apparently changed its plans after numerous news organizations reported she was the likely pick.
“Ms. Lynch is a strong, independent prosecutor who has twice led one of the most important U.S. attorney's offices in the country,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.
He lauded Holder for a tenure “marked by historic gains in the areas of criminal justice reform and civil rights enforcement.”
The choice of Lynch reflects a typical middle-of-the-road path for Obama; she is a nominee who might be confirmed without great controversy if no fault is found in her resume. Liberals had pushed for Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, but he is unpopular with Republicans. Many in the legal community had hoped for scholarly Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli Jr.
Lynch is the rare U.S. attorney who has not sought the limelight in what is normally a high-profile job with political potential. She rarely gives news conferences or interviews and recently ducked a gathering with Justice Department reporters in Washington. Her reputation in liberal legal circles is as someone who is not politically sophisticated.
A relative unknown outside her district, she came to prominence in New York in the late 1990s as the supervisor of the team that successfully prosecuted two police officers for the sexual assault with a broomstick of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. Three other officers were acquitted.
More recently, she has spent time in Washington as chairwoman of the attorney general's advisory committee of U.S. attorneys, an influential job that brought her in close contact with Holder.
“Wow, what a great pick,” said Veronica Coleman-Davis, who served in the Justice Department with Lynch as the U.S. attorney in Tennessee. “She's smart, she's had a lot of experience, she's a hail-fellow-well-met although she's a woman. She gets along with everyone.”
Lynch, 55, is a longtime federal prosecutor who has the unusual distinction of having served in her current job twice: She was U.S. attorney for two years under President Clinton and was disappointed that she was not reappointed by President George W. Bush. Obama reappointed her in 2010.
In April, her office indicted Republican U.S. Rep. Michael G. Grimm of Staten Island, N.Y., on charges of perjury, tax evasion and fraud. Grimm, who was reelected this week, has accused her of bringing the charges for political reasons.
Lynch grew up in Greensboro, N.C., the daughter of a Baptist minister and a school librarian. She graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
Lynch has solid liberal credentials and appears likely to share Holder's priorities in reforming the justice system to reduce incarceration rates, particularly for blacks. She served on the boards of the National Institute for Law and Equity, a short-lived group led by Coleman-Davis that focused on keeping juveniles out of jail; the Legal Aid Society in New York, which represents poor people; and the Brennan Center for Justice, named for former Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr., a liberal lion.
But she has establishment credentials as well, including serving on the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Given Lynch's inexperience with politics and Washington, it is possible the administration would team her with a Washington veteran as her deputy, someone like Ron Klain, a former chief of staff to Atty. Gen. Janet Reno and Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden. Obama recently named Klain to oversee the administration's response to Ebola.
Obama reached out to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) on Friday evening to tell him about Lynch's upcoming nomination.
Grassley, who is expected to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a conciliatory statement about Lynch but took one more shot at Holder, who has been the focus of intense GOP criticism.
“I congratulate Ms. Lynch on her nomination,” Grassley said. “I'm hopeful that her tenure, if confirmed, will restore confidence in the attorney general as a politically independent voice for the American people.”
Kathleen Hennessey in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.