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Loretta Lynch, get ready for a fight

Errol Louis | 11/12/2014, 12:15 p.m.
If the confirmation process for Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee for attorney general, gets significantly delayed, the reason will be ...
Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, was selected by President Obama on Nov. 7, 2014, to replace Eric Holder as United States Attorney General. (CNN)

— If the confirmation process for Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee for attorney general, gets significantly delayed, the reason will be pure politics.

Some Senate Republicans, anticipating the day in January when they will have majority control of the chamber, are calling for a moratorium on new appointments until the new Senate is seated. It's likely to be the first in a series of skirmishes between Obama and the leadership on Capitol Hill.

Within hours of Lynch's nomination, the right-wing Breitbart website ran an erroneous story slamming Lynch for supposedly representing ex-President Bill Clinton during the long-ago inquiry into the Whitewater land deal -- but later had to post a correction for failing to recognize that Clinton's defender was, in fact, a different person named Loretta Lynch.

The haste with which conservatives began attacking Lynch suggests she will be in for a tough slog during the nomination process.

But while the politics may slow her confirmation, there's no question that the tough-as-nails prosecutor is ready for the top job at the Justice Department. Any rival candidates the Republicans might put forward will have a hard time demonstrating prowess equal or superior to Lynch's in the crucial areas of prosecuting lawbreakers involved in organized crime, corporate theft, political corruption and threats to national security.

Lynch served two stints as the U.S. attorney in charge of New York's Eastern District, which includes most of New York City (Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island) as well as suburban Long Island. The office is often overshadowed by the neighboring Southern District, which covers Manhattan and brings high-profile Wall Street prosecutions.

While her flashier colleague in the Southern District, Preet Bharara, gives speeches, holds frequent press conferences and has several press officers, Lynch rarely holds forth in public and reportedly spent months without a press aide after the sole staffer in charge of public outreach retired.

But Lynch did much to put the Eastern District on the map. She mounted successful prosecutions that broke the back of MS-13, a murderous gang that preys on immigrant communities; convicted the underboss of the Colombo crime family; and even revived an old Mafia case by arresting five aging suspects from the all-but-forgotten Lufthansa heist of 1978, immortalized in the movie "Goodfellas."

Wall Street physically falls outside Lynch's jurisdiction, but she mounted major cases against global financial giants engaged in wrongdoing. In 2012, she won a record $1.9 billion in fines and penalties from HSBC, a British bank, for a wide range of violations, including laundering more than $800 million for Mexican drug gangs and illegally doing business with customers in Iran, Sudan and Cuba. Lynch's office also participated in the pursuit of Citigroup for its actions that contributed to the mortgage crash of 2008 -- an investigation that led to a $7 billion settlement.

And Lynch has taken on public corruption cases involving members of New York's power elite. She convicted Pedro Espada Jr., the former majority leader of the New York state Senate, on corruption charges, calling him "a thief in a suit" the day he was hauled off to serve a five-year prison sentence. She is currently prosecuting state Sen. John Sampson, and earlier this year indicted U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm on 20 counts including fraud, embezzlement and perjury.