President Barack Obama on Saturday announced his selection of a New York federal prosecutor as his pick to become attorney general for the United States - a move that could make Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, the first black woman to lead the Justice Department.
"It's pretty hard to be more qualified for this job than Loretta," Obama said in a White House speech praising Lynch as a tough and fair lawyer with a 30-year record of accomplishments.
"She has spent years in the trenches as a prosecutor, aggressively fighting terrorism, financial fraud, cybercrime, all while vigorously defending civil rights," he said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Lynch would replace Eric Holder, who announced his resignation in September after serving as the nation's first black attorney general.
"Loretta doesn't look to make headlines. She looks to make a difference," Obama said.
Lynch, 55, oversees all federal and civil investigations and cases in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, as well as Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island.
Obama appointed her to the job in May 2010. She had previously been nominated in 1999 by then-President Bill Clinton but left two years later to become a partner at a law firm. She spent several years with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York before returning to the Eastern District of New York at Obama's behest.
"The Department of Justice is the only cabinet department named for an ideal, and this is actually appropriate because our work is both aspirational and grounded in gritty reality," Lynch said at the White House announcement.
"If I have the honor of being confirmed by the Senate ... I will work every day to safeguard our citizens, our liberties, our rights and this great nation," she said.
Obama had planned to wait until after a trip to Asia next week to announce the choice but then moved up the decision after news organizations began reporting that Lynch had been selected.
The Justice Department has said Holder would stay on in the top post until a successor was named. Holder resigned amid high-profile controversies including the IRS targeting scandal and the Fast and Furious gun operation.
A Harvard Law School graduate, Lynch has overseen a variety of high-profile cases in New York, including that of Abner Louima, the Brooklyn man who was sodomized with a broom handle and assaulted by an NYPD officer after a 1997 arrest. One officer was convicted of the assault and Louima won an $8.75 million settlement from the city.
Lynch's office also indicted recently re-elected Republican Rep. Michael Grimm on fraud, tax evasion and perjury charges. Grimm's trial begins next month.
Lynch, the daughter of a school librarian and a Baptist minister, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1959.
Obama emphasized her family's connection to the civil rights movement. Students met at her father's church to organize ant-segregation boycotts, he said. And Lynch's grandfather was a sharecropper in the 1930s who helped blacks enduring mistreatment, the president said.