WASHINGTON, Nov 8 – President Obama will nominate Loretta E. Lynch, the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, to be the next attorney general, reaching outside his inner circle to fill a key post, the White House said Friday. If confirmed, Ms. Lynch, 55, would be the first African-American woman to be the nation’s top law enforcement official.
Mr. Obama will announce her selection at a ceremony Saturday in the Roosevelt Room. He will be joined by Ms. Lynch and Eric H. Holder Jr., the current attorney general, who has announced his plansto step down. “Ms. Lynch is a strong, independent prosecutor who has twice led one of the most important U.S. attorney’s offices in the country,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said.
He said Mr. Holder’s “tenure has been marked by historic gains in the areas of criminal justice reform and civil rights enforcement.” The decision to announce Ms. Lynch’s nomination came after days of speculation in the news media that she was a leading contender to replace Mr. Holder, an Obama confidant who has been a central figure in his cabinet since the start of his presidency.
Mr. Obama chose Ms. Lynch, a low-profile prosecutor, amid a new political environment after Republicans took the Senate. Mr. Obama met with the new Republican leadership Friday afternoon and also announced an increase in the American troop presence in Iraq, a move that helped shift the conversation in Washington away from the Democrats’ electoral drubbing.
Nominating Ms. Lynch may also carry political benefits for a White House looking to recalibrate its strategy. She is a two-time United States attorney whom the Senate confirmed by acclamation in 2000 and again in 2010. She has no personal ties to Mr. Obama or his policies, freeing her of the baggage that weighed down other candidates.
If she is confirmed, her appointment will also allow the president, questioned in recent days about what he may do differently after his party’s thrashing, to bring a fresh face into an administration many have criticized as too insular. The initial Republican reaction was guardedly positive. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Ms. Lynch would receive “a very fair, but thorough, vetting” by the panel.
“I’m hopeful that her tenure, if confirmed, will restore confidence in the attorney general as a politically independent voice for the American people,” Mr. Grassley said in a statement. In turning to Ms. Lynch, the president passed over candidates with whom he has closer ties, and who would have provoked strong Republican objections.
They included Thomas E. Perez, the labor secretary; Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the solicitor general; and Kathryn Ruemmler, the former White House counsel, who took herself out of the running last month, saying she would draw a messy confirmation fight. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who twice recommended Ms. Lynch to the White House as a United States attorney, called for her “swift confirmation.”
“Loretta Lynch is a consummate professional, has a first-rate legal mind and is committed in her bones to the equal application of justice for all people,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. It was not clear how quickly Ms. Lynch could be confirmed in the lame-duck congressional session that convenes next week, when Democrats will still control the Senate. A White House official said Mr. Obama believed she should be confirmed “as soon as possible.”
But Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said the nomination “should be considered in the new Congress, through regular order.” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he had spoken with Mr. Obama “about the need to confirm our next attorney general in a reasonable time period, and I look forward to beginning that process.”
Ms. Lynch gained prominence for her work prosecuting members of the New York Police Department for the 1997 case in which a Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, was beaten and sodomized with a broom handle. The case became a national symbol of police brutality. Gerald L. Shargel, a prominent defense lawyer, said Ms. Lynch was remarkably approachable.
“Any time I had an issue with a case and thought it appropriate to knock on her door, she was welcoming and gave, as U.S. attorney, gave the impression — and I think it’s a true impression — that she is fairly considering issues that you’re putting before her,” Mr. Shargel said. “There’s no self-aggrandizement.” As United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Ms. Lynch oversees federal prosecutions in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island.
Her office is known for its work on organized crime, terrorism and public corruption. It has prosecuted the planner of a subway bombing plot, Mafia members and public officials, including Representative Michael G. Grimm, a Republican, and State Senator John L. Sampson, former State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. and Assemblyman William F. Boyland Jr., all Democrats.
Her office has also worked aggressively on gang-related cases, including winning a rare death-penalty conviction for Ronell Wilson, who killed a police officer. The office’s many terrorism cases have given it a reputation as a hub of expertise on national security matters. Ms. Lynch also leads the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, a panel of United States attorneys who advise the attorney general on policy and operational issues.
If Ms. Lynch is confirmed, it will be the first time in nearly two centuries that a president has elevated a United States attorney directly to attorney general. In 1817, President James Monroe chose William Wirt, the top prosecutor in eastern Virginia. Ms. Lynch, born in Greensboro, N.C., has undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard.
After graduating from law school in 1984, she spent six years as an associate at the New York law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel before becoming a federal prosecutor. She became the chief assistant United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York in 1998 and was nominated a year later to lead the office for the rest of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Before returning in 2010, she was a partner at Hogan & Hartson, now known as Hogan Lovells.