03.23.15

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, On the Nomination of Loretta Lynch to Serve as Attorney General of the United States

Loretta Lynch, the nominee to be our next Attorney General, has now been awaiting a vote on the Senate floor for 25 days.  I have spoken many times about her historic nomination; her inspiring family; and her passion for the highest callings of public service. 

Last week, a distinguished group of bipartisan law enforcement officials came together to call for the confirmation of Loretta Lynch.  These individuals have dedicated the better part of their careers to protecting the American people, and they conveyed how important it is to have the Senate confirm the chief law enforcement officer in the country.

One of those individuals is my friend Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI and a Federal judge.  Director Freeh wrote to the Committee in support of Loretta Lynch that “[i]n my twenty-five years of public service – 23 in the Department of Justice – I cannot think of a more qualified nominee to be America’s chief law enforcement officer.”  He has further stated that “Ms. Lynch is an atypically non-political appointment for that office, a career professional without any political party ties or activity.”

Loretta Lynch is also supported by the current New York Police Commissioner, who was appointed by a Democrat, and a former New York Police Commissioner, who was appointed by a Republican.  She has earned the support of former U.S. Attorneys from both Republican and Democratic administrations.  And she has the support of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, and many, many others.

There is a very obvious reason for the bipartisan support Ms. Lynch has received – her qualifications are simply beyond reproach.  She has been confirmed by the Senate twice before to serve as the top Federal prosecutor based in Brooklyn, New York.  Those who have worked with her over the course of her 30-year career described her as “even-handed,” “apolitical,” and believe she “will be a strong independent voice at the helm of the Department of Justice.” 

Under her leadership, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York has brought terrorists to justice, obtained convictions against both Republicans and Democrats in public corruption cases, and fought tirelessly against violent crime and financial fraud.  Her record shows that as Attorney General, Ms. Lynch will effectively, fairly, and independently enforce the law.

Many Americans are starting to wonder why she is being held up so long in light of her sterling record and in light of the very serious law enforcement challenges that we face in communities across the country.  Unfortunately, the Republican Senate leadership is holding Ms. Lynch’s nomination hostage to their political agenda and that does not reflect well on the Senate or their leadership. 

President Obama announced the nomination of Ms. Lynch more than four months ago.  The Judiciary Committee reported her nomination with bipartisan support 25 days ago.  As of today, her nomination has been pending on the Senate floor longer than all of the past seven Attorneys General combined:  Richard Thornburgh, one day; Bob Barr, five days; Janet Reno, one day; John Ashcroft, two days, Alberto Gonzales, eight days; Michael Mukasey, two days; and Eric Holder, five days.  This delay is an embarrassment for the United States Senate. 

The excuses for holding up her nomination continue to mount and each excuse rings hollow given the importance of the position to which she is nominated. 

First, the President and Senate Democrats were warned last November that we should not move Ms. Lynch’s nomination during the lame duck period last Congress.  Senate Republicans claimed that she would be treated fairly if we waited.  In fact, the current Majority Leader issued a statement last November, proclaiming that “Ms. Lynch will receive fair consideration by the Senate.  And her nomination should be considered in the new Congress through regular order.”  As a result, we acceded to their request.  However, treatment of her nomination has not been fair when compared to her predecessors. 

Despite Senate Republicans’ request that we not move her nomination in the few weeks remaining in the lame duck session, they now assert in the press that if this nomination was so important, then the President and Senate Democrats should have processed it during that very time of transition.  Sometimes you can only shake your head at what is said to excuse their delay.  This nomination is for the top law enforcement officer in the Nation.  It should not just be important to Democrats.  It should be important to Republicans as well.  It is important to all Americans. 

I can remember when Judge Mukasey was nominated by President Bush to be Attorney General.  From the date of announcement to confirmation, it took 53 days.   Judge Mukasey received a floor vote just two days after he was reported from Committee.  And these were some of the remarks made by Senate Republicans at that time:  “We should stop playing partisan political games with this nomination.  The Justice Department is too important for this type of stuff.”  “Forty days into the partisan wilderness is more than enough.  We should confirm Judge Michael Mukasey without further delay.”  There were expressions of outrage against Democrats after just 40 days.  Contrast that to Ms. Lynch, who has now been waiting 135 days.  Her nomination has been pending on the floor for 25 days whereas Judge Mukasey received a vote in two days.  Where is the outrage from my fellow Senators on the other side of the aisle now?

Second, the Majority Leader announced two weeks ago that he would finally schedule a vote on Ms. Lynch’s nomination last week.  However, instead of doing so, the Majority Leader changed his mind and acted as if the Senate could not consider legislation and executive nominees at the same time.  Now he has announced that she will not have a confirmation vote until after the Senate has concluded its debate on the human trafficking bill.  The Senate often debates legislation and votes on nominations at the same time.  Over the last week and a half, we voted on six other executive nominations while we were on the human trafficking bill.  None of those executive nominations is more important than this one.  The top law enforcement officer in the land is not a negotiating chip that any party should use for leverage.  That is not how we respect the role that law enforcement officials play in our system of government.

What made the delay announced last Sunday more confounding is the fact that Loretta Lynch has a proven track record of prosecuting human trafficking and child rape crimes.  Over the course of the last decade, her office has indicted over 55 defendants in sex trafficking cases and rescued over 110 victims of sex trafficking.

Ms. Lynch and her office have used the tools that Congress has provided them to bring traffickers to justice.  In United States v. Rivera, the prosecutors in her office utilized the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to help them obtain a conviction against an owner of several New York bars for his role in a sex trafficking and forced labor ring.  The evidence at trial established that the defendants recruited and harbored scores of undocumented Latin American immigrants, and forced them to work as waitresses at the owner’s bars.  The owner and his accomplices used violence, including rapes and beatings, as well as fraud and threats of deportation, to compel the victims to work and prevent them from reporting the illegal activity to police.  Because of the leadership Ms. Lynch showed in making such cases a priority, the bar owner was sentenced to 60 years in prison. 

I am proud of the Senate’s work to get the Trafficking Victims Protection Act reauthorized two years ago as part of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.  We passed those laws with strong bipartisan support because we avoided unnecessary political fights, listened to the survivors, and responded to what they said they needed.  I wish the Republican leadership would do the same on Senator Cornyn’s trafficking bill. Unfortunately, it is many of the same Senators who voted against the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the Violence Against Women Act who have injected a divisive partisan fight here – over the objection of the very survivors they wish to help. It is this unnecessary fight that has stopped an otherwise bipartisan bill.  And now, many of those same Senators are using this unnecessary conflict – a conflict they created – as an excuse not to move Loretta Lynch’s nomination.  So instead of working together to confirm a nominee with a proven commitment to stopping human trafficking, and instead of passing anti-trafficking legislation that will help the survivors of this terrible crime, Senate Republicans have refused to do either one this month.

Loretta Lynch was recently named one of “New York’s New Abolitionists” by the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition for her leadership in combating human trafficking.  She has told members of the Judiciary Committee that human trafficking would be one of her top priorities if confirmed as Attorney General.  And now, in the name of supporting human trafficking victims, Senate Republicans are blocking her nomination.  That makes no sense.  If we want to show our commitment to ending human trafficking, we should remove the unnecessary, partisan language from the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act – language that is not in the House-passed bill – and confirm Loretta Lynch without further delay.

It is time to stop delaying and making excuses.  It is time to stop playing politics with our law enforcement and national security.  There is only one holdup to Ms. Lynch’s nomination to be Attorney General, and that is the party that the American public has entrusted to govern the Senate.  I ask that she receive a confirmation vote this week so that she can get to the peoples’ work as our next Attorney General of the United States.   

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