- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When it comes to most of the thorny issues she’ll be asked to referee on between President Obama and Congress, Loretta Lynch, the woman nominated to be the next attorney general, said she doesn’t yet have a sense for how she’ll come down.

Ms. Lynch, who faces a probable vote Thursday in the Judiciary Committee and likely action by the full Senate next month, deflected dozens of questions in 221 pages of written responses to the panel, saying she wasn’t familiar with the fight over documents from the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation, couldn’t talk accurately about major parts of the administration’s immigration policy, didn’t want to prejudge the rights afforded suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay and was “not familiar” with bills to close the gun show background check loophole.

The instances where Ms. Lynch did take a stand, she signaled continuity with current Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., whom she defended for refusing to back the Defense of Marriage Act in court, for not prosecuting marijuana users in many states despite federal law that still makes the drug illegal and for issuing a legal opinion backing the president’s immigration actions that a federal court last week ruled illegal.

Asked how she would break with Mr. Holder, Ms. Lynch said she would approach Congress with a different style — but didn’t offer any of his legal stances where she took issue with him.

“Every Attorney General must decide on priorities for the Department of Justice. If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as attorney general, I would bring my own personal approach to decisions about the department’s priorities,” she wrote.

And asked specifically to list her own mistakes, Ms. Lynch instead praised herself, saying she’s done great work on cybercrime — but wished she’d started it earlier.

“If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as attorney general, I am prepared to ensure that the Department of Justice is proactive and forward-leaning in addressing the threat posed by cybercrime,” she said.

For Republicans eager to oust Mr. Holder, her answers were seen as a troubling sign of continuity.

“Personally, I wanted to support Ms. Lynch’s nomination,” Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, wrote in an op-ed in Politico Tuesday, praising her service as a federal prosecutor. “However, the answers she gave at her confirmation hearing are, in my view, disqualifying for serving as our nation’s chief law enforcement officer.”

Dozens of House Republicans also wrote a letter to their Senate colleagues asking them to block the Lynch nomination, saying “she has no intention of departing in any meaningful way from the policies of Attorney General Eric Holder.”

Democrats, though, signaled that opposition to Ms. Lynch, a black woman who has served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York for seven years, could raise troubling questions for the GOP about race.

All told, Ms. Lynch answered 535 questions in writing, in addition to dozens of inquiries during her daylong nomination hearing last month.

She vowed to be a “vigorous and independent” voice within the administration, but also backed Mr. Obama’s position on major questions such as his war powers and his support for a renewal of the assault weapons ban.

As for how she would manage the department, she said she would be more open with the press and would not punish reporters whose reporting she didn’t agree with, but wouldn’t commit to reporting the costs of her own official travel as attorney general — though she did say she would try to be mindful of taxpayers’ money.

Declining to answer questions has become standard for nominees, though they often make exceptions for the big questions facing an administration.

The last Republican attorney general nominee, Michael B. Mukasey, provided 418 written answers to 172 pages of questions from the Democratic-controlled Judiciary Committee in 2007, and did grapple with intense debates such as interrogation techniques and treatment of terrorist suspect detainees.

Hans A. von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former Justice Department official, said Ms. Lynch is applying to be the attorney general, so refusing to answer questions by saying she didn’t deal with them in her job as a lower-level federal prosecutor is not acceptable.

“All of Lynch’s answers show that she really has all of the same views as Holder on major issues; that she will be just as slippery as Holder in evading congressional questioning; and there are no instances in which she will tell the president that any of his actions violated federal law or the Constitution,” he said. “If she is confirmed, it will be Holder 2.0.”

Ms. Lynch’s artful dodges drew criticism from others too. Technology and legal community bloggers in recent days have debated whether she ducked questions about Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide while facing a Justice Department prosecution — and potentially 35 years in prison — for downloading and sharing academic papers from an online catalog.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said written questions aren’t an effective way of pinning down a nominee, and said it’s not surprising she isn’t fully informed of some of Mr. Holder’s policies and initiatives that didn’t involve her office in New York.

He said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican who has already signaled he will back Ms. Lynch, is likely a bellwether “and, at the end of the day, numerous other GOP members will probably come to the same conclusion.”

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