- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Republican lawmakers plan to grill U.S. attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch on Wednesday on everything from her position on President Obama’s immigration amnesty to how she would pursue the Justice Department’s investigation into the IRS targeting of tea party groups.

Mostly Republican senators want to ask whether she would follow in the footsteps of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who has used his perch to push an activist agenda on gun control and voting rights, while defending Mr. Obama’s expansive claims of executive powers to alter Obamacare, launch a war in Libya and grant tentative legal status to illegal immigrants.

“I met with Ms. Lynch earlier this month and didn’t get any straight answers from her. She needs to be completely forthright with the committee about her support for some of President Obama’s most dangerous policies, including executive amnesty,” said Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican who will be among the Judiciary Committee members questioning Ms. Lynch.

Senators are worried that Ms. Lynch, who would become the nation’s first black female attorney general, has too many similarities to Mr. Holder, who has had an adversarial relationship with the legislative branch.

In 2012, Mr. Holder became the first sitting Cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress for not providing key information to the House of Representatives during their investigation into the Fast and Furious gunrunning scandal.

“The main question is whether she’s planning on being the next Eric Holder,” said a Senate Republican aide who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the confirmation hearing.

Republican senators are eager to find out whether Ms. Lynch considers Mr. Obama’s executive amnesty, which aims to shield as many as 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, within the confines of the Constitution.

“The attorney general is one of the linchpins to Obama’s amnesty plan, and Congress has a responsibility to stop it,” said Mr. Vitter. “If you believe that President Obama’s actions are illegal or unconstitutional through executive amnesty, then you need to oppose his attorney general nomination.”

House Republicans said last month that they were exploring all legal actions to block the president’s plans.

Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, will question Ms. Lynch about Operation Streamline, a Justice Department program used to fast-track prosecutions of illegal immigrants that advocates say the federal government has largely let fall by the wayside.

Ms. Lynch, who has no ties to Mr. Obama’s policies, is stepping into the congressional limelight at a time when the Justice Department is beset by criticism from conservatives and liberals alike. Civil rights advocates railed against the Justice Department’s handling of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, while Republicans are annoyed that the department hasn’t initiated an investigation into the IRS targeting of tea party groups.

Ms. Lynch, 55, U.S. attorney general for the Eastern District of New York, was unanimously approved by a Senate voice vote to her current position. She was appointed to that post by President Clinton in 1999. She left it and returned to private practice before again taking the position when nominated by Mr. Obama.

The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, urged his fellow senators to focus only on the nominee’s record.

“Ms. Lynch is a dedicated public servant with a strong commitment to justice and to keeping our communities safe,” Mr. Leahy said. “Ms. Lynch deserves to be judged on her own record. I am confident that if we stay focused on Ms. Lynch’s impeccable qualifications and her reputation for fairness, she will be quickly confirmed by the Senate.”

As the top prosecutor for a district that includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, Ms. Lynch was best known for her prosecution of the four New York police officers charged with violating the civil rights of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was beaten and sodomized while in custody.

In a report made public last week, Justice Department evaluators gave Ms. Lynch mostly high ratings for her management skills, but also questioned her office’s responsiveness to public records requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The evaluation depicts Ms. Lynch as a hands-on manager who personally reviews all indictments, meets regularly with top staff and helps make decisions on major cases. The report, requested by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, found no significant morale problems within the office and called her “exceptionally well-qualified” for her current job.

But some of Ms. Lynch’s own history as a prosecutor may become sticking points with Republicans as well.

A collection of more than two dozen conservative groups said the Senate needs to look into whether Ms. Lynch’s federal prosecutor office has blocked efforts by victims seeking restitution in a stock fraud scheme, according to a report last week by The Washington Times.

Felix Sater pleaded guilty in 1998 to a stock fraud scheme, but when he agreed to be a cooperating witness for Ms. Lynch’s office, victims said their efforts to seek restitution — or even to view information about the case — was continuously blocked.

Now they are pressuring the Senate to look into whether Ms. Lynch or her office violated crime victim laws.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, released a statement Tuesday ahead of the hearing saying that he intended to introduce bills protecting Americans from “political targeting by the IRS” and would be grilling Ms. Lynch about what many Republicans view as a cover-up by the Justice Department.

“Rather than further stifling free speech, the IRS and the Department of Justice should provide the American people with all the facts surrounding the IRS’ targeting of certain organizations based on their political activity,” Mr. Cruz said. “I look forward to Ms. Lynch’s responses to these very important issues at her upcoming confirmation hearings. We should all agree the IRS should not be used as a tool for partisan warfare.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Phillip Swarts can be reached at pswarts@washingtontimes.com.

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