Mario Puzzo’s generation-spanning opus provides a great allegory for considering the selection of a US Attorney General. In the Godfather films, the consigliere is the mob family lawyer-they handle the dirty business, the laws, the cops, the judges to keep the family clean, and protect the organization as a whole. Different times call for different consiglieres and the same goes for the selection of an AG. Sometimes you need a simple attorney one who will prosecute basic cases and counsel the president; other times you need your attorney general to be your anger translator, pushing forth the agenda the president wants but can’t admit to the public. And other times, as Michael Corleone once famously said – you need a “wartime consigliere” who will go into legal battle with you, and help you hide the proverbial bodies when the smoke finally settles. Don’t let the smooth taste fool you, President Obama just picked a wartime consigliere in Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and that speaks volumes about what he plans to do in the final two years of his presidency.
If you look at the last several attorney general selections by US presidents, they were chosen with a specific purpose in mind. When Bill Clinton picked Janet Reno in 1993, it was a historic first to select a woman for that position. It was also no coincidence that a president who had a history of extramarital affairs and sexual harassment would pick a woman attorney to defend him, especially one with a history of aggressive behavior in sex crimes cases. When George W. Bush picked John Ashcroft, he had a straight-laced legal eagle who fought against school desegregation and viewed law and order above civil liberties. That was great when crafting the Patriot Act, but when it became time to prosecute the War on Terror, Bush picked Alberto Gonzalez, a man who had no problem twisting the Constitution to justify torture. In other words, every president picks their attorney general with a long-term political agenda in mind. What is Obama’s plan based on Lynch’s professional history? He needs an attorney to protect him against serious investigations and hearings into corruption.
Lynch made her career as a prosecutor in New York, specializing in taking on corrupt politicians and dirty cops. In a city where both are bountiful, this is still a pretty tough way to make your career. While her most famous case in the minds of most African Americans would be her successful prosecution of Justin Volpe–one of the New York cops who sexually assaulted Abner Louima–it is her prosecution of politicians, both Democratic and Republican that probably caught the eye of President Obama. He knew long before last Tuesday that Republicans were likely to take over the U.S. Senate land and with an even more hostile Congress coming over the horizon, investigations were to be forthcoming. And like clockwork, within hours of the GOP super tsunami of 2014 Ted Cruz (R – TX) stated that the first priority of the new Republican led Senate would be a series of hearings about the ‘lawless’ nature of the Obama administration, in addition to investigations into Benghazi, the IRS, “Fast and Furious” and other ‘scandals.’
President Obama needs an attorney general who knows how to take down a politician inside and out, and Lynch is the perfect choice. Having dismantled powerful political leaders, even Democrats in deep blue New York, Lynch can give Obama the strategies he needs to every type of attack that’s coming, and they will definitely be coming. Eric Holder’s Justice Department dumped over 64,000 pages of previously unreleased documents to Republicans in Congress the day before the Midterm elections. Holder had been ignoring GOP Congressional requests for these documents for months, so this was a sort-of peace offering before the slaughter, but also done in clear recognition that the Republicans plan on hemming up the final two years of the Obama presidency with investigations to embarrass him and tar Hillary Clinton. Lynch will start with Obama’s plan on that case and likely be focused on others before too long.
The Republicans in Congress will put up a fight against Loretta Lynch in this lame duck session, asking her to account for things that her predecessor did and challenging her to bend to their will in the coming Congress. Already the right wing press has attempted to smear her reputation with sadly amusing but not surprising results. In the end however, she’ll get through, and the president will sit down with her over the holidays and get ready to do battle. President Obama has had to fight his whole presidency just for the basic right to succeed or fail just like any president before him. With this selection he appears to be taking that fight to the Republicans, and we’ll have two years to find out who wins.
Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book “Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell” Follow him on Twitter @DrJasonJohnson