Last week’s announcement that President Obama had nominated Loretta Lynch to replace Eric Holder as the next attorney general sparked some attacks on Lynch from the left that reveal a disheartening myopia among progressives.
There have, of course, been attacks from the right, too. But many of those go something like this:
“We just had a Black attorney general. Come on! Why is Obama racist against white attorney generals?”
In other words, they’re predictably, and obviously, stupid.
The attacks from the left, meanwhile, are more concerning, because they display an inability to recognize the importance the attorney general’s role will play in this moment.
The simple fact is that Black Americans are in crisis right now. In Ferguson, activists will be looking to the Department of Justice for answers if the St. Louis prosecutor announces—as many expect he will—that Darren Wilson won’t face any charges for the killing of Mike Brown. At the ballot box, Black voters will be relying on the DOJ to restore the voting power of people disenfranchised by voter ID laws and Republican gerrymandering. And when it comes to the War on Drugs, which continues to send disproportionately high numbers of Black and brown folks to jail, it is clear that we need an attorney general who understands the current civil rights crisis. Loretta Lynch is that person.
(And the fact that she would be the first Black female attorney general in history is nothing to sneeze at, either.)
Yet too many progressives are seemingly ignoring this civil rights crisis. Instead, they continue into Year Five of gnashing their teeth, demanding that the DOJ only prioritize perp-walking to jail the bankers that caused the economic collapse back in 2008.
One such progressive is Salon’s David Dayen, who wrote an article this week about the sort of person that Loretta Lynch is and the sort of people with whom she consorts. Dayen drew the conclusion that while Lynch is not “openly corrupted by the forces that increasingly rule our government,” she is “marinated in their worldview, in their cultural milieu.”
He based this assessment primarily on Lynch’s two decades of work at mega-law firms and two of the settlements in which she was involved during her tenure at the U.S. Attorney’s office.
His claims, however, are exceedingly thin.
First, Dayen described Lynch’s stint at the white-shoe law firm, Cahill Gordon & Reindell. Dayen carefully noted that Lynch was simply a litigation associate at Cahill, but then fired up the “guilt by association” generator, mentioning that Cahill’s litigation department includes prominent First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, who, in 2010 argued in the Citizens United case that “campaign money is speech.”
What is the point of mentioning Citizens United in this context if not to fire up the outrage of progressives who see red at the mere mention of the Citizens United decision? What other purpose does it serve, aside from tying Lynch to the lawyer responsible for Citizens United and letting people’s imaginations do the rest? After all, Lynch worked at Cahill in the 1980s, decades before Citizens United put elections into the pockets of corporations. Frankly, this is the sort of “truthy newsiness” that I expect from Fox News, not from progressives.
Next, Dayen recounted that Lynch served as a director of the New York Federal Reserve Board from 2003 to 2005 and called it a “strange detour” in Lynch’s legal career. His description of her stint at the Fed was full of innuendo. Dayen wrote that Lynch’s time at the Fed coincided with the inflation of the housing bubble. And though he pointed out that the failure of the Fed to prevent it “doesn’t necessarily reflect on Lynch,” the tenor of his article suggested otherwise—that even though, as Dayen admits, directors of the New York Fed “don’t play a huge role in supervising Wall Street banks or conducting monetary policy,” she should have somehow taken it upon herself to prevent the housing bubble.
Finally, Dayen described Lynch’s role in two financial fraud settlements during her tenure running the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn: the $7 billion mortgage fraud settlement with Citigroup and the $1.9 billion settlement agreement with HSBC regarding its money-laundering activities for Mexican drug cartels and terrorist groups—two settlements that many progressives believe were nothing more than slaps on the wrist.
Again, Dayen carefully pointed out that these two cases were “Eric Holder’s show,” that the “Main Justice prosecuted these cases,” and that “Lynch’s name just appeared on the press releases.” Still, Dayen speculated about the reason that no individuals were charged and concluded that it was Lynch’s fault:
“[A]s a federal prosecutor, Lynch could have easily made decisions to charge individuals after the settlements were completed. She had the information at her disposal. But she chose instead to go along to get along, and you can see her elevation to attorney general as part of the reward.”
That’s a rather serious accusation to lodge. Exactly how Dayen knows that she “easily” could have charged individuals is anyone’s guess, but I suspect that letting individuals avoid criminal prosecution was part of the settlement deal between the Department of Justice and the two banks. But I am willing to admit that I don’t know whether that is the case. And based on what he wrote, Dayen doesn’t either.
Ultimately, where Dayen sees nefariousness, I see significant achievements for a Black female attorney toiling away in a space built by white men, for white men.
There are few Black women that achieve the sort of success at big law firms that Lynch has. And in my view, her achievements should be celebrated, not picked over in order to make a thin case that, in Dayen’s words, she won’t have “the will to crack down on malfeasance in the executive suites, which could implicate her colleagues and friends.”
I’ll concede that Dayen may be right to be concerned that Lynch’s nomination would be another gift to powerful Wall Street forces. But the question becomes—who would Dayen rather be nominated? More importantly, would that person continue Eric Holder’s civil rights legacy? And besides, how else does a person garner the kind of professional skills needed to be a viable nominee for attorney general without having some ties to Wall Street?
I understand that progressives are frustrated that the DOJ didn’t prosecute any of the individuals responsible for wrecking the economy. They are right to be. But, frankly, we have bigger fish to fry.
In Loretta Lynch, we have a real opportunity to continue building upon the civil rights legacy that Eric Holder is leaving behind. That is no small task. In fact, I believe that task is more important than any other, including cracking down on bankers.
And really, progressives: If you want banks to be held responsible for their nefarious activities, or to enact laws that will break up banks so that they are no longer “too big to jail” without risk of damaging the economy, then wouldn’t it make sense to throw all of your energy behind making sure that Black people can vote to keep Republicans out of office? Wouldn’t it make sense to ensure that Congress confirms an attorney general who will ensure that Black people aren’t further disenfranchised?
What is to be gained by picking over Lynch’s record and drawing conclusions based on ghosts, shadows, and innuendo, besides giving Republicans ammo to sink her nomination?
This country needs a Loretta Lynch. The left needs a Loretta Lynch.
So let’s stop shooting ourselves in the foot, shall we?