Loretta Lynch, the federal prosecutor from New York few people have heard of, may beat Preet Bharara to a bigger job in Washington.
Lynch’s quiet success convicting terrorists and white-collar criminals in her four years as the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn has made her a leading candidate for the No. 2 spot at the Justice Department, following a decision by Deputy Attorney General James Cole to step down from the position, said people familiar with the matter.
Lynch is also a contender for Attorney General, the people added. It hasn’t hurt that she hasn’t sought the limelight.
Her quiet style contrasts sharply with the higher profile of Bharara, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney whose magazine covers, convictions of hedge-fund traders and frequent press conferences have sometimes overshadowed his government bosses.
“She’s not controversial, not at all a polarizing figure,” said Jodi Avergun, a former federal prosecutor who’s worked with Lynch.
“She’s very discreet” and “doesn’t need to be talking to everybody about her decision-making,” Avergun added. “That would hold the Justice Department in good stead.”
While Lynch is under consideration to replace the departing Eric Holder as attorney general, former White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler remains President Barack Obama’s preferred choice. There are several other candidates being eyed as well, including Bharara.
Avergun said Lynch has proven she’s not only a smart prosecutor, but a creative one. In one of Lynch’s first trials, she prosecuted a woman accused of smuggling more than $10,000 in cash to a local airport in a bag of cookies.
The defense lawyer said his client, accompanied by her child, forgot she was carrying the money. Lynch won the case by arguing that no one, especially a mother with a youngster, could have resisted opening a bag of cookies to calm a cranky child.
“Loretta walked the jurors through the airport with a bag of Milano cookies and a hungry child,” said Avergun. “She honed in on the common elements of what everyone would do.”