The witness list for the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on Loretta Lynch, the highly regarded nominee for attorney general, indicates the process will be a forum for right-wing media favorites and myths but will have little to do with her qualifications.
Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, has long been praised across the political spectrum as a model federal prosecutor. Lynch has been confirmed twice as a U.S. attorney -- including by some of the same Republican senators now in control of the Judiciary Committee -- and news of her nomination in November brought a new round of support, including from conservative law enforcement sources.
Current New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton called Lynch "a remarkable prosecutor with a clear sense of justice without fear or favor." Former FBI director Louis Freeh wrote in a letter to Judiciary Committee leadership that he couldn't think of “a more qualified nominee” and was “happy to give Ms. Lynch my highest personal and professional recommendation.” Freeh also wrote that he had spoken with “several of my former judicial colleagues who echo this support, and note that Ms. Lynch has gained a terrific reputation for effectively, fairly and independently enforcing the law.” Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who worked with Lynch on an infamous police brutality case, has said "if I were in the Senate, I would confirm her."
Fringe right-wing media outlets and figures initially ignored this broad support and attacked Lynch anyway. The effort was spectacularly unsuccessful, as they mixed up the nominee with an entirely different Loretta Lynch and then claimed that her membership in Delta Sigma Theta, one of the country's leading African-American sororities, was "controversial."
Leading Fox News figures were better informed about the New York nominee, most notably News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, who immediately noted Lynch had a "reputation for fairness and strict legality." In an O'Reilly Factor segment with Megyn Kelly on November 10, Bill O'Reilly said he was “heartened” she would be the new attorney general. In response, Kelly praised Lynch:
KELLY: I have to say that I think this is the person who should be the most acceptable to the right wing or the Republicans in this country of anybody who President Obama was considering. She is a straight shooter. First of all, she would be the first black female attorney general, right? I mean, that in and of itself is a pretty amazing accomplishment. Went to Harvard undergrad, went to Harvard Law School. She has no close ties to the White House. She is not some firm ideologue or partisan. She has prosecuted Democrats and Republicans. She's been a hero on gang crime, on terrorism.
Republican senators have been similarly honest about Lynch's record, admitting that she "seems to be a solid choice" and will instead use her hearing as a forum for grievances they have with the administration and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. The new chairman of the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), told Politico: “All I can tell you is that immigration is going to be a big part of it. ... Not because of her views on immigration, but of the president's action on immigration and the extent of what she feels he's acted in a legal way.”
Unfortunately, a review of the newly released witness list reveals that the Republican choices for this "proxy war of sorts" rely heavily on right-wing media favorites who frequently spread debunked smears and myths:
Sharyl Attkisson, now a contributor for a conservative news website run by the Heritage Foundation, is currently suing Holder and the Justice Department, alleging that federal agents unlawfully hacked into her computers and phones. Attkisson has become a vocal critic of the Obama administration in recent years, producing shoddy reporting on its culpability for the casualties resulting from the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Attkisson was also one the primary media figures raising the profile of a failed gun-running operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) known as Operation Fast and Furious. Attkisson accused Holder of lying about his knowledge of the program -- claims that were contradicted by a Justice Department inspector general's report in 2012.
Catherine Engelbrecht is the head of a Tea Party group called True the Vote that bills itself as an election watchdog. Engelbrecht has similarly been a favorite in the right-wing media for her willingness to level smears against the Obama administration, particularly with regard to the Justice Department's investigations into discriminatory voter-ID laws. Engelbrecht described DOJ efforts to prevent the disenfranchisement of minority voters as a “radical, racialist assault on voting rights.” Engelbrecht and True the Vote have consistently misinformed the public about the prevalence of voter fraud. And in 2010, True the Vote was accused of voter intimidation at polling places in Harris County, Texas -- allegations that sparked a Justice Department investigation.
Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University who, like Attkisson, has been a particularly vocal critic of what he sees as repeated executive overreach on the part of the Obama administration. While apparently not as extreme as some of his co-panelists, Turley has nevertheless staked out minority legal positions attacking the administration, frequently on Fox News. He previously appeared before the House Rules Committee to express support for a lawsuit that would alter the ability of the president to implement and enforce laws related to health care reform and immigration. After the two previous attorneys hired by House Republicans to litigate the case quit, Speaker John Boehner retained Turley. Turley also called for Holder to be fired in 2013, labeling him a “sin eater” for reasons such as justifying Obama's push to “expand secret and warrantless surveillance” and for defending the drone program.
Also testifying is Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke, who has been widely praised by conservative media and the National Rifle Association. Clarke often engages in inflammatory rhetoric and has been honored as sheriff of the year by far-right fringe group Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA). In 2013, Clarke made an appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' radio show in which he addressed Jones' claim that “analysts” he talks to “think that the Obama Marxist types want to start a civil war in this country” by confiscating guns. Clarke responded, in part, “I believe that if somebody tried to enforce something of that magnitude, you would see the second coming of an American Revolution, the likes of which would make the first revolution pale by comparison.” Clarke has been a critic of involvement by Obama and Holder in the aftermath of the police shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. While appearing on Fox News, Clarke claimed that Obama had encouraged violence in Ferguson by calling for calm “with a wink and a nod.”
It is as yet unclear what information -- if any -- these witnesses have to offer about Lynch's record.