Loretta Lynch: soft on political corruption, perfect Obama AG

Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, is the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Team Obama is hoping that her status as a prosecutor will help her through the confirmation process. Republicans would do well to remember that Eric Holder was also a U.S. Attorney.

Aspects of Lynch’s record as prosecutor bring Eric Holder to mind. This article by the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) argues that Lynch does not aggressively prosecute political corruption, at least when it is committed by Democrats.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Democrat and one of Congress’ most corrupt members, appears to be a beneficiary of Lynch’s softness on political corruption. According to NLPC:

Meeks was involved with a nonprofit called New Direction Local Development Corporation. Among other irregularities, the group raised money for Hurricane Katrina victims who never received the money. Newspaper headlines about New Direction, starting with a New York Post exposé on January 31, 2010, apparently prompted a series of often overlapping investigations.

The investigations have resulted in prosecutions, most notably that of John Sampson, a former majority leader of the New York state senate, for allegedly embezzling $440,000 while serving as a court-appointed referee for the sale of foreclosed properties. But Lynch apparently has failed to extend her investigation of Sampson to obvious targets. NLPC reports:

There is no way Sampson could not have pulled off his scheme without the knowledge and contrivance of others in the court system. Corrupt judges and other court officials are important actors in New York machine politics. They provide the grease that keeps the wheels of graft running smoothly. Lynch has talked tough about Sampson, but she has indicted no other officials. There is no evidence of a broader investigation.

Edul Ahmad, a Guyanese-American businessman who pleaded guilty to a multi-million dollar mortgage fraud scheme, is connected to both Sampson and Meeks. Sampson served as Ahmad’s lawyer in real estate transactions and received an unsecured personal loan from Ahmad of $188,500 that Sampson used to try to cover up his embezzlement.

Ahmad also “loaned” money to Meeks. According to NLPC, after the FBI started to scrutinize Meeks finances in 2010 following the New Direction stories, Meeks amended his Financial Disclosure Reports to show a $40,000 payment from Ahmad in 2007. Meeks claimed it was a loan, but there were no notes or payments until several years after the payment was made.

Lynch prosecuted Ahmad, but not Meeks. As NLPC says, you would think that Ahmad, facing years in prison, would have to provide information about his dealings with New York politicians as part of any plea deal. For instance, he could confirm that the payment to Meeks was what it looked like — an illegal gratuity. But this didn’t happen.

To prosecute Meeks, a member of Congress, Lynch would need authorization from the Holder Justice Department. Holder almost surely would not grant it (he and Meeks share political and personnel ties, according to NLPC). But there is no indication that Lynch ever sought permission to prosecute Meeks. By contrast, she has indicted Republican congressman Michael Grimm.

Lynch’s record in political corruption cases compares poorly with that of Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney across the river in the Southern District of New York. Bharara has prosecuted case after case of political corruption, says NLPC, and is even investigating Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo.

My sources tell me that Lynch suffers in comparison to Bharara more generally. The Southern District’s prosecutors are known for being tough on crime. The Eastern District’s, not so much (though this is due at least in part to differences between the judges on the two courts, I’m told).

In any event, when Republicans evaluate the Lynch nomination they should look beyond her status as a prosecutor. If as, appears to be the case, she is soft on political corruption by Democrats, that’s yet another reason to vote “no.”