The Leading Candidate to Replace Holder Emerges

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Former White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler
Kathy Ruemmler, Former White House Counsel. Photographer: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire

Former White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler has emerged as President Barack Obama’s preferred candidate as the next attorney general, though he hasn’t decided on a nominee and is still weighing other choices, people familiar with the deliberations said.

Advisers have told Obama that Ruemmler would encounter tough questioning in confirmation hearings about advice she gave the president during episodes of his presidency that have drawn Republican scrutiny, including the handling of lapses by the Secret Service, they said.

Other candidates under consideration include U.S. Solicitor General Don Verrilli, whom White House aides argue would have an easier time in Senate confirmation hearings, the people said. Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, are also under consideration.

A White House official said earlier today that Obama will wait until after the Nov. 4 midterm congressional elections to announce his choice to succeed Eric Holder as head of the Justice Department. Holder said last month he will depart once his successor is confirmed.

The official and the people, who include current and former administration officials, asked for anonymity to talk about the private discussions among White House staff.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today he wouldn’t comment on deliberations about an attorney general nominee or the timing of any announcement.

“I would anticipate that it will take a little bit of time for the work to be done to determine who the right person is for that important task,” Earnest said at a briefing.

Deep Trust

Obama hasn’t asked Ruemmler, 43, to take the job and she is conflicted about the possibility of returning to the administration, according to someone close to her, who asked for anonymity because the conversations were private.

Ruemmler declined to comment.

Obama developed a deep trust of Ruemmler as a member of his inner circle of White House advisers, the people said.

She was involved in shaping the White House response to issues that have drawn criticism from Republicans in Congress and their supporters.

Most recently, Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz asked the White House to release the documents from Ruemmler’s review of allegations that White House staff were involved in a prostitution scandal that ensnared several Secret Service officers. She also was drawn into a controversy over the administration’s reaction to the attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead, as well as the Internal Revenue Service’s review of Tea Party political groups.

Confirmation Counts

While Democrats will control 55 of 100 seats in the Senate through the end of the year and a nominee needs only a majority for confirmation, Republicans will still be able to create hurdles and closely question Obama’s nominee.

Administration officials have said they still would expect to win a Senate confirmation vote for Ruemmler or another candidate chosen by Obama, even if Republicans win a majority of Senate seats in next month’s election.

Ruemmler took over as White House counsel in 2011 after serving as principal deputy in the office. She previously was an associate deputy attorney general. She rejoined Latham & Watkins LLP as a partner in the litigation department after leaving the White House in May.

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