“This is not a fight Joe Biden should shy away from,” a current Justice Department attorney told ABC News on condition that he is anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the press. “This is the most important choice Joe Biden will make and the risk of making that choice wrong is enormous.”
For the prosecutor, this means he hopes Biden will appoint former assistant attorney general Sally Yates, who has spent more than two decades in the Justice Department but would likely encounter significant opposition from Republicans during the confirmation process.
“It is worth fighting for them,” emphasized another federal prosecutor. Yates is “a popular favorite” in the Justice Department because of her time as a US attorney in Atlanta and then as deputy attorney general in the Obama administration. “I would love if the Biden people got into an argument.”
He said two other candidates Biden is considering for attorney general – Federal Judge Merrick Garland and outgoing Alabama Senator Doug Jones – would “have a learning curve she doesn’t” since her time in the department was so long ago is.
Other career officials within the department agreed, with one describing Yates as someone “who could hit the ground under his feet on day one”. But even some of those who don’t pull for Yates said they believe Biden should face a political battle over his candidate.
“If there was one cabinet position worth sustaining, it is this,” said another Justice Department official who wants Biden to be a “dark horse candidate” like Preet Bharara, the former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York selects who would be the first Indo-American attorney general in US history.
Another Bharara supporter in the Justice Department also said the attorney general was “such an important position to fight for”.
In order for Yates or any candidate to actually become attorney general, they must get the approval of a majority in the Senate, which is currently controlled by Republicans. That means the Biden team will have to convince at least some Republican lawmakers to vote for affirmation – an inevitably arduous process made even more difficult by the heated political environment. A spokesman for the Biden transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.
As Biden weighs who should take on the Justice Department’s 100,000-plus staff, many former department officials, interest groups, and lawmakers have publicly expressed individual preferences. However, it is relatively rare for current career officials – whose positions are inherently apolitical and can span multiple administrations – to deliberate publicly.
Another state attorney said that while hoping Biden will pick Yates, he also “understands the concern” the Biden team may have about the opposition they are likely to face from Republican lawmakers.
President Donald Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill are especially upset with her final year in the Justice Department as she oversaw the start of the federal investigation into alleged links between Trump’s election campaign and Russian activists and serving as the acting attorney general in the early days of the Trump administration publicly protested Trump’s order to block travel from Muslim majority countries.
Similarly, according to Y-Hill, Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Yates’ actions were “very worrying” and “many people” were available so Biden “would not have to take any chances”.
Trump herself publicly attacked Yates, tweeting in August that she “has no credibility” and “was part of the greatest political crime of the century”.
Many of the prosecutors who spoke to ABC News have resisted the idea that such comments should influence Biden.
“I heard a few people in my office say, ‘Who’s making this appointment? Is it Joe Biden or is it [Senate Republican leader] Mitch McConnell? “Said a federal attorney.
Although Garland and Jones are relatively unknown to many current Justice Department staff, current officials who have spoken to ABC News, including those who support Yates, have recognized that Garland and Jones have what is known as “a tremendous reputation”.
Garland has served on the Washington Federal Court of Appeals for more than two decades. President Barack Obama nominated him in the Supreme Court in 2016, but the Republicans blocked the nomination.
During the Clinton administration’s first term, Garland was named a senior officer in the Justice Department, helping oversee the prosecution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Prior to that, he served as US Assistant Attorney in Washington for almost three years.
Jones also served as a U.S. attorney in Alabama during the Clinton administration, where he directed the prosecution of two members of the Ku Klux Klan for their role in the deadly bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2017, filling a void created when Jeff Sessions became Attorney General.
But a federal prosecutor predicted that even if Garland or Jones “seem like a safe, undisputed choice”, there are concerns that “Republicans will end up having a problem with whoever”.
Almost all of the current officials speaking to ABC News felt that one of Biden’s decisions would be an improvement over the recent leadership of the Justice Department and insisted that the department’s reputation was dented by years of assaults from the President himself and several The ministry was adversely affected by politically charged, high-profile decisions by Trump’s attorneys general.
Current officials said their new boss – whoever it is – needs to rebuild the Justice Department as an independent and credible institution. One of the prosecutors said that while it would be frustrating to start this process “with critical, heated hearings, I think a fight is worth fighting … when you really feel like you have someone to inspire people.” . ” the Department of Justice to do a great job making them feel like they are back on the right side of justice. “
However, the next attorney general needs to conduct a federal investigation into the global business affairs of Biden’s son Hunter and a recently appointed special adviser who is investigating the origins of the Russia investigation that Yates initially oversaw.
Many of the officials who spoke to ABC News also expressed a desire for the department to re-focus on civil rights and social justice issues, and to include women and people of color in leadership roles.
“Trump candidates,” a Yates-supporting prosecutor told ABC News, “were mostly white men.”
That’s one of the reasons the career officer who supports Bharara is hoping Biden will choose him.
“Let the Republicans vote against an historic election,” said the official.
ABC News’ Alex Mallin and Luke Barr contributed to this report.