RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
For almost four years, President Trump has attacked the FBI and career prosecutors at the Justice Department, so new leaders there will have a big job on their hands. And NPR's Carrie Johnson reports on the leading candidates for attorney general.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Choosing an attorney general is a critical task for a new president in normal times, but these are not normal times. Former U.S. Solicitor General Don Verrilli says the Trump administration took a sledgehammer to the Justice Department.
DONALD VERRILLI: You have to not only rebuild the public's confidence in the Department of Justice as an institution, we're going to need to rebuild the sense of confidence and integrity on the inside because it's been so terribly, terribly damaged over the last 3 1/2 years. It's a colossal tragedy.
JOHNSON: Restoring public confidence in law enforcement will be the main job of the next attorney general. But for President-elect Joe Biden and his team, picking the next leader of the Justice Department may not be an easy choice. The diverse coalition that helped Biden win the White House has some strong ideas about overhauling the system - firmer oversight of police departments, rethinking who and how many people are sent to prison. That sets up a dilemma. Do you pick a candidate who will shake up the way things have worked, or do you choose someone with experience managing more than 100,000 employees and a multibillion-dollar budget? Latino advocates are pushing for former civil rights chief Tom Perez. Perez helped usher in a wave of consent decrees with troubled police departments early in the Obama years.
TOM PEREZ: We're not in this to fix the blame. We're in this to fix the problem.
JOHNSON: But in recent years, Perez ran the Democratic National Committee, which might be too tied to political combat for a Biden AG. Others want to see a Black attorney general, like former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who led civil rights at Justice in the Clinton era. And Senate Republicans say they'd support outgoing Alabama Senator Doug Jones, who served as U.S. attorney in Birmingham in the late 1990s. Another leading candidate is former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. President Trump fired her 10 days into the administration for refusing to defend his travel ban for visitors from majority-Muslim countries. Yates referenced that episode at the Democratic Convention this year.
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SALLY YATES: That was the start of his relentless attacks on our democratic institutions and countless dedicated public servants.
JOHNSON: Before she became known for how she left Justice, Yates had been a career prosecutor working under Democrats and Republicans for 27 years. She brought to justice corrupt public officials in her native state of Georgia. During the Obama years, she helped promote education programs for incarcerated people and phased out DOJ contracts with private prisons. For deputy attorney general, the No. 2 job at Justice, one leading candidate is Neil MacBride. MacBride has been the top federal prosecutor in Northern Virginia, where he handled sensitive national security cases like this one.
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NEIL MACBRIDE: Today marks the first jury conviction of piracy in more than 190 years. These five Somali pirates were convicted of an armed assault in the high seas.
JOHNSON: MacBride has deep ties to Biden. He deferred law school 33 years ago to work on Biden's first campaign for president. Other new appointees at Justice could make history. Vanita Gupta, who ran the civil rights unit under President Obama, may be in line to serve as associate attorney general overseeing civil rights. California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger is a possible U.S. solicitor general, perhaps en route to the Supreme Court as the Black woman nominee Biden has promised. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
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