name is Annette Gordon-Reed. I’m the Charles Warren Professor
of American Legal History here at Harvard Law School. And it is my pleasure
to welcome you here for conversation with my dear
friend, Loretta Lynch, who almost needs no introduction,
but I will give her one anyway. [APPLAUSE] Loretta’s connections to Harvard
start at Harvard College. She’s a graduate of
the Harvard Law School. She is my classmate, 1984. And we went to the same
law firm after graduation. We became friends. She is the godmother
of my daughter, Susan, with my husband Robert Reed,
who was also a classmate. So this goes back a
very, very long way. And I cannot be more thrilled
to be here with her this evening on this august occasion,
from last night and today, and just this wonderful
celebration of the 200th anniversary of the
Harvard Law School. Loretta began her career as
an associate at Cahill Gordon and Reindel in New York City. She went to the US
Attorney’s Office for the Eastern
District of New York. LORETTA LYNCH: Brooklyn! ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
In the house! In the house! Too bad it’s not the Bronx. You could have said boogie down. But Brooklyn in the house. And then she became the
United States Attorney in the Clinton administration. She was back in private
practice, Hogan and Hartson, and then Hogan and Lovells
it became after that. Am I getting this right? LORETTA LYNCH: Yes, absolutely. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
And she came back for another stint as the
United States Attorney in the Obama administration,
and then became, after a little bit of
a delay, the Attorney General of the United
States of America. [APPLAUSE] I have to say, it was one of
the greatest moments, periods, of my life and my
husband’s life, because we always say that
if we were having a down day, or something was getting
to us, we could say, well, at least Loretta
is the Attorney General. And that would brighten
everything up from that. So it’s wonderful
to be here after all these years in a conversation
with her on this occasion. So, first, I’d like to
start off and ask you, how did you decide you
wanted to become a lawyer. And a compound question,
how did you decide to come here for law school? LORETTA LYNCH: My
path to law school was actually a
little circuitous. When I was a kid, it
was one of the things that I thought about,
as I’m sure many of us are in that same situation. But I actually
was very much torn between law and journalism. I really love the opportunity
to tell a good story. And I really love
the opportunity to do a little bit of
investigative journalism, as well. When I was here at
the college, I worked on the student television show. It was a public affairs show
through the closed circuit network that not too
many people knew existed. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
Well, I didn’t know. LORETTA LYNCH: And I would
run around and interview different people on campus
and throughout the Harvard community, as well as
in the Boston community. Although, I remember when
I was in college working on that student show, there was
a mayoral election at the time. And we were trying to talk
to the mayoral candidates. They talked to us. And this is still
at that point– it was right around,
I think, ’79, ’80, when those of us
working on the show– it was a very diverse group,
black students, white students. But we wanted to interview
people in South Boston, because they were having
a very strong voice in the mayoral election. And I remember as the producer
of that particular segment deciding that I should
not go to South Boston. Because even though
I wanted to go, and I wanted the
experience, it was not going to get the story the
way that we needed to get. So the issues that we’re
dealing with now are not new. So I was torn between
law and journalism. And ultimately, I thought
that, as an advocate, I could still tell a story
and also affect a change. I could tell a story or help
someone else tell their story. And that’s ultimately what I
was able to do, particularly when I became a prosecutor. I was able to help
witnesses and people who’ve been harmed to
tell their stories and actually get some
measure of justice. So that was my thought
process at the time. When I was here, I will
say, I thought, well, I’ll combine these
interests and do first amendment law, some
sort of communications law. But ultimately
kept finding myself pulled into public service. When I thought about
Harvard Law School, I did think about
going someplace else. I had spent four
years at the college, which, for me, was great. I came from North Carolina
and wanted very much to leave my home state and
be in a different state and meet new people. Of course, you realize
that you get here and people are the
same wherever they are. And the same issues
exist, also, particularly in terms of how people
view you, whether you’re a woman or a minority and all. I was just like, OK, I’m
familiar with this issue. And so I thought about
going someplace different, finding a different experience,
either in the west coast– I thought very much
about going to Stanford– but ultimately decided that
the friends that I had, who were at the law
school at that time, talked about their
experience in a way that, while it wasn’t perfect,
it was very appealing to me. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
But we’re, obviously, of the same generation. And that ’70S generation was
very much into journalism, as well. Because I had a similar kind
of feeling about the crusading nature of journalism. You know, Woodward
and Bernstein, they brought down a president. All these kinds of things
was very, very attractive. So that does sound
very familiar. But law is another
way of doing that. Did you think of yourself as
wanting to change the world? Was that part of it? LORETTA LYNCH: No, I
didn’t think of myself as wanting to change the world. But I did very much
have a view that you can’t have any change at all if
you don’t have a focus, if you don’t have the ability to
sort of analyze the issue and see both sides of the issue. And I was very much
influenced in that by the work that my
family did, particularly of my dad, who is a minister
and a frustrated lawyer, but he’s always been
involved in local politics and local issues. And whenever someone
has been denied tenure, or particularly minority kids
can’t get into certain schools, my father has been
working on those issues. And so having him show me
the importance of focusing on both sides of an issue and
finding the right arguments to effect change was effective. But I also saw from
that that you really make change one case at a time. It’s great to be
able to make policy. That’s the ultimate goal. But most of us can still make
a great deal of change one case at a time. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
So the law school– we were here at a
very interesting time. LORETTA LYNCH: We were. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: In the
law school, in the 1980s, and for the young people
here, law students. I guess everybody
thinks the moment that they are any place
is the pivotal time, but this was really interesting,
because the law school was not a very happy place. The faculty, members
of the faculty, were sort of at odds
with one another. The critical legal
studies movement was coming into play, and
more conservative elements of the faculty, and they
were at loggerheads. I came to law school
not knowing, really, what to expect. Was it what you thought it was
going to be when you got there? Did you pay any
attention to that? What was your impression
of the atmosphere? LORETTA LYNCH: No,
I also remember learning about
that conflict maybe by my second or third year. But first year, you don’t really
know what the faculty is doing. They are all-knowing, right? They are all powerful
in many ways, as well. And so you don’t really think–
you don’t really understand the dynamics that are going on. But I remember feeling
that there was definitely a lot of tension in the air. The issues, when we
were in law school, we were not as fortunate
as today’s students are to have as diverse
a faculty as you have. Not to say that there
isn’t room for improvement. But Derrick Bell
was tenured, but he was not present at the law
school during the ’80s. We’re class of ’84. He was at NYU. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
Clyde Ferguson. LORETTA LYNCH: Ferguson was
he here, but he was very ill. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: He was ill. I think he died our
second year, 2L year. LORETTA LYNCH: Yes. Yes. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: We
had no black professors besides Clyde Ferguson. And then Chris Edley came,
I think, our 3L year. LORETTA LYNCH: Yes. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: And Derrick
Bell came back after that. So it was an interesting moment. LORETTA LYNCH: So
Charles Ogletree, who is is everything to so many
of us, was still at that time running the public defender’s
office in Washington DC. But he was very active as an
alum, and he came back a lot. And I remember being a 3L and
working on the Black Alumni conference that we had
every year and particularly of him being very
helpful with that. He was always a resource,
but he wasn’t a professor. He wasn’t thinking about
teaching at that time. He was still a very
active practitioner. And we had a petition
going at one point to try and to get
student support for more diverse faculty, more
minorities and more women. Martha Minow started teaching
when we were in law school. And we had numbers of
people who were visiting, professors, who ultimately
were not given appointments. And so a number of us
were very disappointed. In those days, you
just didn’t really know what the opposition was. And those of you
who had Dean Minow, she was a very engaged dean. Dean Vorenberg was not
as engaged with students. I will say he always
met with students. If you asked for a meeting
with him, he was responsive. But you just– there
was just this opacity to the entire faculty. And then later, as
you know, we did learn that there was a
lot of tension about what should be the main
focus of legal education here at the school,
and what should be the role of critical legal
studies here at the school. And that was playing out. And to an extent,
I really do think– to be very blunt, I
think that the students suffered because of that. Because you have a
better experience in any graduate school if
you have an engaged faculty. The benefit of being at
a professional school like Harvard is the breadth
of diversity of experience, at least of the faculty. And the ability to
connect with someone who can illuminate
your way forward, who can talk about
what you might want to focus on
or specialize in, and can give you some
insight into that. And they were definitely
focused on a lot of infighting. We had some people who
were still responsive. You could get a meeting
and all, but it was a very different experience. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
It’s like anything. There were professors
that I had that– you would seek them out and
their door would be open. But for the most part
there was a general sense of there was something
going on that was interfering
with the atmosphere and changing the atmosphere. I have to say, Loretta– we were not in the same section. We were not in the same section. And this was in the days when
the sections were 140 each, and it changes the whole
atmosphere to have it. And people say, oh,
knocking it down. I have to tell you,
this group of students, they are much
nicer than we were. Much nicer than we were. We used to hiss
each other in class when people said things
that you disagreed with, the whole business. LORETTA LYNCH: Turkey bingo. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
Turkey bingo. All kinds of things
that were not very nice. But I tell you, the students
today are nicer than we were. And maybe it was a fallout from
everything that was going on. But it was an
interesting moment. You had people who talked
to you about law school before you came. Did you have a sense
of what to expect in the classes from the
professors and so forth? Because many people don’t. I would have to say,
I arrived here not– I talked to people
about classes, my classmates from
Dartmouth who’d come here, but not in the same way you did. You had the advantage of a form
of mentorship in a way, right? LORETTA LYNCH: Well, I did have. Because I was here
at Harvard College, I did meet law students. Black law students, who
were, at the time, 1L, 2L, when I was a
junior and senior, and you would meet them
in different activities. And so that was extremely
beneficial to have somebody who had already gone
through at least one or two years sort of walk
you through what to expect. Although, it really is– even though I had been here
four years in Cambridge, it is still a shock to
the system to come here. It absolutely is. When I was starting
law school, I had Professor Miller
for Civil Procedure. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
Give her the section. Who did you have
for your section? LORETTA LYNCH: Arthur Miller. Lloyd Weinreb. David Westfall, and I can’t
remember who else I had, who I had for torts. It was a fairly good group,
but they were very different. And you’d get this
information sort of generally from a lot of different
students about what professors were like. And what we were told
about Professor Miller was that the very first
case he taught on diversity jurisdiction– because
one of the parties was from North Carolina–
he would always call on the student from
North Carolina in the class. And that was me that
particular year. And so I go in, first
day, I have read this case backwards and forwards. I don’t know what
I’m looking at. It seemed a little– it didn’t seem that
tough to me, actually. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Which is
how you know there’s a problem. LORETTA LYNCH: That
there’s a problem. I was like, what exactly
is the issue here? And he doesn’t call on me. He calls on somebody and
makes a statement about I’m going to break tradition,
and he calls on somebody– and sort of threw the whole
rhythm of the class off. Because everyone is sort
of laying back, thinking, OK, well, Loretta
will fall first, and then it’ll be our turn. And it didn’t happen that way. And everyone was
like, what’s he doing? But it still can be a
shock to the system. Because you come here,
and particularly– I enjoyed law school. I enjoyed the critical thinking. I enjoyed focusing
on, as I said before, both sides of the issue. But you get these
interesting questions. I remember when he did
finally call on me, we’re talking about
diversity jurisdiction. He says, why do you
think we have it? It was another southern case. And I said, well,
part of the reason it’s going to be that,
at this particular time, there still is tension
between North and South, even though it’s well into
the early 20th century. And there’s a lot of
prejudice against the South, and so you’ve got to think about
how you handle those issues. I sort of knew that from my
experience being a Southerner. He said to me, what book
did you read that in? Where did you get that from? Did you get that from a
nut shell or something? I said, no, it’s
obvious, if you have– ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
You said it’s obvious? LORETTA LYNCH: Certain things. I would say, the one
thing about the law school is that it’s a great place. It was a great place for us. But if you came from a
different part of the country, if you came from a
different culture, sometimes there was a view that the
Northeastern experience, the Northeastern academic
or legal experience, is the only one that counts. And so when you bring your
other world view to it– and I’m talking as a
Southerner who has seen this play out just
in life every day. And so it’s sort of
like, wow, that’s not part of this erudite
academic experience. And so you do get a lot of
that, both at the law school and at the college. So you have to sort of
keep pretty grounded and keep an eye on
where your roots are, because there is a larger
world than Harvard Law School. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: What
was the most surprising thing about it? LORETTA LYNCH: You know, I
think the most surprising thing about it was, to
me, was probably– even though I knew
people would be intense– was how intense
some people were. To the point of– and I will say that when
some of my older friends, people who were ahead of
me, said to me, sometimes you’re gonna go in the library
looking for a book– yes, we had to use books
in those days. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
There’s these things. They have paper in them. LORETTA LYNCH: And
you’re going to look for the seminal case
being discussed, and someone will have ripped the
pages out before you got there. I thought, oh, come on. This is the paper chase. This is sort of like,
you know, anecdotal– ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Had you
read that before you came? LORETTA LYNCH: I
think I did read that. I think I did read that. And then I actually
had that happen to me. I actually was in
the library just doing some general research,
looking for a particular case. There was a seminal case
in a particular field, and it had been ripped
out of the book. And I remember thinking,
really, people? Really? This level of intensity, I
think, comes from the fear that you all have in
a new environment. We all have it. The fear of not being successful
in this new environment, and you have to hold
on to everything. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
And it’s such a– the intensity, it’s
a group of people. All the people who
are here are people who are used to being
the best or patted on the head and everything. And then you come to
this place– my husband and I say, for many people,
it’s like green star time. You remember when
you’re growing up, they had the gold star, the
red star, and the green star? And this is like
green star time. You learned that
you’re not as– people learn that they’re not
as brilliant as they think they are. There are many people– there’s always somebody who’s
going to be ahead of you. And so any kind of way that
you can get the jump on people, you do. Of course, now you don’t– you
can’t cut pages out anymore. Not that is relevant,
fortunately. So the competitiveness of it. What did you like
the most about it? You said you liked the classes. But in terms of your
classmates, what– LORETTA LYNCH: I
like the camaraderie. I was fortunate enough to make– ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Did
you do a study group? LORETTA LYNCH: I did. I did two different
study groups first year, two, maybe even three. And made friends who are
friends of my heart today. The support that I
got from the friends that I made in law
school was tremendous. And just a different
perspective from people, from different parts
of the country, and who were sort of seeing
it through a slightly different lens than I was
was eye opening to me. And so that was helpful. And to talk things
through with people and work through to a
conclusion was something that you end up doing very
much as a prosecutor actually. It’s very much a
collaborative kind of effort that goes on between your
colleagues and the agents with whom you work. And so working
through those issues was very, very helpful for me. But they are– you have to
sort of decide for yourself on a lot of things. There were things that
happened in law school, and you and I were talking
about my first year criminal law class. And we’re– criminal procedure
and we’re studying jury selection. And we’re studying Batson
challenges, in particular, and the rise of the use
of race as a consideration for the courts, both appellate
and the Supreme Court, as they consider cases. There was a time when there
was no such thing as Batson, believe it or not,
and you could have wildly improper
jury selection going on that was never challenged. And it was this
case that we had. It was a black man convicted
of raping a white woman and on fairly skimpy evidence. And there were some serious
issues about jury selection– that was what we were
studying in the case. And I remember raising
my hand in class. And we’d been talking
about this issue. And I asked the
professor, I said, well, why do you think that
in this particular case the court, in this
decision, did not deal with the racial
issues in this case? And I remember my
professor saying to me, there are no racial
issues in this case. This is a case purely
about jury selection and what questions are
proper or improper. And it doesn’t have
anything to do with the race of the defendant or the victim. And I just thought, what? And so you can– and this is a great school,
and I’ve learned a lot. But you can get your head
in the clouds here a lot and sort of forget that the
law is about real people. And particularly in criminal
law, as I ultimately came to work in that
field, but the cases about criminal law and procedure
are going to be fairly serious. Because they’re going to
involve constitutional issues, and every case is a life. But it was just sort of
this academic exercise. And I just thought, there
is a disconnect here between how I see the
world and how this is being played back to me. And we all were always
told, go sit down, go visit your professor,
go to your professor and go talk to them. And this really did trouble me. And I remember going to talk to
this professor, who was always very open, would make
appointments with you, and was very generous
with his time. We were talking about
this, and I said, I just want to go over this. I said, I really didn’t
understand the point you were making in class. I just didn’t– I didn’t get it. To me, this case has
obvious racial implications for a host of reasons. And he said, well, I’m
viewing it academically. And I just thought,
you know, if you’re the defendant in
a case like this, or if you are the victim in
a case, this is not academic. But we haven’t had
the discussion. And finally, I remember
he said to me, well, do all the black
students feel this way? And I thought,
well, I don’t know. I’m just talking to you. I have not done a poll. And I said, I don’t know. I just need some
help understanding how you’re viewing this and
why my way of viewing it doesn’t seem to be the way
that’s going to get the grade, frankly. And so we keep talking
and keep talking. And he made a point
about something else. And I said, well, do all
the white professors here feel that way? And he literally went,
you know, jumped back. And to his credit, he
said, OK, I get it. I get it. I see what you’re saying here. So there were
moments when you’re talking with someone
who comes from a totally different background,
totally different perspective of the law, and totally
different way of looking at the law, where you
could make that connection. And that, to me, was
always very rewarding. But it was difficult,
at times, to have that with every professor
or on every issue. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
Well, I think we’ve grown a lot in that way. I think there are
still complaints about not discussing
race enough in classes where it’s obviously– I teach criminal procedure. And there’s no way to teach
criminal procedure without race being a part of it. I can’t imagine
anybody doing that. But at the time
that we were here, I could see people feeling,
who didn’t have the experiences and didn’t understand that
now– and with the students who speak up about these
kinds of things, because you have to do a lot
of educating, quite frankly. That’s a burden that
African-American students have and sometimes
African-American faculty have, or any places where
you’re going where there are not that
many black people, to point these things out. And it’s really
good that you went to talk to him,
because you probably helped another
generation of people, another group of
students, because he would think differently
about it after having that kind of conversation. Now, you’ve mentioned
a couple of times how the law school helped
you as a prosecutor. But that’s not how
you started out. First, did you think
of going to a law firm when you came to law school? Was that what you
had in mind to do? LORETTA LYNCH: I was not sure. Because again, I
was thinking more about communications, first
amendment, or some kind of journalistic opportunity. And so that would be
either a law firm, possibly a regulatory
institution, something to do with that. I really didn’t know
that much about the world of what lawyers did, other than
what I had seen growing up. And it was in the
litigation of my area in North Carolina and always
being aware of civil rights law, in particular. Because I was fortunate enough
to be from the same state as Julius Chambers, who was
a huge leader in civil rights work and was revered
in North Carolina, and so saw those
important issues. But I didn’t really know. And I will say that I
think one of the advantages that I hope students
have now is seeing the different opportunities
that there are in law. And seeing the different options
that you, in fact, do have. So when we were in
law school, there were very few paths
that were open to us. I was also fortunate enough
to be on the Legal Aid Bureau for a year, and so
spent a lot of time with people who were thinking
about public interest work even then. But it was difficult, frankly,
if you couldn’t afford it. There were very few public
interest fellowships or scholarships at that time. It’s much better now. But going directly
into public interest was a choice everyone
could not afford to make, even if people were
incredibly committed to it. That was just one
of the realities of the practice at that time. So I did have exposure
to that and considered myself very lucky to do that. But it was– you either went
to a law firm, or you clerked. Or you might have done
some public interest work. People didn’t get a lot of
LLMs at that time, either. Now people are
focusing more on that. And the SJD students, you
come back and do that. But it was pretty much– we were all kind of
tracked into law firm life. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: One of the
charges that students have is that the law school pushes
people towards law firms. And I remember my class,
my section’s first year, Abe Chayes, Dershowitz, Duncan
Kennedy, and Charlie Donahue. He laughed, Charlie Donahue. Yes, he’s still here. Charlie Donahue. They kind of were not so
thrilled about firm work. They were pushing us or telling
us that being a public service, not necessarily public
interest, but government work, that that was the thing to do. So they always
acted disappointed if people talked about– so I
didn’t feel that I was tracked. But it may be that just because
there are so many more jobs, as you are suggesting, so
many more jobs in most places, it’s an easy thing to do that
lot of people went into it. I sort of stumbled into that. I certainly didn’t
come to Harvard Law School thinking that I was
going to go to a law firm. Because I really didn’t
know about the world of law firms other than in a very
superficial kind of way. Even if it’s not– LORETTA LYNCH: Nor
could we have predicted the world of law firms. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: No,
we could not have predicted the world of law firms. That was something that was
a completely different place. And we ended up at the
same place, Cahill Gordon and Reindel, which, if
I’m recalling that year, had a huge class of
black associates. There were like six of
us or something, which for that time period was large. How did you choose Cahill? LORETTA LYNCH: I
chose Cahill because of their First
Amendment practice and their strong
litigation practice. I wanted something that
would give me litigation, but also, in general– ANNETTE GORDON-REED: You had
been a summer associate there, though. I was a summer associate there. LORETTA LYNCH: Yeah,
I did a summer there. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: The
First Amendment, Floyd and Deb and those people
that you were going to work with, I did a little
bit of work with them as well. But that’s what
they’re known for. That’s why you chose it? LORETTA LYNCH: Yes. Although, you know–
everyone goes there for that. And so you know you’re not
going to be doing that 100%. And will you be the
chosen one and get to work on a case with Floyd? Who was great and was a great
teacher and a great instructor. But I will say that the
dynamic at that time, certainly in the ’80s, was
that law firms, particularly in New York, but
all the big cities, were talking a lot more about
diversity than they ever had before. And there was a push to bring
more, particularly young, black associates into firms. But I think because
they were really at the first stage
of that, once they got a large number
of black associates, or even a large number
of women associates, they didn’t really know
what to do with us. And that’s– ANNETTE GORDON-REED: When you
say they didn’t know what to do with us– LORETTA LYNCH: That’s been
the problem with law firms, I think, throughout. And I think it continues
to be a problem with firms. This perception that
if you want to change the face of the legal
profession, which people were professing to do at that time,
we’ll hire a bunch of people, drop them in this mix
with everybody else, and then sort of let
them fend for themselves, or leave them alone. And what happened
was, because people were so concerned
about interacting with you in the
“wrong way,” they wouldn’t interact
with you at all. And in a law firm,
interaction is everything. It’s how you learn. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Exactly. That’s how you– I remember going to Houston
for some depositions and coming back
after things were over, around 6 or 7 o’clock. And we were supposed to
go to dinner afterwards. And it was just me and
this other associate. And we got to the door of the
restaurant, and then he said– it was the Four
Seasons– he said, I think I’ll just go upstairs
and order room service, and you can do the same. And I remember
thinking, he doesn’t want to go to dinner
without people knowing that we are professional. Like going out to dinner
with a black woman, like we were on a
date or something. And I think he was
uncomfortable with that. And you think, well,
here’s a moment where you can’t go sit down with
somebody after something’s over and say, so why did
you ask this question? What was this about? You can’t learn in those
kind of informal settings because people are uncomfortable
in that kind of situation. If I had been, I would
imagine, a white guy, or even a white woman, necessarily,
it wouldn’t have seemed as strange to people. So if you think about when you
say putting people in and just letting them fend
for themselves, you’re not thinking about the
dynamics of race in the country overall and understanding
how those kinds of things will shape people’s behavior. LORETTA LYNCH: But also
the dynamics of gender. Because I don’t
know that he would have sat down with a
young white woman either. I remember, also
at our firm, there were some people who were
clearly marked for partnership track, and it was a time
when they had just started hiring huge associate classes. It was clear that everyone
they hired, 40 people a year, were never going to
stay and make partner. But ahead of you, several
years ahead of you, as you looked to
senior people, you could see the associates
who were doing well, who were thought well
of, who were definitely on partnership track. And I remember one
of the young women litigation associates
who was really doing well and was also just
a wonderful person. And when she had her
first child and came back from maternity leave, she wanted
to work part time for a period. And it almost split the firm. The discussions and the
committees and the meetings– it took them months
to decide if that meant she was still committed
to the practice of law. And I will say that that was
an instructive moment for me as a young woman. And one that I actually
thought of a lot later on when I became a manager
in the US attorney’s office and had to deal with the same
issue of managing people who needed to also make
time for their families. I remember thinking
at that time– because Cahill,
it’s a great firm. It still is a great firm. But like everywhere,
you work hard. You don’t want to answer your
phone at 5 o’clock on a Friday, because you know you’re going
to be there all weekend and all this and that. And I remember
thinking, if she wants to continue working
in this environment after having produced the most
important person in her life, of course she’s
committed to this firm. To me, it was also all
how you look at it. That stuck with me. That something that the law,
as a field, has trouble with. In large part because law
is a reactionary field. People come to you
with a problem. People come to
you with an issue. Unless you are really
a true counselor, often in the corporate
world you’re not really proactive about
seeking out issues. You try and point them
out for your clients. But for the most part,
the law is reactive. And that mindset, I think,
makes it very hard for the law to change on these
issues of gender and racial and ethnic diversity. Because it’s the way
we’ve always done things. And unless someone brings it
to you, as is now happening, and began to happen when
we were in at our firm, clients begin to demand it,
you don’t see a lot of change in law firms. And also, when we
were in law firm, the profession was
changing very much, also. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
Absolutely, absolutely. Yes, yes. We’ve noted the number–
the huge classes. I was talking to her earlier
about being on a deal at Cahill and seeing the old
routing slips that they had with the names on
them, names of associates, names of partners. And virtually everybody
at this earlier moment who had been an associate
had made it to partnership. And that’s a very
different model. When you hire people with
the expectation that you’re going to train them– and then actually it’s
important to the client. Because the client knows
that you have hired– this person may be
their lawyer later on. It makes a big difference
in the way you’re treated, versus being brought in
pretty much as fodder, you could say, to be throwing
at cases and billing hours and so forth. It’s a very, very different
experience for people. And it’s not that we didn’t
get anything out of it. You get a high salary
for a few years. You get to pay your loans back. You get to live relatively
well and whatever, or save money, or not. But it’s a quid
pro quo for that. They own you for a time,
and you get a lot of money. But it’s not– it’s law
really much as a business. I have to say, as
a legal historian, people have been saying that
law is no longer a profession. It has become a business
since the 1790s. It’s a recurring theme
older people talking about the young generation. But the ’80s were
really, really different. The rise of leveraged buyouts,
of financial institutions, investment banking taking off. At Cahill, we did Drexel. They were a client–
and Mike Milken and all those crew of people. And this was a moment
when lawyers apparently got sort of jealous of
the people who were there, the investment bankers. We’d go home at– they’d go home at midnight,
and we’d be there to 2:00 AM in the morning. And they’d be making
three times as much money. And that’s when a lot
of lawyers started thinking that I’m leaving law
and go into financial houses. So the ’80s were a big deal,
too, not just in law schools. It was sort of a pivotal
point in legal education and legal profession overall. LORETTA LYNCH: I think
that’s absolutely true. And certainly the shift
to the business model was probably more stark
in that time period. But you still saw the expansion
of associate classes, at least at the beginning at the big
New York and other large city firms. And I think we’re still
seeing another shift in the profession, which is
the outsourcing of legal work that is diminishing. The training ground
that used to be the province of young
associates in firms is being outsourced in
large part for client considerations of cost. When I ultimately was
a partner in the 2000s, that was a big issue there. And we began to use contract
lawyers more and more. And so that model is
shifting even more. And so as I look
back on that, I think that the takeaway is that– I still think the law’s
a wonderful profession. And I think it is, for
me, a profession that truly can be transformative. But I do think that for
every lawyer at every stage in your career, it’s important
to realize that you’re investing a lot of yourself
into whatever model you’re in and make sure that you’re also
getting something out of it. I think people are
often surprised at how transferable the skills
are that you learn in one model to another. Because, again,
law is reactionary, and it’s very traditional. I think people tend
to have a lot of fear about change, about
changing what they do and how they do it. And I would see that
at the firm, too. People who were unhappy or
people at different firms, also– you start having
lunch with different people in your class at
different firms– and people who were just
so unhappy at their firms. And I would think to myself,
then why are you still there? It is just not worth this
level of psychic angst when you’re not
getting anything out of it but really negativity. You’ve got to realize that– what law school is giving,
or certainly should be giving, to all
of us is the ability to manage the way in which we
think and process information and guide others and see issues
and look around the corner and see things. And that that is
something that you can pick up and move
from model to model as your profession changes. But when it happens,
when it starts happening, and you don’t understand
it, it can be scary. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: What’s with
all this prosecutor business? You were a defense attorney
there with me, defending albeit companies, powerful companies. How did you decide to
switch gears and go over to the dark side? LORETTA LYNCH: I prefer to think
of it as moving into the light, but I take your meaning. It’s an interesting choice
to become a prosecutor. And for me, it was a
perfect fit right away, but you never know when
you make that move. And I talked to people
about it, and people who had been both state
prosecutors as well as federal prosecutors, and
wanted to do my own trials. I wanted to run my own cases. I wanted to do the
investigations. I liked the part about putting
the pieces of the puzzle together. But for me, the
prosecutorial angle was about playing an active role
in both cases and policy that were going to protect people. And I think that
I’ve always felt that when you look
at society, you can tell what a society values
by what and whom they protect. And so you can look at the
criminal justice system and get a blueprint
for how people value certain types of victims,
certain types of crimes, certain types of activity. And I’ve always felt that
as tangled and difficult a relationship that the minority
community has and still has with law enforcement, that
that community deserves to be protected just
like any other community, maybe even more so. And truly protected
in a way that is organic and part
of the community, as opposed to the whole
occupying force that goes on. And so I had a view that I
wanted to work on those issues. And I also wanted
to go to court, and I wanted to do
trials and have fun. Which, for me, when
I was in law school, I did a mock trial moot court. I did a criminal law moot
court that was just amazing. I loved every minute of that
and remembered that experience. And at Cahill, I
was fortunate enough to work on a few small
cases that either went to hearings or trials. And you’re watching the
partner up there thinking, I wouldn’t ask that question. I wouldn’t do that. And talking to people
who made that leap and being able to do that was– when I finally made
the move– it was a tremendous privilege to me. And partly also because
when you go into government, you’re in a situation
where, unlike a law firm, everyone has got
to work flat out. It’s harder to ignore
different people when you need everybody on deck. At a law firm, they kind
of shuffle you around and move you around. But certainly in the
US attorney’s office, you were given a case and
you had to run with it. And I chose an office
that, although it didn’t have a large number
of minorities– there were only two other
black AUSAs at the time. There were a lot of women in the
Brooklyn US attorney’s office and a lot of them in
supervisory positions. And so that told me that
if you proved yourself and if you did well, that
you could move forward. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
That’s so important. If you’re looking for a
job, looking at anything, look at who has advanced,
how people are advanced, and who gets advanced. And that tells you a lot
about the institution. So what was the most
difficult thing to get used to coming from the firm? You talk about all of the nice
things, all the great things. You get to do cases,
ask questions. What are– LORETTA LYNCH: The
65% pay cut was not– probably the hardest thing
was telling my parents that’s what I was going to do. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Oh, really? LORETTA LYNCH: Having
them go, you’re going to– and then particularly
when I told them, yeah, I’m so excited about it. I’m going to do this. I’m going to work
on criminal cases. My mother was like, and
so what’s the salary? And I shared that with her. And then, of course, I had
a friend in the office. And I rather excitedly told them
how she’d been in the office only a few years, and one
of her disgruntled witnesses had tried to kill her, and– ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Well, you
were prosecuting gangsters, gang members and so forth. LORETTA LYNCH: Yeah, so it
was tough, because you’ve got expectations. You’ve got expectations. If you don’t come
from a family that has a long legal tradition
of other lawyers, you’re sort of it. And you go to
Harvard, and you’re on Wall Street, and this– and for all of us, I
think, you want to make your family proud of you. There’s nothing wrong with that. You want to make them happy. And it’s great for them to
feel great about what you do. But ultimately, it’s your
life, and it is your career, and it’s your time,
and it’s your energy. And my family was always
very supportive of that. Although, I do
remember the night before I was going
to start working at the US attorney’s office. My father called me
up and said, you know, I bet you if you called your old
firm, they would take you back. They really liked you. I bet you they
would take you back. And I remember
saying to him, look, you sent me to Harvard
College and Harvard Law School and to Wall Street. Which is, frankly,
something that I don’t know that they envisioned
their middle child doing in the ’50s when I was born. If at the end of
all of that there’s only one thing that I
can do, then I really have wasted my time. And so I would say
that to everybody. Whether you’re a
student or an alum, whether you’re changing
your career, whether you love your career or not. If you’ve been
fortunate enough to go to this institution or
any great law school, there is so much
that you can do. And it is so easy to think
that there’s only one thing that I can do. This path is comfortable. It’s familiar. It’s well trod. And it may be the path for you. It very well may be. But I always urge people to–
when something comes along that really grabs you and
really touches you– take that leap. At least once in your
career take that leap. Because it will change you. It’ll change you
in ways that you will never imagine at the time. And maybe it won’t work out
the way that you think it will. I didn’t go to the
US attorney’s office thinking– my plan was not
to become the US attorney. I did not know
that that was going to be my path when I got there. But it was a path
that opened up for me. And I was able to keep
walking on that path. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
Because nobody’s done it. Nobody’s done it,
besides, I guess, it was Jefferson’s US
attorney who started out. He was an attorney,
became Attorney General. But you worked your way up. So you can have planned that
this is what I’m going to do, because it wasn’t
a path that was– LORETTA LYNCH: Yeah,
there was no path for it. But I took the leap. And the best things that
have come to me, frankly, have been when I’ve
taken that leap. When someone said, I’m
going to give you this case, and I want you to try it. And you say, OK. You’re just going
to run with that. When someone called
me up and said, do you want to come to Tanzania
and teach in a war crimes tribunal with me? And you say, OK, I’m
going to run with that. And you’ve got to take
that leap, you really do. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: One of my
professors, Professor Horowitz, who said that people who come to
Harvard Law School and Harvard and schools like that very often
think that there is only one thing that they can do. In some ways, the people who we
have the most choices, the best opportunities, limit
themselves, saying there’s only a few
things we can do, because they’re
staying on that path. LORETTA LYNCH: But it
can be scary to get off the path of success. It can be. It can be, but you
can’t predict success. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Yeah,
you can’t predict success. And coming to a place
like this and the schools that you’ve gone
to, it opens doors. It may not work the
way you want it to do, but you have the flexibility
to try something else. So you’re the US attorney. You go back into
private practice. You’re called back into office
again, another public service. And then you go to the
Justice Department. Well, you’re part of the
Justice Department there. What does the Justice Department
mean to you as an institution? What do you think it
means to the country? LORETTA LYNCH: I think, having
been in and out of justice since 1990, when I
first joined the office, and I was tremendously
proud to be an AUSA, and still think that is
probably the best job in the Department of Justice. Although Attorney
General is pretty good. It really is pretty good. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
She could call up and get a reservation anywhere. Doesn’t have to
worry about anything. LORETTA LYNCH: But that ability
to touch people’s lives. And I felt tremendously lucky. And, although, again,
it terrified my parents. I did start out work– ANNETTE GORDON-REED: It
terrified your parents? LORETTA LYNCH: I worked on a
lot of violent crime cases. And I worked on a lot
of cases that involved witness tampering and threats. I was never threatened. I feel very fortunate I was not. Some my friends were. Some of my colleagues were. But I did not have
that experience. But to be able to
talk to someone who’s been touched by
particularly organized crime violence, or gang violence,
something that just kind of hits out of the blue,
and be able to bring some measure of justice to
them, or at least let them know what happened and why this
tragedy has hit their family, is really gratifying. And so I always had this view
that the Department of Justice couldn’t touch real lives. And then, of course,
obviously, from the importance of the civil rights
movement to my own family, and my father
revering how justice had come in and supported
that movement in the ’60s, the importance of it then. And so I think– and even as Attorney
General, I would talk to people around
the country about cases and get requests for help. We had this terrible issue
with police brutality, or police violence,
and we need DOJ’s help. We had a terrible environmental
spill in the early part of the Obama administration. The Department of Justice
did tremendous work resolving that in terms
of trying to provide real help to the Gulf Coast. So people look at the Department
of Justice and they lean on it. That means a lot to me. It always has. They view us almost as
the place of last resort where you can go and get help. And I would look at the
letters I would get sometimes, both as US attorney and
as Attorney General, from people who
just wanted help. They just wanted some fairness. They wanted to see
fairness in the system. And to be able to, first of
all, to have them trust you with that issue or that pain or
their story means a great deal. And it should mean a great deal
if you’re going to work at DOJ. And then to be
able to try and use the law in a way
that’s actually going to effectuate positive change. So, for me, the department,
as you can tell, it means a lot to me. As I’ve often said,
it’s the only cabinet agency named for an ideal. And that makes it
different to me. It makes it special to me. It means living up to that name
is more than just coming in and marking up documents. It is coming in with a mindset
that what I’m going to do is going to move the arc of
the universe towards justice in some way. And when I look back on
the work of the Department over the years,
it has done that. It has done that. But I will say that
it hasn’t always been that bulwark for everyone. It hasn’t always been
that source of comfort or that refuge for everyone. And I think that is part of the
challenge of the department. It’s part of the challenge
of government writ large as part of the
challenge that we’re facing. And we faced it at various
times in this country. I think we’re very
much facing it now. And so those of us who love the
department and have been there, or people who lean on
the department, I think can still take
lessons from what DOJ means and use that to continue
the work that has always been an important part of
moving towards equality in this country. If you look back
at the many of– frankly, most– of the
desegregation cases involving schools, that
wasn’t the department. That was the NAACP
Legal Defense Fund. If you look at a lot
of cases involving the advancement of
immigrant rights, that hasn’t always
been the department. It may have been MALDEF
or other advocacy groups who do impact litigation. There’s tremendous partners
for the department. But when there are
times when, for whatever the reason, whether it’s
who’s in a particular chair, or the policies
that are adopted, the department is not going
to be that last, best refuge. I think it’s
important to remember that the message of the
Department of Justice is we can all play
a part in its work. We can all have a role to play. We all do have a role to
play in equality and justice and moving that needle further. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Before we
start to talk about the Justice Department today, I just
wanted to ask you a little bit about being a manager. Have you always wanted to be– there’s a difference being
a litigator, a lawyer, and being a manager. What do you like
about being a manager, and what are the problems
with being a manager? Do you think you’re a good one? Obviously, you’re a good one. LORETTA LYNCH: I was surprised
how much I liked management. When I was in the US
attorney’s office, you made your bones
during trials. You had your big case. And I worked on Asian organized
crime cases and corruption cases. And I was fortunate enough to
work on the Louima case, which was definitely one
that changed my life and perspective in many ways. But I had been asked to be a
manager sort of in the midpoint of my career. And initially
thought, first of all, I’m going lose all my
friends in the office. But I thought it
was a challenge. And I thought,
oh, I’ll try this. I’ll take this. And I was surprised at
how much I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed
then, and enjoy now, helping other young
lawyers be the best litigator that they can be. Helping someone craft
a trial strategy was very rewarding for me. And so I did some teaching. I taught a lot of trial advocacy
work for the department. I did a semester at St. John’s
Law School teaching trial advocacy. Taught at the tribunal. And really, really
enjoyed that, and found that I enjoyed it a lot. And I always thought that
the best tools for me, as a manager, were remembering
the difficult managers I had had. As I mentioned earlier,
thinking back to that experience that we had at Cahill
when this rising star of a young litigator found
her very integrity as a lawyer being questioned because she
wanted to work part time. I thought was just
stunning to me. It shouldn’t have
been, at the time, that was very much
the world view of it. And so when I became a manager
and to deal with those issues, I decided to take the
view that everyone’s got something to contribute
to this organization. And it’s going to change
over time how much you can contribute and what
you can contribute, but everyone’s got
something to contribute. And I did and do believe
that, particularly, whether it’s the mother
or the father who needs parental leave, if
you’re going to leave the most precious thing in the
world behind and continue to do the very, very
difficult work that I require of you as an AUSA,
then you were committed. You were committed
to the office, and that should be rewarded. And as a manager, it’s
my job to figure out how to make that work. It shouldn’t be your job
to figure out how to change the institution around you. It should be the institution’s
job to hear what you need and use those needs to continue
to get the best out of you and strengthen the institution. And that was also
influenced a lot by Cahill. Cahill’s a great firm. But they’re managed– at
least when we were there, if you remember,
the style was you were brought in as
an associate, and you had to run around
and get your work. You had to run around and
meet partners and ask to be on their teams and get work. And I remember
thinking, so you’re taking the people with the
least knowledge, the least experience, and asking
them to essentially decide who’s going to work on
the most important cases within this firm. It just did not– it seemed
a little backwards to me. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
Well, it seemed backwards, and it seemed attractive,
actually, at the time, because you’re sort of
like a freelance person. But as an individual
who is trying to think about
mentorship, learning all those kinds of things,
I think it’s probably better to have started out with
a group of people who help guide you doing things. LORETTA LYNCH: Yeah. Everyone needs a template. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
Everybody needs a template. So when you get to
be a manager, you can figure out how not to
do those kinds of things, to do things to make it better. LORETTA LYNCH: Yeah. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: So I want
to ask you about the Justice Department today. Because as happy as I was
to have you as the Attorney General, I was equally
upset when you were no longer the Attorney General. I remember sitting on an
airplane, and a friend of mine texted me to say that there
was a new Attorney General, and I started crying. I know everybody on the
plane thought I was crazy. There’s a new Attorney General. Your thoughts about
where we are now, and where you would
like– where you would hope to see the
department go in the future. LORETTA LYNCH: Well, my hopes
for the department I tried to work on while I was there. And I think the
department is clearly a very different place than
when I was there, because it’s a different administration. Every administration
gets to pick their priorities, what’s
important to them, and they get to implement them. I’ve seen that over the
course of my career. I think this is one of the
more stark examples of change. I personally find
it disappointing that in so many
ways the main policy seems to be, what can
we erase as opposed to what can we create? I don’t find that a healthy
management style or management tool because of what it does
to an organization overall, regardless of what’s being
erased or who is being erased. But I will say that we have
to accept that elections have consequences, and
there are going to be changes, Even in
an institution that we hold in the regard that I hold
the Department of Justice. And I think, for me, I
come to that because I’ve been through transition before. I left my first
time as US attorney at the end of the
Clinton administration. And at the beginning of the Bush
administration there was talk. There had been this
tradition in New York that the New York US
attorneys would stay on even if the administration
turned over if you hadn’t finished your term. But the Bush
administration didn’t want to do that, which is also,
again, perfectly appropriate. It’s not an unusual
thing, as well. And so I’ve seen the
departure of one group and the incoming
views of people who have a different
perspective on things. And what I took from that
then is what I take now and what I often
share with people who were still either in the
Department or who’ve moved on. Which is that you
never really leave the Department of Justice, or
it certainly never leaves you. And leaving an
administration, all that means is you take it with
you wherever you go. And one of the reasons
that we’re all there is, in fact, to learn
and to gather information and to make changes but
also to spread that change. It really is to
spread that change into the next place or places
that we may find ourselves. Because administrations
live on in that way. And legacies live
on in that way. So I think that, even though
I think the department– I think they’ve
continued some things. They’re focused
on violent crime. That was consistent with
what we were doing before– ANNETTE GORDON-REED: They’re
continuing with that? LORETTA LYNCH: Yeah, it’s
not new for the department to prosecute violent crime. It’s not new. I’m delighted that
they’re sending help to Iowa to prosecute the
murder of the young transgender teenager there. But that’s sort of a
case by case thing. And one thing I have
learned as a manager is that individual cases
do not a policy make. And when you’re talking about
the department as a whole, you do have to think
about the policies. Because you want things to fit
in with a certain framework. I would always say, when
people would ask me, what do you want to tell
the new people coming in? It’s not my place to tell you
how to run the department. But what I would say
to anybody moving into any new situation is, look
at what’s worked in the past, but most importantly,
look at what has not worked in the past. And in particular, as we look
at this return to a focus on– a narrow focus on
mandatory minimum sentences and going for the
harshest penalty and not having a view that
we have any responsibility to adjudicate a case based
on the individual defendants. Look at how that has
worked out in the past. Because it has not
worked out well and hasn’t worked out well for
those individual defendants and their families
and their communities. But it hasn’t worked out
well for the country. We’ve removed swaths
of young people, mostly young men of
color, from communities when they’re needed the most. We’ve pulled them out
of the job market, from communities that
need that energy. There are people who
try and calculate the loss to GDP of removing
that number of adults from the economy. And so it hurts the
country as a whole, and it doesn’t
necessarily make us safer, depending upon the
nature of the crime and the people that
you are incarcerating. And I’m an aggressive
prosecutor. I believe in holding
people accountable. I’ve never had a problem
with harsh sentences when they are called for,
when they are accounted for. But I also know that as we
look at certain issues, a lot or how we view them gets played
out within the criminal justice arena. I’m tremendously
gratified that we’re continuing to focus
on the opioid crisis and view it as the public
health menace that it is. This is a tremendous,
tremendous problem. But so was crack, 20 years ago. It was almost the same
template, and yet we viewed that from a purely law
enforcement lens, and we missed out
on opportunities to deal with that problem in
ways that would have helped more people than we harmed. You can hold people
accountable, but you can also take into consideration
the public health issues that are coming about
from these epidemics, so to speak. And so we’ve missed
that opportunity. Going back to policies of those
missed opportunities, to me, I don’t think is going
to be productive. So my view has always
been, look at what worked, but look at what
doesn’t work and be prepared to admit what didn’t work
and look for new ways and try and move forward. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
Before we go to questions from the
audience, what’s next for you? What would you like to do? You were talking about choices,
you have all these choices, and all these kinds of things. LORETTA LYNCH: Well, I have
not landed on an issue. I’ve just been taking this
last year and spending time with my family and
reconnecting with them and taking a break, but also
thinking about these issues. And it’s very important to me
to continue to speak on the fact that the work with the work
that we did in the department has not died. It’s going to be handled
in a very different way. That is true, yes. But there are people
with whom we worked, there are people on whose
behalf we advocated, who never thought they had
a friend in Washington, never thought they had a friend
at the Department of Justice, and now they know
that that’s possible. They know that
they deserve that. And they know that
they, in fact, can speak and they do have a voice. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: And so you
reach out to those communities. LORETTA LYNCH: I do,
because people have a voice. And I think that it’s important
to work on those issues if, in fact, policies are
going to be different. It doesn’t mean
that all work stops. So I do want to continue
speaking on those issues and working with communities,
particularly on issues of law enforcement relations. We did a lot of work in that,
empowering communities and also strengthening law
enforcement agencies that wanted to have better
community police relations. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
So that’s your– that could be your main focus. LORETTA LYNCH: We shall see. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: We’ll see. We’ll see. OK. We’d like to hear from
people in the audience. LORETTA LYNCH: To
your left there’s a gentleman who’s hand
has been up for a while. AUDIENCE: Hi there. I’m a big fan of yours and
thank you for being here today. LORETTA LYNCH: Thank you. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
Can people hear him? He’s got a mic. I should have said that. There will be a mic. AUDIENCE: Repeating. I’m a big fan of yours and
thank you for being here today. Many lawyers in our
country are in pain, because in January
of this year we had leaders in the Department
of Justice, two women, each which had great
honor, Sally Yates, being your assistant. Now we find ourselves
without those people in the Department of
Justice, and we look around for people with honor in
the Department of Justice, and we’re having a
hard time finding them. I would like for you
to speak to students about how to keep
your honor as you go through your legal
career, because it is an easy thing to lose. It’s hard to maintain. And I assume your
father, being a minister, and your mother,
being a librarian, instilled in you honor. But did law school give you
any, or was it a constant fight? LORETTA LYNCH: Well, I
think that law school is a different kind
of test of your honor. Because again, you’re
learning, you’re growing, you’re expanding your mind. And so as you take in new
ideas, you have to make sure that you’re doing
them consistent with your own moral
code, so to speak, in terms of what you want
to pursue after law school, what activities you
want to do here. I think that there
are still, in my view, and based on my knowledge, that
core group of career people at the Department of Justice
who keep that ship running. And I know that
many of them have had to give a great deal
of thought, also, about whether or not the
policies that they’re going to be implementing
now are consistent with what they can do. And, as I’ve always said to
people in that situation, that’s a very personal decision. I can’t advise you to
leave or not leave, but a number of people
were facing that issue and had that concern. What I say to people is that
it matters that you were there. It matters that people are
present within an organization that do hold fast to that
organization’s core ideals and core principles. And whether or not you’re
going to be in a situation where you’re asked
to go against them will depend very, very much on
your role in that organization. Some people may feel that
any role in an organization, where the policies are
different from yours, is something that they can’t do. I respect that. Some people may feel
that in an organization where, by the very nature of
the turn of the political wheel, leadership changes over
the course of time. That they can, in
fact, still do a lot of good within an organization
at the career level. And people have done
a great deal of good and will continue to do a great
deal of good at the career level. But everyone’s got to
find that for themselves. As you go through
your careers, you will see the markers that
are important to you. When you’re just starting out,
learn as much as possible, try as much as possible,
do as many different types of things as
possible, experience the great variety of law. And some things are going
to fall by the wayside by interest, and
some of them are going to fall by the wayside
because you may say, look, I think it’s a
wonderful thing to keep the engine of corporate
America going, but it may not be
consistent with your values. In which case, you now know
what you don’t want to do, and you can move into
an area that is more consistent with those values. You may feel that working on
the engine of corporate America is important because you want to
bring a certain sense of ethics to that particular struggle. You want to ultimately work
in a corporate America that does think about
diversity and does think about issues
like sustainability and ethical behavior, and you
want to be a part of that. And that’s also good, but
you will have seen that from doing different
types of legal work early in your career. And so I think that you
can work in a number of different environments
and maintain your honor as long as you feel that
your efforts are going to help that organization. There may come a time,
in any organization, when you no longer have that
view, in which case, it is time to make a move. It is time to find
the venue that will let you express
yourself in a way that’s consistent with your ideals. AUDIENCE: I appreciate
those comments very much. That was actually the
first part of the question I was going to ask. But I’ll ask the second part,
which is, can you specifically address how you would
speak to a student who’s wondering whether they
should, in turn, apply to the honors program to
this Department of Justice, specifically? LORETTA LYNCH: I
think you have to look at it based upon
what you’re looking to gain from that program. The honors program,
certainly at that level, at the internship level, at
the honors program level, it is really about not just
skills but also learning what the department stands for. And, as I mentioned before,
the Department of Justice– there’s over 110,000
people who work for the Department of
Justice, most of whom stay, year after year, administration
after administration. And so you may find
that there is a place– a student may find
there’s a place for them in the department
exploring how to handle difficult environmental
cases, exploring how to handle difficult anti-trust cases. It may be that you have an
internship in a US attorney’s office where you
see what it means to actually build a criminal
case and protect people. And a lot of that is
not dependent upon who is at the head of
the particular ship. So I encourage people to look
into those opportunities still. But I respect someone
who says, look, if there’s a particular issue
that is so important to them that they don’t think that the
department’s the place for them right now, I respect that also. But what I would say is,
look at it more from the fact that this is an
institution that began enforcing the anti-Klan laws. That’s how the
Department of Justice really started to grow
in the late 1800s. And that’s what it did. And this is the
Department of Justice that essentially tried to work
on the trust busting cases and has been a force
for environmental good and is still an important force
in terms of national security and terrorism. And that there’s a lot to be
learned and a lot to be gained. So that if an institution
were to change leadership, and it’s a place where
you might want to move up in that institution, you
would have those skills, and you would have the
knowledge of the institution, and be prepared to do so. I have often said that law
enforcement is more than who the Attorney General is. As important a job as it is,
and it’s an important job. And as wonderful of a
job– and I loved it. I loved being the
Attorney General. Law enforcement is more than
who the Attorney General is. It’s what people expect
from law enforcement. It’s what they demand
from law enforcement. It’s what lawyers expect
and demand in that arena and in that world, also. So I think I would urge students
to look at the department as being a multifaceted
organization that needs people who believe in its ideals and
who will be there, regardless of the turn of the
political wheel, to carry those ideals forward. AUDIENCE: You were involved in
a very consequential decision involving the Hillary
Clinton investigation, and you had some tough
decisions to make. During the latter
part of the campaign, the FBI director, who reports to
the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, made
a rather unique decision to reopen an investigation
based on evidence which apparently did not exist. Could you tell us
the difficulties you had in dealing with
this whole set of issues? Your decision to
recuse yourself, the role of the Deputy
Attorney General relating to Mr.
Comey’s decision, because we face, in part,
the consequence of some of those actions with the
election that may have– so I know it was a difficult
set of decisions for you. Perhaps you could discuss
your role in your decision. LORETTA LYNCH: So I can
discuss some of that. I will say that a number
of bodies, including the department’s
Inspector General, are still doing a review
of the email investigation from a number of
different facets. And so I don’t talk
about a lot of things while there’s an ongoing
review or investigation. But what I can say is
that what our goal was, at the beginning of
the case and throughout the email investigation,
was to handle it like every other investigation. Independently, with a focus
on looking at the facts, looking at the
evidence, and coming to the correct legal conclusion. And ultimately, that was done. I do think that the noise
of a lot of other issues obscured that in
many, many ways. One of my concerns
was how that impacted the team of career
prosecutors and agents who worked on that, who just
worked day and night, who dedicated themselves to that. And so I’m not able
to go into a lot of the decision making that
we did at the time right now. I’m not able to
go into the behind the scenes things
at this moment. But I feel that whenever you’re
facing a difficult decision, it’s best to outline
the principles by which you are going to make it and
do your best to stick to them. And that was the goal. Whether or not we
achieved it, I think, is definitely, certainly,
ripe for question. And this is going to
be talked about again in the reviews that
I’m mentioning, as well as by people in general. And so I think it
behooves all of us who were involved in that, as well
as the department as a whole, to look back on that and look
at what lessons can be learned from that going forward. But again, I can’t go into
the internal discussions that we had at
this point, because of those ongoing reviews there. That’s often disappointing to
people who ask that question, so I know it is. But I do think
that all of us are going to be faced with very,
very challenging decisions to be made at some
point in time. And I’ve always felt like if
you outline those principles and then you stick to
them, you will ultimately move through in a way that
people may not agree with. They may never agree
with, but at least you can say this is why
we did certain things. Now, other people may have had
different ways of viewing that, and so that’s one
of the things we’ll be looking at when
they finally finish all these different reviews. AUDIENCE: Thank you,
Madame Attorney General. I was traveling on the day I
heard the announcement that you had had a meeting with
former President Clinton at the airport or something. And the first thing I thought,
what was she thinking? So therefore, that’s
my question to you? LORETTA LYNCH: So
that’s come up before, as you can imagine, right? And I spoke about that also
the day after it happened. I was traveling,
President Clinton was traveling through
Phoenix at the same time. He wanted to say hello
and came on board to speak to me and my husband
at the time and say hello. And it turned into a
much longer conversation than it should have. And as I said the
very next day, I recognize that that was a
mistake that I had made. And that my concern
for that, at that time, was that I knew that it
was going to cause concern about the handling of
the email investigation, even though that
was never discussed, because of the optics of it. And so what I did was
something– again, as I mentioned, we have
these objective principles. One of which is we don’t talk
about ongoing investigations. But I chose to speak about
that one in terms of how it was going to be decided. And so a few days later,
I talked about the fact that we had set up this
system, and the career team of prosecutors and lawyers were
the ones working on the case. They were going to provide
me with a recommendation, and I anticipated accepting
their recommendation, as we often do in these cases. But I also thought it was
important to talk about that from a leadership perspective. Because what happens
when you, as a leader, do make a mistake in a very
high profile matter, in a matter that does
get a lot of publicity? And what do you choose to do? What do you choose to focus on? So you think about
that a lot when you’re in the middle of it. And I think it can be very
tempting to rush forward and say, well, this is
what I was thinking. I didn’t mean this. I didn’t mean that. But sometimes that
makes it all about you. And when you lead
an organization, it has to be about
the organization. It has to be about
protecting the integrity of that organization, in
my case, the Department of Justice, and,
particularly, the integrity of the investigation. So that’s why, when I
spoke about it at the time, I talked about this is
how it’s going to impact the case, which is not at all. Because this is
something that’s being handled on a separate
chain, and it’s essentially going
to work its way through without input from me. And it had worked its way
through without input from me, and so there would not
be any impact on that. And I felt it was important
to talk about that, also. Because you want
people who work for you to see what happens when the
boss makes a mistake, too, and how that’s going to
be handled, and what they can expect, as well. ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
Can I ask a question? What mistake did you make? He came on to your plane. LORETTA LYNCH: Well, as
I’ve said, my view of it was it was supposed to
be just a brief hello. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: OK. LORETTA LYNCH: And my view was– and again, people view
this in different ways. I also have very much the view
that I don’t blame other people for things that happened to me. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Why not? LORETTA LYNCH: Because I don’t
think it’s really helpful. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: I know. I know you’re right. I understand. LORETTA LYNCH: I feel
like we’re are all responsible for our
own actions, and we take responsibility for them,
and everyone should do that. And some people do,
and some people don’t. That’s their choice. I can’t control what they do. I can only control what I do– ANNETTE GORDON-REED: That’s
the right answer, people. LORETTA LYNCH: –and
how I respond to it. I can’t. And also, the late,
great Maya Angelou says, if you complain
and start blaming people, all you’re doing is
saying that there’s a victim in the neighborhood. So for me, it was about
taking responsibility for it. And so my view is I wish I had
seen around that corner and– ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Go
out the back of the plane. LORETTA LYNCH: Go out the back
of the plane, lock the door. But it was a very quick– and like many people
often stop by in airports to say hello to me, people,
citizens, or different people in public life. You see the AG, and you
say, oh, I want to say hi. And it would happen
to me all the time. And usually it was
just, hi, how are you. And I want you to meet
this person or that person. And you move on, and
there’s no moment to it and no great length to it. But this was different. This was different. And because it was different,
I felt I had to address it. AUDIENCE: Hi, I’m Dara. I’m 1L. I don’t know if anybody said
their name but whatever. My question for you is
just a little bit more about community
policing, because I know that the Justice Department
did some work in that space. And what you see is the
future of community policing– what that looks like from
prosecutorial and also police departments. LORETTA LYNCH: Community
policing is something that I’ve actually
been working on, those issues, since the
’90s, since the Louima case in New York. After we prosecuted
the case, we were looking at issues
within the NYPD, but also just working
with NYPD in other cases and seeing how really good
police officers actually did interact well
with the community and would have a positive
relationship there in stark contrast
to what you saw in, for example, the Louima case. And seeing that was,
in fact, possible. And then how much safer
that made a community and what were the
elements of that. I spent a lot of time
as Attorney General traveling around the
country, looking at cities and talking with communities
and law enforcement leaders who were working on those issues. And particularly working
on them after having had a breakdown, a
terrible shooting, law enforcement violence
against unarmed civilians, or even the
Department of Justice having to come in
with a consent decree. And yet these communities had
worked on that relationship and were, in fact, making
real sustainable improvement. And so we did a lot
of trying to connect police departments
to others that were facing similar issues. We did a lot of supporting
of peer to peer training within law enforcement. If one police department was
facing a particular issue, they could reach out to sections
of the department, particularly our community policing
section, and get connected with a peer, a police chief, who
had been through those issues and could say, you don’t
want to go down this road. And we were trying
to do the same thing at the community level also. What that does for me
in this particular time period when there is– there is a different
focus coming from the Department of Justice. That is true. But the work that I
saw was very positive at the community level. And it tells me that that’s
where those ideas begin. That’s where that
commitment begins. And my hope is that
the work that we did in the department
during the time that I was there and even
before that on strengthening those relationships and
providing information and support to both sides in the
discussion will not be in vain. I will tell you
that it’s not just the community that
does not want to see this relationship crumble. Because that often means that
someone has lost their life. It’s also law enforcement. I remember sitting with
a group of police chiefs at the end of my tenure, talking
about a number of other issues. And one police
chief saying to me, I never would have
thought, as a police chief, that Ferguson,
Missouri would come to be the face of
policing in America. And they were as
horrified by what they saw during that time period
as those of us watching the TV were. And so the work that
we did, I think, will continue to bear fruit. People have to make choices
about what kind of community they want, what kind
of policing they want. And I think we did do
a lot to give both law enforcement and community
members a lot of tools and a lot of support. And so I think that’s
where the work will be over the next several years. That’s where you’re going
to see gains and progresses. You’re going to see
problems, because it’s not a perfect relationship. But my hope is that
the work that we did in highlighting areas where
those bridges had been built will be called into
play the next time there is a terrible
incident and that people will be able to
work through that and find both
accountability and justice. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: We have
time for one more question. In the back there. Yes, you? AUDIENCE: Hi. Meghan, I’m a 2L. Thank you so much
for being here. I hope this is an easy one. What recent nonfiction have you
enjoyed, or, in other words, what should we all
go home and read after this, aside from Professor
Gordon-Reed’s book, of course? ANNETTE GORDON-REED:
Not aside from. LORETTA LYNCH: I have
to say I have not made a dent in my reading list. As I mentioned, I’ve been
spending time with my family, primarily because my parents
had some health challenges. And so my focus
has been on that. And so I don’t have a
reading list to give to you. I think there are some wonderful
things out there that I would like to be able to open. I can never praise enough
my law school classmate Brian Stevenson’s book. Can never praise that
book enough for everybody. I think that his view
of justice and equality and the path that we’ve
been on as a country for a number of years is vital
to anyone who thinks deeply about these issues. And there’s too many that
come to mind, actually, for me to start listing them now. But unfortunately, I have not
yet gotten to many of them. My stack is very
long on the Kindle. ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Well,
with that, thank you very much, Loretta. LORETTA LYNCH: Thank you.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. Sending Lynch out to field softball questions, and no answers on her personal corruption, collusion, candor, her meeting with Slick Willie on the tarmac in Phoenix, and of course, the famous, "We talked about Golf and Grandkids." WHO IN THE FU_K do you think you're kidding, Lying LO-Retta? You lie just like your bossman, Obummer. Corrupt just as he is, Hillary is.

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