At least 14 Democratic senators have sent a letter to President-elect Joe Biden recommending that he choose former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) as his attorney general, according to two congressional sources familiar with the letter.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) led the letter, which was also signed by Bob Casey (Pa.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Jackie Rosen (Nev.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.).
The senators sent the letter to the Biden transition team just after Christmas. Most of the signatories are considered moderates, though both Brown and Leahy have strong progressive credentials.
“Senator Brown is proud to support Sen. Jones for AG,” a Brown spokesperson wrote in an email to HuffPost.
“Sen. Doug Jones is an honorable public servant who has dedicated his career to the pursuit of justice. Sen. Casey believes that he would be an excellent attorney general,” said Casey spokesman John Rizzo.
The Biden transition team did not respond to a request for comment.
Jones is reportedly one of the top contenders for the prestigious job, along with federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland and former deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
Jones, who lost his reelection bid in November, has a long history with Biden. As a law student, Jones introduced the young senator when he spoke at his school. He also worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Biden served, and was co-chair of his 1998 presidential campaign.
In 2017, Biden was one of the few national Democrats who campaigned for Jones in deep-red Alabama. (At the time, Biden joked he would campaign either for or against Jones ― whichever would help him more.)
President Bill Clinton named Jones the U.S. attorney in Birmingham in 1997. There, he led the successful prosecution of two of the Ku Klux Klan members responsible for the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. The heinous act killed four young Black girls during church services.
Jones has received the support of other Biden allies, including Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), who has praised his work around the bombing.
“Decades they walked around free after bombing that church and killing those four Black girls. He prosecuted them and got them convicted,” Clyburn said last month. “You don’t have to be Black to do right by Black people.”
Biden’s nominee will face the challenge of determining how the Justice Department will approach potential criminal investigations into the outgoing president and members of his administration.
They will also face the prospect of rebuilding components like the Civil Rights Division, which abandoned key issues like police reform and focused on controversial religious liberty cases and attacks on college affirmative action programs. And they will need to deal with the long-term consequences of President Donald Trump’s attacks on the FBI, which has gutted Republicans’ confidence in the nation’s premier law enforcement organization.
Biden’s nominee may also have to figure out how to combat a rise in right-wing domestic terrorism cases, some of which have been directly inspired by Trump’s rhetoric against his political enemies and Muslims.
In addition, there will be the delicate question of how to handle the ongoing tax investigation into the new president’s son, Hunter Biden, which is being led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware. The new attorney general will have to assure the American public that there won’t be political interference in the probe, perhaps by walling off the investigation. Republicans ― the vast majority of whom were unconcerned with Trump’s repeated attempts to improperly interfere in Justice Department matters ― might even call for a special counsel to assure the probe’s independence.
Yates became a Democratic star when Trump fired her for refusing to enforce his ban on travelers from predominantly Muslim countries. A number of civil rights leaders want Biden to choose her for the role, believing that her knowledge of the Justice Department would help restore the beleaguered agency and that she has a proven track record on implementing criminal justice reform.
But Yates will likely face strong Republican opposition because of her involvement in the FBI’s Russia investigation in 2016, which included signing off on the warrant application for Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide.
Garland was famously denied a vote after President Barack Obama nominated him for the Supreme Court after Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016, since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wanted to hold the seat open until after the presidential election. Garland is seen as a more independent and moderate choice ― although perhaps too moderate on criminal justice issues for some reform advocates.
Biden, however, has also been under pressure to not tap a white candidate for the position, and he has been making diversity in his Cabinet a priority. Which candidate Biden chooses may also depend on the outcome of the Georgia Senate runoffs on Tuesday, which will determine whether Democrats or Republicans will control the Senate for the next two years.
The Justice Department suffered a serious blow to morale during the Trump administration. Many career Justice Department employees who held on for four years of the Trump administration were likely to depart had Trump been reelected and able to mold the department into an even more overtly political organization.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who had to rebuild DOJ after controversies during the George W. Bush administration, said Biden understands that he needs to give the attorney general “the space that he or she needs to restore integrity and the independence” of the department.
“The department has been taken off a road that I think it’s basically been on since the Nixon administration, where there’s been that separation of the Justice Department from the White House,” Holder told HuffPost ahead of the election. “You really need to look at the department as a whole. The people there, both in the field and at Main Justice, their motives have been called into question, their patriotism has been called into question, and all of that has to be dealt with.”
This story has been updated with additional senators on the letter.