The Obama administration plans in the coming days to nominate a U.S. attorney from Georgia to become the second-highest-ranking official in the Justice Department, according to U.S. officials.
Sally Quillian Yates , a longtime prosecutor and the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia since 2010, is expected to be announced as the pick for deputy attorney general, the official who runs Justice Department operations day to day. Yates, who has served as the vice chair of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s advisory committee, is the first woman to serve as the U.S. attorney in Atlanta.
Yates would replace Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole , who is stepping down in January to take a job in the private sector.
The Senate is expected to begin the confirmation hearing for attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch in the second or third week of January. Holder has said he will remain as attorney general until a nominee is confirmed.
If Yates and Lynch are both confirmed by the Senate, two female U.S. attorneys would be at the helm of the Justice Department for the remainder of Obama’s second term.
In her 22 years as a prosecutor in Georgia, Yates has experience in a wide variety of cases, specializing in public corruption . She was the lead prosecutor in the Atlanta prosecution of Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph.
“She did a phenomenal job putting that difficult, complicated case together,” said former FBI director Louis J. Freeh, who worked with Yates on the Rudolph investigation and has known her for 20 years.
“She’s remarkably talented and has a solution to every problem,” Freeh said in an interview. “Her biggest fans are the FBI street agents, the DEA agents, the postal inspectors and the Secret Service. Everybody sings her praises. And she has no ego. She would rather be writing a sentencing memo than get up and have a press conference.”
Gary G. Grindler, who was Holder’s former acting deputy attorney general and chief of staff, said Yates “has terrific judgement and the right temperament for the job.”
“You have to have an open mind and the ability to make a decision under a lot of pressure and move forward,” said Grindler, who has known Yates for more than 20 years. “So much is going on all the time that you don’t have the luxury to take weeks and weeks to evaluate many of the issues that come before you. She’s a consummate professional, committed to do the right thing at all times.”
In a recent case, Yates prosecuted 13 people, including nine former police officers, for accepting thousands of dollars in cash payments to provide protection during staged drug deals that were part of a federal undercover operation.
“Certainly, these departments are filled with dedicated officers who literally risk their lives every day to make our communities safe,” Yates said in August when the 13 were sentenced. “But this case revealed a troubling number of officers from a variety of law enforcement agencies who betrayed their oaths to protect and serve, taking cash from the very criminals they should have been arresting.”