WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. attorney Loretta Lynch has emerged as the leading choice to be the next attorney general, people with knowledge about the matter said Friday, but the White House said President Barack Obama has not made a decision.

If nominated and confirmed, Lynch would be the first black woman to lead the Justice Department.

Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York speaks during a news conference in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama has not made a decision, and the president told inquiring reporters that he'd let them know when he does. Obama does not plan to announce a choice before returning from a trip to Asia next week and will leave it up to the Republican-controlled Senate to vote on the choice in 2015, according to the people who described Obama's plans. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

Lynch, 55, is the U.S. attorney for Eastern New York, which covers Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, a position she also held under President Bill Clinton. Lynch would be Obama's second trail-blazing pick for the post after Eric Holder, the nation's first black attorney general who has announced plans to retire.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have told the White House it would be difficult to win confirmation for a new attorney general during a lame duck session of Congress beginning next week, especially considering all the other competing priorities they face before relinquishing power to Republicans in January.

While the White House had considered the lame duck option, pushing through a nominee so quickly could have tainted the new attorney general's start in the office.

It's unusual for Obama to pick someone he doesn't know well for such a sensitive administration post. But at a time when Obama is under political fire, Lynch's distance from the president could be an asset in the confirmation process. Another candidate Obama asked to consider the job, former White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler, asked not to be nominated out of concern her close relationship to Obama could lead to a difficult confirmation effort.

Republicans are promising tough scrutiny after years of battles with the long-serving Holder. He is close to Lynch and appointed her as chair of a committee that advises him on policy. Since Lynch is unfamiliar to many on Capitol Hill, senators will have to quickly get up to speed on her record.

She's overseen bank fraud and other public corruption cases. She also charged reputed mobster Vincent Asaro and his associates for the 36-year-old heist of $6 million in cash and jewelry from a Lufthansa Airlines vault at Kennedy Airport, dramatized in the blockbuster movie "Goodfellas."

During her first tenure in the Eastern District, Lynch helped prosecute police officers who severely beat and sexually assaulted Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.

One lawmaker in particular - in the House - is familiar with her work. Lynch filed tax evasion charges against Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican accused of hiding more than $1 million in sales and wages while running a restaurant. Grimm, who won re-election Tuesday, has pleaded not guilty and is to go to trial in February.


Associated Press reporter Tom Hays in New York contributed to this report.

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