U.S. Justice Department's No. 2 official to step down

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By Aruna Viswanatha WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The No. 2 official at the U.S. Department of Justice, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, plans to step down, the latest in a series of departures from top officials at the agency. Cole's exit, which the Justice Department announced on Thursday, will add to a growing list of confirmation battles over appointments the Obama administration faces in the coming months, including the top three positions at Justice. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last month that he intends to leave the administration. Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch and Atlanta U.S. Attorney Sally Yates are two contenders to replace Cole, a person familiar with the discussions said. Cole plans to stay through the end of the year and help the department transition to new leadership, said the person, who requested anonymity. Cole, who has been in the post since the end of 2010, was closely involved in the department's efforts to reduce prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders and improve programs to help prisoners once they finish serving their sentences. He was also instrumental in securing an admission of guilt from Swiss bank Credit Suisse, which became the largest bank in a decade to plead guilty as part of a $2.5 billion deal in May to resolve charges that it helped wealthy Americans evade U.S. taxes. When Holder announced his own departure on Sept. 25, he said he would stay on until a replacement was confirmed, making it unlikely that Cole would serve as acting attorney general. In a statement, Holder praised his deputy as an "indispensable partner" in leading the department and in "extending the promise of equality under the law for everyone in this country." (Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha; Editing by Susan Heavey and Grant McCool)

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