President Obama is expected to nominate Jeh Johnson, former lead attorney for the Department of Defense, to be the new head of the Department of Homeland Security, according to The Daily Beast.
Johnson served the entirety of Obama's first term as general counsel at the Pentagon, putting him solidly in the middle of a number of Obama's most controversial issues. For example, Johnson was one of the co-chairs of the military's review of its controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, eventually recommending that the policy be scrapped (as it eventually was). Shortly before he left the administration to rejoin his former law firm Paul Weiss as a partner, he became a public advocate for reviewing the government's efforts to combat terror, including the use of drones. In a speech at Fordham University in March, Johnson called for more openness on the strikes, arguing that "in the absence of an official picture of what our government is doing, … many in the public fill the void by imagining the worst."
If approved by the Senate, which The Daily Best speculates is likely, Johnson would become the fourth leader of the agency created in the wake of the September 11th attacks. DHS was created with the aim of facilitating communication between similar agencies, meaning that Johnson would be responsible for departments with which he has only limited familiarity — like disaster relief. He would be the first African-American man to hold the position vacated by Janet Napolitano, who left to run the University of California system. Obama came under fire for his heavily male and predominantly white cabinet shortly before his second inauguration. Johnson would be the third African-American man on the Cabinet, joining Attorney General Eric Holder and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
With the expected nomination announcement from the White House on Friday, one bit of speculation rampant earlier this year is put to rest. Controversial New York Police Department head Ray Kelly had been rumored as a possible candidate, in part due to strong advocacy from Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. That rumor inspired a flurry of concern, given the NYPD's unconstitutional and racially-loaded stop-and-frisk program.
In 2011, Johnson gave an interview to the blog AboveTheLaw, in which he was asked if he was enjoying his service in the Defense Department.
“Am I having fun? No, I’m not having fun,” said Johnson, good-naturedly. “Public service is not a frolic or a sabbatical. There are over 10,000 lawyers in DoD, I oversee their work, and I make less than a first year associate at Paul Weiss. ‘Enjoy’ is not the right word.”
Then why take the gig? "Loyalty to this president, commitment to public service and the safety of our country, and never having a dull day," he responded.
Johnson attended Morehouse College and got his law degree at Columbia University. If you're curious, which we were, his first name, Jeh, is a variant of "Jay."
Photo: Johnson, foreground, testifying on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. (AP)