President Obama is set to nominate Jeh C. Johnson, former general counsel for the Defense Department during the president’s first term, as the secretary of homeland security on Friday.
According to a pair of senior Obama administration officials who spoke to the Daily Beast anonymously, Obama will formally nominate Johnson at 2 p.m. on Friday during a White House ceremony. If Johnson’s nomination is confirmed by the Senate, he will then fill the secretary of Homeland Security position that was left vacant in July when Janet Napolitano resigned to become president of the University of California system.
Insiders say that Obama plans to nominate Johnson due to his experience in counterterrorism and cybersecurity. While serving as the Defense Department’s general counsel, Johnson was instrumental in many of the department’s most significant decision, including the buildup of the drone strike program as well as the repeal of the ban on gays in the military.
“The president is selecting Johnson because he is one of the most highly qualified and respected national security leaders, having served as the senior lawyer for the largest government agency in the world,” an official told the Daily Beast anonymously.
While Johnson has less experience in some of Napolitano’s key areas like disaster relief and immigration enforcement, officials still believe that he is the best choice for the job, partly due to his nonpolarizing image.
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“During his tenure at the Department of Defense, he was known for his sound judgment and counsel,” the official continued. “He was responsible for the prior legal review and approval of every military operation approved by the president and secretary of defense.”
Johnson, 56, began his career working as a federal prosecutor in New York’s Southern District and has experience in both the private and public sectors. During Clinton’s administration, Johnson served as general counsel for the Air Force and offered national security counsel for both John Kerry and Obama’s presidential campaigns. In December 2012, he resigned from his position at the Defense Department in order to focus on the private sector.