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CIA GC to be Nominated Top Pentagon Lawyer
The Obama administration has turned to the CIA for the U.S. Defense Department's next top lawyer.
President Barack Obama intends to nominate CIA general counsel Stephen Preston to lead the legal department at the Pentagon, the White House said Monday. Preston would succeed Jeh Johnson, who stepped down as Defense Department general counsel in December.
Before he joined the CIA in 2009, Preston was a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, where he served as a co-chairman of the firm's defense and national security practice. From 1993 to 2000, he spent stints as principal deputy and acting Defense Department general counsel, as well as U.S. Navy general counsel and U.S. Justice Department deputy assistant attorney general.
Arnold & Porter partner John Bellinger III, a legal adviser to the U.S. State Department and the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, said Preston is well-prepared for the Defense Department general counsel post.
"This is an easy and good nomination," he said. "This is not a controversial choice."
But Preston likely will face some questions during the confirmation process about the Obama administration's anti-terror policies, Bellinger said.
At the CIA, Preston has worked on some of the administration's most controversial matters, including the fallout from the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the U.S. drone program. Preston last year in a speech at Harvard Law School defended the spy agency, saying it is "an institution of laws and the rule of law is integral to Agency operations.
In 2011, Preston, in remarks at an American Bar Association national security conference, disputed the pernicious drumbeat that the CIA is a lawless rogue agency. Preston argued that the CIAs internal and external controls make it one of the most heavily regulated federal agencies.
In a 2009 Corporate Counsel story on Preston's CIA nominiation, Arnold & Porter partner Jeffrey Smith, who was the agency's top lawyer in 1995 and 1996, said the general counsel job isn't easy
"Navigating the need for the clandestine service to take risks and do things that are often very dangerous or unpleasant and also to comply with U.S. laws and maintain our values is really, really hard," Smith said.
This article originally appeared as a post on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.