The Trump administration is moving forward with a spate of new nominees for the U.S. Justice Department and regulatory agencies, pulling lawyers from Big Law and in-house legal departments for top positions.
The White House has struggled to fill key regulatory and enforcement slots, and many nominees—including Noel Francisco for U.S. solicitor general, Brian Benczkowski for the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal division and Makan Delrahim to lead the DOJ’s antitrust division—are awaiting further action in the U.S. Senate.
In the latest round—the White House announced dozens of nominees the night of Sept. 1—President Donald Trump picked a Boeing Company in-house counsel, John Demers, for assistant attorney general in charge of DOJ’s national security division. Trump nominated Jennifer Gillian Newstead, a Davis, Polk & Wardwell litigation partner in New York, to lead the U.S. State Department’s legal department.
Two general counsel nominees were also announced: Matthew Leopold, of counsel at Carlton Fields in Tallahassee, Florida, for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and Stephen Vaden, formerly a Jones Day associate in Washington, for general counsel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Here are some highlights from the careers of those four nominees:
► John Demers, an assistant general counsel at The Boeing Company, oversees the aerospace manufacturer’s regulatory and government team in Washington. He would lead more than 240 lawyers as the top attorney in the DOJ’s National Security Division, where he formerly served in various leadership roles, including as a deputy assistant attorney for the Office of Law and Policy. The White House said Demers from 2006 to 2009 was part of the first leadership team in the national security division after its creation. Demers has deep experience in cybersecurity and foreign-intelligence surveillance matters. A Harvard Law School graduate, Demers was a clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia for the October 2005 term. Robert Chesney, a professor and associate dean at University of Texas Law School called Demers a “stabilizing, professional” pick for the national security division. John Carlin, a former leader of the national security division, joined Morrison & Foerster in January as partner. Carlin is leading the firm’s new global risk and crisis management practice.
► Jennifer Newstead was nominated for legal adviser at the State Department, the top attorney post at the agency—overseeing some 200 lawyers and 100 support staff. Newstead is a litigation partner in the New York office of Davis, Polk & Wardwell. The American Lawyer in 2015 recognizedNewstead, a Davis Polk partner since 2006, for her work on transatlantic litigation. Earlier at the Justice Department, she served as principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy, then led by Viet Dinh. Dinh founded the Washington boutique Bancroft, which Kirkland & Ellis acquired last year. BuzzFeed News recently described Newstead as an “architect” of the Patriot Act. She is a graduate of Yale Law School and former clerk to Justice Stephen Breyer during the October 1995 term. Brian Egan, former legal adviser at State, joinedSteptoe & Johnson LLP’s Washington office in March as a partner.
► Matthew Leopold is the Trump administration’s nominee for EPA general counsel. The Carlton Fields lawyer was formerly general counsel to the Florida Department of Environment Protection. He served in the Justice Department’s environment and natural resources division from 2007 to 2013, according to his LinkedIn page. The Washington Post in June, reporting on Leopold and other would-be Trump nominees, spotlighted his remarks at a Federalist Society panel in Florida in February 2016: “The problem today I see us facing … is the federal government’s expanding regulatory reach. It’s crowding out the proper role for the state governments to do what they do best. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t have robust environmental laws to protect air, water and land—just the opposite.” John Cruden, a former leader of DOJ’s environment and natural resources division, said in a statement that Leopold “is committed to the rule of law and can be counted on to give sound and candid advice to EPA decision makers.” Former EPA general counsel Avi Garbow joined Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Washington office in March.
► Stephen Vaden since January has served as the acting general counsel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He formerly was an associate in Washington at Jones Day and, earlier, at Squire Patton Boggs. The White House said Vaden focused on litigation, appellate matters, election and administrative law. Vaden, a Yale Law School alum, was part of the “beachhead team” at USDA after Trump’s win. “He has a firm grasp of the legal issues facing American agriculture, and very importantly, understands the breadth and complexity of the regulatory burdens placed on our producers,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a prepared statement. “Our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers will be well served by his counsel.”