Morgan, Lewis & Bockius' Leslie Caldwell
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius’ Leslie Caldwell (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi / NLJ)

Leslie Caldwell cleared her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill today with no outward opposition to her nomination to lead the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division.

The only tough questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee came from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who sought Caldwell’s views on the value of whistleblowers and how she would balance between the enforcement of federal drug laws and the Justice Department policy on states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

Grassley said he is particularly concerned about marijuana crossing state borders from Colorado to his state and others. A forthcoming Justice Department guidance memo, Grassley said, will likely make it easier for marijuana businesses in those states to use the banking system.

Caldwell had an out: She said she hasn’t participated in the department’s internal discussions about the policy and priorities Grassley mentioned. Still, Caldwell said she’d work to keep marijuana away from minors and out of the hands of criminal enterprises in those states.

“I think enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act is extremely important. I was a narcotics prosecutor for several years in New York and saw the havoc drug abuse could have on cities,” said Caldwell, a Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner.

“I think it’s extremely important, I look forward to learning much more about the issue and the internal thought process if I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed for this position,” Caldwell said.

Grassley replied: “I know the policy was decided at, I assume, a level above what you’ll be doing, but since you’re enforcing the laws I hope they listen to you.”

Caldwell, co-chairwoman of the corporate investigations and white-collar practice group at Morgan Lewis, described her priorities if she is confirmed as assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division. No senators asked her about her work—over the past decade—defending Fortune 500 companies and CEOs in criminal matters.

“I will do my best to ensure the vigorous enforcement of the criminal laws, and to apply them with equal force, whether the wrongdoing occurs in a boardroom, across a computer network or on a street corner,” Caldwell said in her opening statement.

In later questioning, she said she anticipates being “very aggressive” in prosecuting cybercrime and intellectual property theft.

“I certainly do see that things are moving very fast in the world of cybercrime, in the world of international crime, things are always moving fast in the world of narcotics and organized crime and gangs, and white-collar crime is also something I think is a very important priority,” Caldwell said. “They are all priorities, and if I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed my first priority will be to understand what exactly is being done currently and try to align that with what the department’s priorities should be.”

If she’s confirmed, Caldwell will leave behind a $2.8 million partnership income at Morgan Lewis and a client roster that includes tech companies such as Oracle Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett Packard Co. and Hitachi; big business Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., 3M Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp.; and financial institutions such as Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank Trust Co. and Fannie Mae.

A committee vote on her nomination has not been scheduled.

Contact Todd Ruger at