Brian Benczkowski.
Brian Benczkowski. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

The Trump administration’s supposed pick to lead the Justice Department’s Criminal Division is a Kirkland & Ellis partner who focuses on white-collar defense.

If confirmed, Kirkland’s Brian Benczkowski will lead a DOJ division he spent the last few years defending companies from. It would also mark his return to a department he spent several years working for, including as a member of the outgoing presidential transition team for George W. Bush and on the incoming team for Donald Trump.

Several news outlets have reported Benczkowski is the likely nominee.

Matt Axelrod, now a partner at Linklaters after working as principal associate deputy attorney general under President Barack Obama, worked with Benczkowski during the recent transition.

“[Benczkowski] has a lot of different talents and skill sets,” Axelrod said. “You need to have a wide variety of skills to be effective as the leader of the Criminal Division. The various things he’s done in his professional life will serve him well in that role.”

Benczkowski worked at DOJ from 2002 to 2009, and was Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s chief of staff from 2008-2009 after working as chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip. Prior to that, he held positions in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Policy, Office of Legislative Affairs, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Benczkowski graduated from the University of Virginia in 1991 and received his J.D. from the Washington University School of Law in 1994.

According to his firm biography page, Benczkowski has worked on a range of major cases, including representing a “multinational energy company” in a DOJ investigation into an accident in the Gulf of Mexico and working with organizations under investigation by the Federal Election Commission.

Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil MacBride, a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell, worked with Benczkowski at both the DOJ and in the Senate. MacBride said Benczkowski’s work in white-collar defense will give him an advantage leading the Criminal Division.

MacBride said he “only hired people who were on the receiving end of a subpoena.”

“I think that the best prosecutors are those who understand that this is an awesome, powerful authority that they possess,” MacBride said. “So, [that is] somebody who is well-equipped to be able to tell the difference between conduct that is systemic and criminal and should be targeted, versus that in which discretion should be exercised. [Benczkowski] will bring that.”

While some of the Criminal Division’s work is spearheaded by U.S. attorneys in the field, there are sections of unique jurisdiction. That includes the Criminal Division’s fraud investigations and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prosecution—an area white-collar attorneys in private practice will watch for policy changes under the new Trump administration.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a speech last month that he plans to continue robust enforcement of the law, and Benczkowski will likely execute those priorities.

Contact Cogan Schneier at cschneier@alm.com or 202-828-0366. Follow her on Twitter: @CoganSchneier.

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