Updated at 3:16 p.m.
Jessie Liu, the former Big Law white-collar defender turned U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, will face rising scrutiny in the coming weeks as her nomination for a top U.S. Justice Department post advances in the Senate.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday said Liu was his pick for associate attorney general, the third-in-command at Main Justice. Liu has served since September 2017 as the U.S. attorney for the District, overseeing more than 300 lawyers in the largest federal prosecution office in the country.
Earlier in her career, she was a partner at Jenner & Block from 2009 to 2016 and worked for a year at Morrison & Foerster before she joined the Trump administration. Liu was a deputy general counsel at the U.S. Treasury Department before she was nominated as Washington’s top federal prosecutor. Liu was formerly an assistant U.S. attorney in the District, and she has held posts at Main Justice.
“Jessie has distinguished herself as a first-class attorney in private practice, in the Treasury Department, and in five different positions over her career at the Department of Justice,” U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. “With her record of public service, particularly in civil justice and federal law enforcement matters, it is clear that she will be an outstanding addition to our leadership team at the Department.”
Liu, a Yale Law School graduate and member of the conservative Federalist Society since 2001, would succeed Rachel Brand, who left the Justice Department a year ago to become Walmart Inc.’s vice president of global governance and chief legal officer.
What follows are six things to know about Liu:
>> Liu formerly was vice president of the National Association of Women Lawyers, serving in that post from 2005 to 2006. The group, founded in 1899, advocates for women in the law. “I am an Asian-American woman lawyer, in a field—criminal prosecution—with fewer Asians than many other fields of law,” Liu once wrote in a column that praised the group for its support for diversity. The lawyers’ group in 2005 honored Liu with a public-service award. One of the association’s committees in 2006 evaluated Samuel Alito Jr.’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court and rated him “not qualified from a women’s rights perspective.” Alito, the committee said in a statement then, “has shown a disinclination to protect or advance women’s rights.” The committee said one of its primary concerns was “Alito’s stance on women’s reproductive rights” and that Alito would be replacing Sandra Day O’Connor, “who has been a decisive vote in a number of cases involving the rights of women and laws that have special impact on women.” The evaluation committee, selected by the president of the lawyers’ group, included law professors, appellate lawyers and litigators. A Justice Department spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon that Liu was not on the committee that evaluated Alito and she did not have any role in the evaluation. As associate attorney general, Liu would oversee the civil division, the largest litigating component at the Justice Department. Liu would also be in charge of the tax, civil rights and antitrust divisions.
>> Liu moderated a panel in 2005 featuring Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor, and veteran appellate advocates Michael Dreeben, Beth Brinkmann and Maureen Mahoney. Dreeben is a top criminal-law specialist now serving on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution team, Brinkmann is a partner at Covington & Burling and Mahoney is a partner at Latham & Watkins. The panelists, according to a promotional blurb, were set to “discuss how they prepare for and conduct oral argument before the highest court in the land.” Liu has not argued at the Supreme Court. But she has appeared on amicus briefs and other filings at the high court. In 2015, Liu was on the Jenner & Block team representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a friend-of-the-court. The Jenner lawyers urged the court to reject broad police powers to seize business records.
>> Liu said she met personally with President Trump in 2017 as part of her U.S. attorney nomination process, and that meeting can be expected to be in the spotlight during her confirmation hearing for associate attorney general. Former Justice Department officials questioned the propriety of a U.S. attorney candidate meeting personally with a president. “It is neither normal nor advisable for Trump to personally interview candidates for US Attorney positions,” former Manhattan U.S. attorney Preet Bharara said in a tweet in 2017. Trump also met with Geoffrey Berman, the former Greenberg Traurig partner who is leading the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York. Berman has recused himself from participating in certain investigations, including the prosecution of Michael Cohen, a former lawyer for Trump. “No one has asked me to commit that I will be loyal to the President or the Attorney General, and I have not made such a commitment. If confirmed, my sole loyalty will be to the Constitution and to the people of the United States and the District of Columbia,” Liu told U.S. Senators at the time of her nomination as U.S. attorney. Liu said she first got a call in March 2017 “from the Department of Justice inviting me to interview for the position of United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.” She did not say whether she had sought the position, or whether the Trump administration pursued her. Liu was an uncompensated adviser on the Trump transition team, focusing on the Justice Department from September 2016 to January 2017. Liu donated $2,700 to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s failed presidential bid, federal records show. She did not donate to Trump’s campaign.
>> Liu reported receiving $896,000 in partner income from Morrison & Foerster on the financial disclosure she filed in May 2017. The amount would have included legal services she provided in 2016. Liu’s clients in private practice included Goldman Sachs & Co., Chevron Corp., Accenture, General Motors Co. and Booz Allen Hamilton. Liu declined to disclose five individual clients whom she said were subjects of non-public investigations. Liu in 2017 sold bitcoin holdings at Coinbase valued at between $1,000 and $15,000, according to her financial disclosure. At the time, Liu was a Treasury lawyer, and her role there might have involved regulatory and enforcement issues associated with cryptocurrency. Last year, Liu reported on a annual financial disclosure that Jenner & Block had returned to her $440,837 in capital. Liu’s husband, Michael Abramowicz, teaches at the George Washington University School of Law.
>> White-collar lawyers take note: Liu has written extensively on the False Claims Act and the Foreign Corrupt Practices act, two areas of the law that are significant penalty-drivers for Main Justice—and long the bane of defense lawyers. In 2015, as a partner at Jenner & Block, Liu was a lead attorney on a report highlighting Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement of the foreign-bribery law. “While 2014 reinforced that the DOJ and the SEC will continue to reward cooperation and self-disclosure with reduced penalties, last year’s enforcement actions also show that the DOJ and the SEC’s cooperation expectations may be quite high,” the report stated. The Justice Department is currently assessing whether to issue guidance concerning its approach to giving cooperation credit in False Claims Act cases, which last year netted more than $2 billion in penalties for the government. As the U.S. attorney in Washington, Liu celebrated the Justice Department’s enforcement of the federal law prohibiting fraud against the government. Announcing a multimillion-dollar judgment against three individuals found guilty of paying kickbacks and causing laboratories to bill federal health programs for unnecessary tests, Liu said, “This office joins with its Department of Justice colleagues in our mutual commitment to investigate misconduct and recover funds unlawfully obtained from federal healthcare programs.”
>> Liu clerked in Houston for Carolyn Dineen King, a former chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. King was appointed by then-President Jimmy Carter. Liu graduated from Yale Law School in 1998. Some of her law school classmates included U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in New York; Gina Raimondo, the Rhode Island governor; Justice Goodwin Liu of the California Supreme Court; and Judge Andrea Wood on the Northern District of Illinois. Jessie Liu holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard College, from which she graduated in 1995.
This post was updated with comment from the Justice Department.