Attorney General William Barr. Attorney General William Barr testifies May 1. Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has elevated a top aide, Claire Murray, to a key role overseeing the Justice Department’s expansive portfolio of civil cases, including litigation defending Trump administration policies.

Murray’s promotion to the position of principal deputy associate attorney general, announced Tuesday, comes just months after she joined Barr’s office from the White House counsel’s office, where she’d helped shepherd then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh through his confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. A former partner at Kirkland & Ellis from 2015 to 2017, Murray clerked for Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Justice Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.

She succeeds Jesse Panuccio, who stepped down last month after a two-year tenure that included stints as the acting associate attorney general—the third-in-command role at the Justice Department. The Trump administration has not named a permanent nominee for the associate position.

“All who work with Claire Murray are impressed with her sharp intelligence, thoughtfulness, and work ethic. During her time at Kirkland & Ellis, she rose to become a partner within just two years of joining the firm,”Barr said in a prepared statement. “She also has a remarkable record of public service, including serving as an associate White House counsel, as a clerk for two of today’s Supreme Court justices, and in both appellate and line prosecutor roles at the Department of Justice.”

More than a year after Rachel Brand resigned to take a top in-house position at Walmart, the associate attorney general’s slot remains vacant.

At Barr’s recommendation, President Donald Trump earlier this year nominated Jessie Liu, the top federal prosecutor in Washington, to serve fill the third-in-command role. But Liu withdrew from consideration in March after meeting resistance from Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Murray’s ascension deepens the Kirkland & Ellis ties within the Justice Department leadership. Before reprising the role of attorney general, a position he previously held under the George H.W. Bush administration, Barr was counsel in the firm’s Washington office. Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis before becoming the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division.

Trump’s nominee to succeed Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, had been a senior partner at Kirkland & Ellis before becoming deputy transportation secretary in 2017.

Rosen is expected to be confirmed this week.

 

 

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