White House ()
Jennifer O’Connor has joined the White House Counsel’s Office as a lawyer who often plays a key role in crisis control and prevention, the administration is expected to announce Friday afternoon.
The former Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr partner will already be up to speed on some of the challenges facing President Barack Obama when she becomes deputy White House counsel. O’Connor left the firm in May 2013 to help the Internal Revenue Service navigate accusations that the agency improperly targeted political groups that applied for tax-exempt status.
She then joined the Department of Health and Human Services in November on a short-term basis to help the agency deal with the flawed rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s online insurance exchanges.
O’Connor is the first hire for new White House Counsel Neil Eggleston, who took over as Obama’s top lawyer two weeks ago when Kathryn Ruemmler departed after three years in that post to join Latham & Watkins. O’Connor’s official roles include managing litigation and the White House’s response to congressional investigations and oversight.
“Jen brings talent, prudence and pragmatism to this role and we are pleased that she will continue her government service in the White House Counsel’s Office,” Eggleston, formerly a white-collar defender in Kirkland & Ellis’ Washington office, said Friday. “Jen has the experience, judgment and foresight to make her uniquely qualified for this position.”
Earlier, O’Connor served in a variety of roles in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1996, including as policy adviser to the White House deputy chief of staff. She graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 1997 and then clerked for Judith Rogers on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
O’Connor joined Wilmer and became a partner in the litigation and government regulatory affairs department in 2006. She represented companies and individuals in civil and criminal litigation and investigations, provided public policy and strategy advice and was a leader of the firm’s False Claims Act working group.
Reginald Brown, a partner in Wilmer’s financial-institutions practice and an associate White House counsel and special assistant to the president in the Bush administration from 2003 to 2005, called O’Connor a “very savvy choice” by Eggleston and Obama.
“Jen is seasoned and a very tough lawyer. She’s also careful and a very straight shooter. She’s dealt with Congress in the past so she knows where the land mines are,” Brown said. “She’s a smart choice for an administration that knows that it may need to play defense from time to time over the course of the next couple years.”
The White House faces legal challenges besides the IRS and Affordable Care Act. The House in May voted to form a special committee to investigate the government’s response to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. consular facility in Benghazi, Libya. And Obama is now responding to reports that some veterans had to wait weeks for care, and that the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix maintained a fraudulent set of records that made it appear wait times were shorter.
In federal court, House Republicans in 2010 sued the attorney general over access to internal DOJ documents over which the White House has asserted executive privilege. A federal trial judge in Washington refused to throw out the lawsuit, setting up a clash between the legislative and executive branches.
O’Connor fills the position left vacant when Ed Siskel left the White House counsel’s office after three years that included work on Solyndra, a solar power company that went bankrupt after getting a government loan, and the government’s response to the Benghazi attack.
Siskel joined Wilmer on May 15 and is among the leaders of the firm’s strategic response group.