Jeh Johnson

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Jeh Johnson
Jeh Johnson official DHS portrait.jpg
4th United States Secretary of Homeland Security
In office
December 23, 2013 – January 20, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
Donald Trump[1]
DeputyAlejandro Mayorkas
Preceded byJanet Napolitano
Succeeded byJohn F. Kelly
General Counsel of the Department of Defense
In office
February 10, 2009 – December 31, 2012
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byWilliam J. Haynes II
Succeeded byStephen W. Preston
General Counsel of the Air Force
In office
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded bySheila C. Cheston
Succeeded byMary L. Walker
Personal details
Jeh Charles Johnson

(1957-09-11) September 11, 1957 (age 63)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Susan DiMarco
(m. 1994)
EducationMorehouse College (BA)
Columbia University (JD)

Jeh Charles Johnson (/ˈ/ "Jay"; born September 11, 1957) is an American lawyer and former government official. He was United States Secretary of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2017.

From 2009 to 2012, Johnson was the general counsel of the Department of Defense during the first years of the Obama administration. Before joining the Obama administration, he was a federal prosecutor, the general counsel of the Department of the Air Force, and an attorney in private practice.

As of 2020, Johnson is a partner at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and a member of the board of directors of Lockheed Martin and U.S. Steel.

Early life and education[edit]

Johnson was born on September 11, 1957, in New York City, the son of Norma (Edelin), who worked for Planned Parenthood, and Jeh Vincent Johnson, an architect.[2][3][4]

Raised in Wappingers Falls, New York, he graduated from Roy C. Ketcham High School in 1975.[5] He described himself as "a big underachiever", earning grades of C and D in school until he went on to college, citing the fact that he didn't "have a lot of African-American role models" in what was a mostly white community.[6] It was during his sophomore year in college that a vision of becoming an attorney led him to work to increase his "GPA above a dismal 1.8".[7]

Johnson is a graduate of Morehouse College (B.A.) and Columbia Law School (J.D.), and is the grandson of sociologist and Fisk University President Charles S. Johnson. Johnson's first name is taken from a Liberian chief, who reportedly saved his grandfather's life while he was on a League of Nations mission to Liberia in 1930.[8]

Early career[edit]

Private practice and federal prosecution[edit]

Johnson began as an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in November 1984. He would later become the first African American partner at Paul, Weiss.[9]

He left private practice in 1989 to serve as an assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York. He worked in the Southern District until 1991, prosecuting corruption cases.[10][additional citation(s) needed]

From 1998 to 2001, Johnson was general counsel of the Department of the Air Force under President Bill Clinton.[11]

Air Force General Counsel[edit]

Johnson returned to Paul, Weiss in 1992 and was elected partner at the firm in 1994. In 1998, Johnson was appointed General Counsel of the Air Force by President Bill Clinton after confirmation by the U.S. Senate. As General Counsel, Johnson was the senior legal official in the Air Force and Governor of Wake Island, in the Pacific Ocean.[12] His tenure coincided with Operation Allied Force in 1999. He was awarded the Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service for his efforts.[11]

Private practice[edit]

After his service in the Clinton administration, Johnson returned to Paul, Weiss in 2001, where he was an active trial lawyer of large commercial cases.[11]

Johnson was a member of the Executive Committee of the New York City Bar Association. From 2001 to 2004, he served as chairman of the City Bar's Judiciary Committee, which rates and approves all federal, state and local judges in New York City. In 2007, Johnson was shortlisted by the New York State Commission on Judicial Nomination to be Chief Judge of New York[13] though the incumbent, Judith Kaye, was ultimately reappointed by former Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Involvement with the Democratic Party[edit]

Johnson was active in Democratic Party politics, as a fundraiser and adviser to presidential campaigns. Johnson served as special counsel to John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign,[14] and was an early supporter of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, active as a foreign policy adviser and as a member of his national finance committee.[15][16]

Obama administration[edit]

General Counsel of the Department of Defense[edit]

Johnson swears in Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense.

On January 8, 2009, then President-elect Barack Obama announced Johnson's nomination as Department of Defense General Counsel.[17] On February 9, 2009, he was confirmed by the Senate.[citation needed]

In 2009, Johnson was heavily involved in the reform of military commissions, and testified before Congress numerous times in support of the Military Commissions Act of 2009.[18] In February 2010, the Secretary of Defense appointed Johnson to co-chair a working group, along with Army General Carter Ham, to study the potential impact of a repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. In November 2010, following an extensive study, Johnson and General Ham reported that the risk to overall military effectiveness of a repeal would be low. The report was hailed as a thorough and objective analysis.[19]

Johnson's tenure as General Counsel was also notable for several high-profile speeches he gave on national security. In a speech he delivered at the Heritage Foundation in October 2011, Johnson warned against "over-militarizing" the U.S. government's approach to counterterrorism: "There is risk in permitting and expecting the U.S. military to extend its powerful reach into areas traditionally reserved for civilian law enforcement in this country." [20] At a speech at Yale Law School in February 2012, Johnson defended "targeted killings".[21]

Finally, at the Oxford Union in November 2012, shortly before his resignation, Johnson delivered a widely noted address entitled "The conflict against al Qaeda and its affiliates: how will it end?" in which he predicted a "tipping point" at which the U.S. government's efforts against al Qaeda should no longer be considered an armed conflict, but a more traditional law enforcement effort against individual terrorists. The Oxford Union speech received widespread press attention,[22][23][24][25] and editorial acclaim as the first such statement coming from an Obama administration official.[26]

Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense under presidents George W. Bush and Obama, said that Johnson "proved to be the finest lawyer I ever worked with in government—a straightforward, plain-speaking man of great integrity, with common sense to burn and a good sense of humor" and that he "trusted and respected him like no other lawyer I had ever worked with".[27]

According to published reports, Johnson personally gave the legal approval for U.S. special forces to go into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden.[28]

Secretary of Homeland Security[edit]

Johnson visits Pulse nightclub after shooting which left 49 people dead in Orlando

Johnson was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the fourth U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security in October 2013, and was subsequently confirmed on December 16, 2013, by the U.S. Senate with a vote of 78–16.[29] He was sworn in on December 23, 2013.[30]

When Johnson entered office one of his top priorities was to fill all high-level vacancies. By April 2015, the president had appointed and the Senate confirmed all but one of Johnson's senior leader positions.[31] One of Johnson's first major efforts as Secretary was his unity of effort initiative to set the conditions for the Department to operate in a more unified fashion and develop a culture that recognizes and responds adequately to the diverse challenges the Department of Homeland Security faces.[31]

In the spring and summer of 2014 the southern border of the United States experienced a large influx of immigrants, many of whom were children, coming from Central America.[32] Secretary Johnson and his Department worked with the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate a response to address the immigrants' needs. In June, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officers were reassigned to conduct credible fear interviews, while prioritizing the cases of recently apprehended unaccompanied children, adults with children, and other recent border crossers.[32] At the same time, Secretary Johnson asked for the support of Congress to increase border security and prevent more spikes like this from happening again.[32] After the flow of immigrant children to the United States, the Department of Homeland Security established three family residential centers. They immediately became the focus of controversy.[33] The ACLU has compared them to Japanese internment camps and in July 2015 a U.S. District Court Judge in California ordered that the family residential centers comply with a 1997 settlement concerning the detention of children.[33]

During the summer and fall of 2014, Secretary Johnson oversaw the Department of Homeland Security's response to the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa.[34] The Ebola epidemic was the largest in history, and impacted multiple West African countries. In response, the Department of Homeland Security developed policies, procedures and protocols to identify travelers for screening who could have been potentially infected to minimize the risk to the traveling public.[34] This response was chosen by the Department over limiting travel visas to the United States, which Secretary Johnson contended would have been a mistake given the leadership position of the U.S. and likelihood of influencing other countries to take the same action.[35]

After the House of Representatives failed to act on S. 744, Secretary Johnson and President Obama issued ten new executive actions on November 20, 2014 to address the 11 million undocumented individuals in the United States.[36][third-party source needed] These actions included, among others, a new Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Strategy, a revision of removal priorities to focus on criminals and national security threats, the end to the Secure Communities program replaced by a new Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the extension of DACA to Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).[36][third-party source needed] Johnson is said to have worked heavily on drafting the executive actions at the behest of the President.[37]

An April 2015 60 Minutes profile of Secretary Johnson stated: "[s]o far he's gotten high marks, even from the Republicans in Congress. When he came on board, nearly half the senior management jobs were vacant; he's filled all but one; he's boosted morale; and improved the coordination and dissemination of threat information throughout the government."[38]

Johnson (left) observes a container x-ray screening while visiting the Dundalk Marine Terminal near Baltimore in 2016

In May 2015, Secretary Johnson issued reforms that helped minimize detention time for families in residential centers.[39] In June, one year after the increase of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border, Secretary Johnson committed publicly to continually evaluating the policy of family residential centers.[39] The Secretary made personal visits to the family residential centers and spoke with dozens of Central American mothers at the facilities before issuing additional substantial changes to the Department's detention practices with respect to families with children.[39] One major change included releasing families who establish eligibility for asylum or other relief under the law.[39]

Johnson also raised employee morale across the Department. For years, DHS had been plagued by low morale. Johnson launched an aggressive campaign to improve morale across the Department. They made hiring and promotion opportunities more transparent, conducted 55 workforce engagements in 22 cities across the country in 2016, and developed a DHS-wide mission statement. That effort brought good results in 2016, as the annual Federal Employee Survey reflected a 3 percent increase in the levels of employee satisfaction (from 53 percent in 2015 to 56 percent in 2016) – the largest single-year increase for any Department the size of DHS.[40][41]

Career after Obama administration[edit]

For the inauguration of Donald Trump, Johnson was chosen as the designated survivor and would have become the next president if a disaster or attack had occurred.[42]

After leaving office in January 2017, Johnson rejoined the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York City.[1][11] He is also a member of the board of directors of Lockheed Martin,[43][44] U.S. Steel,[45] the Council on Foreign Relations,[46] the National September 11 Memorial & Museum,[47] the Center for a New American Security,[48] and WBGO.[49]

In June 2018, he was an outspoken critic of the Trump administration's family separation practice at the border.[50] Several days later, he wrote to criticize calls to abolish ICE.[51] Johnson has called for a more civil dialogue from political leaders on both sides of the aisle.[52]

Johnson also delivered the convocation address at Liberty University on September 11, 2020, in which he discussed the importance of morality in political leadership.[53][54]

In April 2020, Governor Phil Murphy appointed Johnson to represent the state of New Jersey in the seven-state regional working group to develop a plan for reopening the economy following the COVID-19 crisis.[55]

In June 2020, Chief Judge of New York State, Janet DiFiore, appointed Johnson as Special Advisor on Equal Justice in the courts.[56] After a four-month review, Johnson issued a 100-page public report that contained a number of recommendations.

In 2020, Johnson was named a candidate for United States Secretary of Defense, United States Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence in the Biden administration.[57]

Personal life[edit]

On March 18, 1994, Johnson married Susan Maureen DiMarco, a dentist, at Corpus Christi Church of New York City.[3] The pair grew up across the street from each other in Wappingers Falls, New York.[58]

He has been a resident of Montclair, New Jersey.[59]

Johnson was present in New York City during the September 11 attacks, which occurred on his 44th birthday.[60][61][62] He has frequently referred to the attacks in his speeches.[63][64]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Lat, David. "Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson Returns Home — To Paul, Weiss". Above the Law. Archived from the original on November 26, 2020. Retrieved November 26, 2020As "designated survivor", Johnson served as Trump's homeland security secretary for 7 hours, 32 min, on January 20, 2017, until his successor was confirmed.
  2. ^ Nominations Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 1st Session, 111th Congress (PDF) (Report). 2009. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 30, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Weddings; Jeh C. Johnson and Susan DiMarco". The New York Times. March 20, 1994. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  4. ^ "Jeh Vincent Johnson 1931–". Contemporary Black Biography.
  5. ^ Pace, Julie; Cassata, Donna. "Dutchess' Jeh Johnson could be next defense secretary". Poughkeepsie Journal. Retrieved December 2, 2020. Johnson, who previously served as the Pentagon's general counsel, is a 1975 graduate of Roy C. Ketcham High School in Wappingers Falls.
  6. ^ Galanes, Philip (October 17, 2015). "'Homeland' Times Two: Claire Danes and Jeh Johnson". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 2, 2020. JJ:... My dad was an architect, and he ended up teaching at Vassar for 37 years. But I was a big underachiever in school. PG: Was that rebellion? JJ: It was a predominantly white, mostly blue-collar town, and I didn’t have a lot of African-American role models. I became a C/D student.
  7. ^ "Jeh Johnson – ex-Secretary of Homeland Security". Chambers Associate. Retrieved December 2, 2020. Specifically, my first semester of sophomore year at Morehouse College, after I finally realized I was not going to be a professional baseball or football player. I had no more excuses to avoid the books, and lifting my GPA above a dismal 1.8.
  8. ^ Johnson, Charles Spurgeon (December 1, 1987). Bitter Canaan. Transaction Publishers. p. 1xxiii fn 171. ISBN 978-1-4128-1871-1.
  9. ^ "Jeh Johnson – 1996 40 Under 40 – Crain's New York Business Rising Star". Crain's New York Business. January 1996.
  10. ^ Clayton, Mark (October 18, 2013). "Homeland Security: Can Jeh Johnson handle agency's big challenges?". The Christian Science Monitor. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  11. ^ a b c d "Jeh Charles Johnson". Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. Archived from the original on March 15, 2008.
  12. ^ Cahoon, Ben M. (2000). "Wake Island - Governors (from 1972, U.S. Air Force General Counsels in Washington, D.C.)". World Statesmen. Retrieved May 11, 2009. 1998 - 2001 Jeh Charles Johnson
  13. ^ Caher, John (January 18, 2007). "Kaye Heads List of Candidates For Court of Appeals' Top Slot". New York Law Journal. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  14. ^ Konigsberg, Eric (February 24, 2007). "In Clinton's Backyard, It's Open Season as an Obama Fund-Raiser Lines Up Donors". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  15. ^ Horowitz, Jason (October 2, 2007). "Clinton Campaign Gets In Gloat Mode With $27 Million". The New York Observer. Archived from the original on December 30, 2007.
  16. ^ Jackson, Derrick Z. (April 12, 2008). "The best place for the rule of law". The Boston Globe. p. A13. ISSN 0743-1791. ProQuest 405117873.
  17. ^ Tyson, Ann Scott (January 9, 2009). "Obama Selects 4 More Senior Defense Officials". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  18. ^ "Undoing the Damage". The New York Times. July 11, 2009. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  19. ^ O'Keefe, Ed; Whitlock, Craig (December 1, 2010). "'Don't ask' opponents get a boost". The Washington Post. p. A3. ProQuest 814958659.
  20. ^ Finn, Peter (October 19, 2011). "Pentagon lawyer warns against over-militarizing anti-terror fight". The Washington Post. p. A3. ProQuest 898819950.
  21. ^ Barnes, Julian E. (February 23, 2012). "Top Pentagon Lawyer Defends Targeted Killings". The Wall Street Journal. p. A11. ProQuest 922740568.
  22. ^ Barnes, Julian E. (November 30, 2012). "Pentagon Lawyer Looks Post-Terror". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  23. ^ Savage, Charlie (December 1, 2012). "Pentagon Counsel Speaks of Post-Qaeda Challenges". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  24. ^ Hopkins, Nick (November 30, 2012). "US heading for point when 'military pursuit of al-Qaida should end'". The Guardian. Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  25. ^ Henderson, Barney (November 30, 2012). "US 'approaching tipping point when military conflict with al-Qaeda should end'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  26. ^ Zakaria, Fareed (December 6, 2012). "End the war on terror and save billions". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  27. ^ Gates, Robert M. (January 14, 2014). Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. Knopf Doubleday. pp. 283, 332. ISBN 978-0-307-95948-5.
  28. ^ Savage, Charlie (October 28, 2015). "How 4 Federal Lawyers Paved the Way to Kill Osama bin Laden (Published 2015)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  29. ^ Kim, Seung Min (December 16, 2013). "Johnson OK'd for Homeland Security". Politico. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  30. ^ "Jeh Charles Johnson". United States Department of Homeland Security. January 20, 2017. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  31. ^ a b "Unity of Effort: One Year Later". United States Department of Homeland Security. April 22, 2015. Retrieved October 20, 2015.
  32. ^ a b c "Statement by Secretary Johnson About the Situation Along the Southwest Border". United States Department of Homeland Security. September 8, 2014. Retrieved October 5, 2015.
  33. ^ a b "I Know an American 'Internment' Camp When I See One". Retrieved October 5, 2015.
  34. ^ a b "Ebola Response". Retrieved October 5, 2015.
  35. ^ "Achieving Our Homeland Security While Preserving Our Values And Our Liberty". United States Department of Homeland Security. September 16, 2015. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
  36. ^ a b "Immigration Action". Retrieved October 5, 2015.
  37. ^ Palmer, Anna; Kim, Seung Min; Brown, Carrie Budoff (November 20, 2014). "How Obama got here". Politico. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  38. ^ "Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on 60 Minutes". Retrieved October 14, 2015.
  39. ^ a b c d "Statement By Secretary Jeh C. Johnson On Family Residential Centers". United States Department of Homeland Security. June 24, 2015. Retrieved October 5, 2015.
  40. ^ "Statement by Secretary Johnson Concerning the 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey - Homeland Security". September 20, 2016. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  41. ^ Brill, Steven (September 2016). "Is America Any Safer?". The Atlantic. ISSN 1072-7825. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  42. ^ Fabian, Jordan (January 20, 2017). "Jeh Johnson is designated survivor for inauguration". The Hill. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  43. ^ Bur, Jessie (December 11, 2017). "Former DHS director elected to Lockheed Martin board of directors". Federal Times. Archived from the original on November 26, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
  44. ^ "Lockheed Martin Elects Jeh Johnson and James Taiclet to Board of Directors". Lockheed Martin. December 11, 2017. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  45. ^ United States Steel Corporation (April 28, 2020). "Jeh C. Johnson Elected to U.S. Steel Board of Directors". GlobeNewswire.
  46. ^ "Board of Directors". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved November 19, 2019.
  47. ^ "Jeh Johnson | National September 11 Memorial & Museum". Archived from the original on November 26, 2020. Retrieved April 28, 2020.
  48. ^ "Secretary Jeh Johnson, CNAS Board of Director". Center for a New American Security. Retrieved November 19, 2019.
  49. ^ "Board of Trustees".
  50. ^ Capehart, Jonathan. "Jeh Johnson on separating immigrant families: 'It's just something I couldn't do'". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  51. ^ Johnson, Jeh Charles (July 6, 2018). "Abolishing ICE is not a serious policy proposal". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  52. ^ Gilliland, Donald (February 26, 2019). "Words have consequences: Lessons for political leaders on both sides". The Hill.
  53. ^ Kruse, Michael (September 10, 2020). "Why an Obama Loyalist Is Speaking at Liberty University About Moral Leadership". Politico. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  54. ^ Smith, Garold (September 11, 2020). "Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson shares leadership lessons". Liberty University.
  55. ^ Munoz, Daniel J. (April 16, 2020). "Murphy names picks to regional council to reopen Mid-Atlantic economies". NJBIZ. Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  56. ^ Alder, Madison (June 9, 2020). "Jeh Johnson Tapped by New York Courts to Lead Racial Bias Review". Bloomberg Law.
  57. ^ "Who Are Contenders for Biden's Cabinet?". The New York Times. November 11, 2020. Archived from the original on November 15, 2020. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  58. ^ Brady, Lois Smith (April 10, 1994). "Jeh Johnson and Susan DiMarco". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  59. ^ Stirling, Stephen. "Montclair resident Jeh Johnson to be named U.S. Homeland Security secretary", NJ Advance Media for, October 17, 2013, updated March 30, 2019. Accessed December 2, 2020. "Montclair resident Jeh Johnson will be nominated by President Obama as the next Homeland Security secretary, according to a U.S. Senate aide briefed by the White House on the nomination."
  60. ^ "Jeh Johnson nominated as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security". Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  61. ^ "Remarks by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson at the Woodrow Wilson Center". Department of Homeland Security. February 7, 2014. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
  62. ^ Straw, Joseph. "Homeland Security nominee Jeh Johnson: 'I am a New Yorker'". New York Daily News. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  63. ^ Memoli, Michael A. (December 16, 2013). "Jeh Johnson confirmed as Homeland Security secretary". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  64. ^ Peralta, Eyder (October 18, 2013). "Obama Nominates Jeh Johnson To Head Homeland Security". NPR. Retrieved February 1, 2017.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Sheila Cheston
General Counsel of the Air Force
Succeeded by
Mary Walker
Preceded by
William Haynes
General Counsel of the Department of Defense
Succeeded by
Stephen Preston
Political offices
Preceded by
Janet Napolitano
United States Secretary of Homeland Security
Succeeded by
John F. Kelly