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Jeh Johnson

Pentagon General Counsel

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Why He Matters

When a new president vows to close a terrorist detention center, repeal a controversial policy on gays and lesbians in the U.S. military and tackle allegations of U.S. torturing enemy detainees, it doesn't take an old Washington hand to realize he needs a loyal soldier as his chief Pentagon lawyer.

And that's just what President Obama has in Johnson, his Pentagon general counsel. Johnson proved his loyalty to Obama during the 2008 campaign, when he was a top fundraiser, adviser and convention delegate for the then-senator from Illinois.

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At a Glance

  • Career History: Partner at Paul, Weiss Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison law firm (2000-2008); General Counsel, U.S. Air Force (1998-1999) Partner at Paul, Weiss (1994-1998); Assistant U.S. Attorney for Southern Disrict of New York (1989-1991); Associate at Paul, Weiss (1984-1989)
  • Hometown: Wappingers Falls, N.Y.
  • Alma Mater: Bachelor's, Morehouse College (1979); Law Degree, Columbia University (1982)
  • Spouse: Susan DiMarco
  • Office: lN/A
  • Web site
 

Path to Power

Johnson grew up in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., and is the grandson of prominent sociologist and Fisk University President Charles Johnson. In 1979, Jeh Johnson graduated from Morehouse College, which also produced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and later earned a law degree from Columbia University in 1982.

From 1989 to 1992, he was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. During that stint he prosecuted public corruption cases.

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The Issues

In early 2010, Defense Secretary Gates handed Johnson a tricky task when he tapped the Pentagon's top lawyer to co-chair a study on how the U.S. military would deal with openly homosexual soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines if the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) law was repealed. Would allowing gays to openly serve hinder combat operations? What about housing? Can straight soldiers be made to share a room with an openly gay service man or woman? Johnson

Jeh and Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe oversaw and completed a November 2010 study tat examined such questions. In doing so, they had a hand in shaping one of the biggest cultural changes in recent U.S. military history.

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The Network

Johnson has long been a big player in Democratic politics. He served in the Clinton administration along with other Obama administration officials like Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and her top deputy, James Miller. He worked closely with Gen. Carter F. Ham on the November 2010 "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" report.

His Air Force history gives him ties to DoD Comptroller Robert Hale, who once was the air service's top budget official. What's more, Johnson worked on the Obama transition team with Flournoy and National Security Adviser James Jones. As the Pentagon's top lawyer, he advises senior Pentagon officials like Gates, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn and Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And as mentioned above, he was a major fund raiser for Obama in New York state, meaning his network reaches into high places, and deep pockets.

 

Campaign Contributions

The Center for Responsive Politics labels Johnson "a bundler" for Obama during the 2008 election cycle, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for him. According to CampaignMoney.com, Johnson donated thousands of dollars to a list of Democratic candidates in 2008, but no other candidate got more of Johnson's cash than then-Sen. Obama.