President Obama to tap ex-Pentagon official Jeh Johnson for homeland security

5:01 PM, Oct 17, 2013   |    comments
Honorable Jeh C. Johnson, General Counsel, Department of Defense, on the left. (Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)
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(USA TODAY) President Obama plans to nominate former Pentagon attorney Jeh Johnson as the next secretary of homeland security, officials said Thursday.

Johnson, general counsel for the Defense Department during Obama's first term, will be introduced by the president at a ceremony on Friday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Johnson would replace Janet Napolitano, who left the administration to run the University of California education system.

"The President is selecting Johnson because he is one the most highly qualified and respected national security leaders, having served as the senior lawyer for the largest government agency in the world," said a White House official.

The official said that during his tenure at the Defense Department, Johnson exhibited "sound judgement" and provided "prior legal review and approval of every military operation approved by the President and Secretary of Defense."

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Obama has not yet made his public announcement.

A ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday.

Johnson would be the fourth head of the Department of Homeland Security, created in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Officials described Johnson as "a critical member of the President's counterterrorism team," and someone who worked closely with homeland security officials during his years at the Pentagon.

His specialties include cybersecurity, officials said. He played a key role in repealing the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prohibited gay service members.

Johnson, who left his Pentagon post in 2012, also provided legal guidance in the use of unmanned drones against terrorism suspects overseas, and the use of military commissions -- rather than civilian courts -- to try suspects.

These and other subjects could well surface at a Senate confirmation hearing.

An early political supporter of Obama, Johnson -- a native of Wappingers Falls, N.Y. -- also served as general counsel to the Air Force during the President Bill Clinton administration. He has worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York and as a private attorney in the Manhattan firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison.

David Jackson, USA TODAY

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