Obama taps Black former Pentagon senior attorney to head Homeland Security

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 President Barack Obama stands with Jeh Johnson, his choice for the next Homeland Security Secretary, in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 18, 2013. Johnson was general counsel at the Defense Department during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

by Avis Thomas-Lester
For New Pittsburgh Courier

(NNPA)–President Barack Obama has selected Jeh Johnson, a graduate of Morehouse and Columbia Law School, as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

If confirmed, Johnson, who retired from government to go into private practice, would come to the position with substantial experience, officials said.

He served as the Department of Defense’s top lawyer, supervising some 10,000 military and civilian attorneys. He advised Obama and two secretaries of defense and helped to develop several national security policies during Obama’s first term in office.

He is credited with leading the review and authorization of the report that led to the repeal in 2010 of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy toward homosexuals in the military.

At a brief news conference in the White House Rose Garden, Obama praised Johnson for his experience. He urged the Senate to move quickly to confirm Johnson, who would replace Janet Napolitano, who left the post in July to head the University of California system.

“From the moment I took office, Jeh was an absolutely critical member of my national security team, and he demonstrated again and again the qualities that will make him a strong secretary of homeland security,” Obama said. “Jeh has a deep understanding of the threats and challenges facing the United States. As the Pentagon’s top lawyer, he helped design and implement many of the polities that have kept our country safe, including our success in dismantling the core of al Queda and the Fatah.”

He added, “I’m confident I could not make a better choice than Jeh,” he said.

For his part, Johnson indicated he had not lobbied for the position. He said his wife, Susan DiMarco, a dentist, and daughter Natalie, could not attend the announcement because they were in California attending parents’ weekend with his son, Jeh Jr., at Occidental College, where Obama attended for two years.

Johnson hails from a family of devoted public servants. His grandfather, Dr. Charles S. Johnson was a famed sociologist and Harlem Renaissance figure who became the first Black president of historic Fisk University. His uncle. Lt. Robert B. Johnson, was a member of the illustrious Tuskegee Airmen.

“Thank you for the tremendous honor of this nomination and the trust you have placed in me to carry out this large and important responsibility as secretary of homeland security,” Johnson said. “I was not looking for his opportunity. I had left government at the end of last year and was settling back into private life and private law practice. But when I received the call, I could not refuse it.”

A source familiar with the nomination said Obama’s selection of Johnson indicates a shift away from immigration as its focus to national security as a priority.

If Johnson, whose first name is pronounced “Jay,” is confirmed, four of the major players in the nation’s security would be African Americans—Obama, U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric H. Holder, U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice and Johnson.

According to a senior Obama administration official, Johnson “was a key decision maker on various legal questions regarding different points of overlap between the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security.”

The official gave Johnson high marks for leadership and management.

Johnson, who hails from New York, said he was in Manhattan on 9/11, his birthday. After the attack, he said, he “wandered the streets of New York…and wondered and asked, ‘What can I do?’ Since then, I’ve tried to devote myself to answering that question. I love this country. I care about the safety of our people. I believe in public service. And I remain loyal to you, Mr. President.”

 

Avis Thomas-Lester is AFRO Executive Editor

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