|4th United States Secretary of Homeland Security|
December 23, 2013 - January 20, 2017
|John F. Kelly|
|General Counsel of the Department of Defense|
February 10, 2009 - December 31, 2012
|William J. Haynes II|
|Stephen W. Preston|
|General Counsel of the Air Force|
|Sheila C. Cheston|
|Mary L. Walker|
Jeh Charles Johnson
September 11, 1957
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Education||Morehouse College (BA)|
Columbia University (JD)
Jeh Charles Johnson ( "Jay"; born September 11, 1957) is an American lawyer and former government official who served as the fourth United States Secretary of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2017. He previously was the General Counsel of the Department of Defense from 2009 to 2012 during the first years of the Obama Administration. He is currently a partner at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and a member of the board of directors of Lockheed Martin Corporation and U.S. Steel. Johnson is a 2018 recipient of the Ronald Reagan Peace Through Strength Award, has debated several times at the Oxford in England and Cambridge Unions and is the recipient of ten honorary degrees. In private life, Johnson has been a frequent commentator on national and homeland security matters on NBC, MSNBC, FOX, CNN, ABC, CBS and PBS.
Johnson was born in New York City, the son of Norma (Edelin), who worked for Planned Parenthood, and Jeh Vincent Johnson, an architect. 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.
On March 18, 1994, Johnson married Susan Maureen DiMarco, a dentist, at Corpus Christi Church of New York City. The pair grew up across the street from each other in Wappingers Falls, New York. They have two children.
Johnson served as Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York from 1989 to 1991. From 1998 to 2001, he was General Counsel of the Department of the Air Force under President Bill Clinton. Prior to his appointment as General Counsel of the Department of Defense, Johnson was an associate and then partner at the New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, in which he was the first African American partner. He was elected a fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers in 2004.
On January 8, 2009, he was named by President-elect Barack Obama to be General Counsel for the Defense Department. In December 2012, he resigned this position effective at the end of the year to return to private practice.
Ten months later, on October 18, 2013, Johnson was nominated by President Obama to be Secretary of Homeland Security.
Johnson began as an associate at Paul, Weiss in November 1984. In 1989, he left to serve as an assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York, a position he held until the end of 1991. In that position, Johnson prosecuted public corruption cases.
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. His tenure coincided with Operation Allied Force in 1999. He was awarded the Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service for his efforts.
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.
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 though the incumbent, Judith Kaye, was ultimately reappointed by former Governor Eliot Spitzer.
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, 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.
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. 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.The Washington Post editorial page wrote:
The report is remarkable not just for its conclusions but for its honest, thorough and respectful handling of a delicate subject. It offers a clear-eyed, careful, conservative approach to implementing policy change. It doesn't play down the hurdles or denigrate the opposition. It is, in short, a document to be taken seriously, especially by those who may have lingering doubts about allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.
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."  At a speech at Yale Law School in February 2012, Johnson defended "targeted killings", but also stated:
[A]s a student of history I believe that those who govern today must ask ourselves how we will be judged 10, 20 or 50 years from now. Our applications of law must stand the test of time, because, over the passage of time, what we find tolerable today may be condemned in the permanent pages of history tomorrow.
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. Johnson stated:
"War" must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary and unnatural state of affairs. War permits one man--if he is a "privileged belligerent," consistent with the laws of war--to kill another. War violates the natural order of things, in which children bury their parents; in war parents bury their children. In its 12th year, we must not accept the current conflict, and all that it entails, as the "new normal." Peace must be regarded as the norm toward which the human race continually strives.
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."
According to published reports, Johnson personally gave the legal approval for U.S. special forces to go into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden.
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. He was sworn in on December 23, 2013.The Washington Post reported "Johnson, an African-American, would bring racial diversity to Obama's Cabinet."
When Johnson entered office one of his top priorities was to fill all of the high level vacancies. By April 2015 the President had appointed and the Senate confirmed all but one of Johnson's senior leader positions. 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.
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. 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 Immigrations 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. 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. After the flow of immigrant children to the United States, the Department of Homeland Security established three family residential centers, and they immediately became the focus of much controversy. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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). Johnson is said to have worked heavily on drafting the executive actions at the behest of the President.
In a 60 Minutes profile of Secretary Johnson that aired in April 2015, it was 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."
In May 2015, Secretary Johnson issued reforms that helped minimize detention time for families in residential centers. 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. 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. One major change included releasing families who establish eligibility for asylum or other relief under the law.
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% 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.
During his service as Secretary, Johnson has given several high-profile speeches. On June 8, 2015 he gave a speech at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University. He focused on the Department of Homeland Security's border security efforts, describing the trends in border crossers decreasing over the past year, and the Obama administration's executive actions issued to address the millions of hard working undocumented immigrants in America. In July he presented the Landon Lecture at Kansas State University. He warned of the evolving terrorist threat, from terrorist group trained and directed attacks to terrorist group inspired attacks, and described the Department of Homeland Security's efforts to keep Americans safe.
Secretary Johnson also gave the 56th Green Lecture at Westminster College, the same place where Winston Churchill gave the "Iron Curtain" speech. In his Green Lecture, Secretary Johnson emphasized the use of history as an important tool in shaping the decisions of those in public office. Specifically, he discussed the need to be wary of government overreach when responding to threats and crisis, and how it is during these moments when the U.S. government must work its hardest to preserve the values it cherishes. Johnson stated:
We can erect more walls, install more screening devices, and make everybody suspicious of each other, but we should not do so at the cost of who we are as a Nation of people who cherish our privacy, our religions, our freedom to speak, travel and associate, and who celebrate our diversity and our immigrant heritage. In the final analysis, these are the things that constitute our greatest strengths as a Nation.
In 2017, Johnson appeared in the Yahoo! documentary 64 Hours In October: How One Weekend Blew Up The Rules Of American Politics, about the political turmoil in the 2016 US election during October 7-9, 2016, including the Donald Trump/Billy Bush tape, Hurricane Matthew, the Podesta e-mail leaks, and the U.S report on Russian interference.
After leaving office in January 2017, Johnson rejoined the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York City. He is also a member of the board of directors of Lockheed Martin,U.S. Steel Corporation, the Council on Foreign Relations, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, the Center for a New American Security, and a radio station based in Newark, NJ, WBGO. In private life, Johnson is a frequent commentator on NBC's Meet the Press, as well as ABC, CBS, PBS, MSNBC, CNN, FOX, and other outlets. Since leaving office, he has testified before Congress four times on the subjects homeland security and cybersecurity.
In private life, Johnson has sought to expand civility in American politics and dialogue, warning against the rise of extremist speech, and bridge political divides. He appears regularly on both MSNBC's Morning Joe, and Fox & Friends. In June 2018, he was an outspoken critic of the Trump Administration's family separation practice at the border. Several days later, he wrote to criticize calls to abolish ICE. In July 2019, he wrote a widely noted op-ed in The Washington Post titled "Politics is drowning out consensus on immigration. It's time for some straight talk." Johnson has called for a more civil dialogue from political leaders on both sides of the aisle. In an op-ed for The Hill on February 26, 2019, he wrote:
Leaders do lead, and Americans do follow the examples and standards their leaders set. A downward spiral in the rhetoric of our leaders lowers the bar for all the rest of us, makes the previously intolerable tolerable and, for the dangerously deranged few who lurk in our society, makes violence inevitable.
Johnson also delivered the convocation address at Liberty University on September 11, 2020, in which he discussed the importance of morality in political leadership:
Too often politicians pay no price for a lie, or even a crime. Instead, we conveniently overlook the bad behavior by saying 'but I like his polices,' or 'the economy is doing great.' This decoupling of a leader's personal character from the general environment in which he or she governs works only to a point. Trivial times may tolerate trivial leaders. But ask any military commander who has led people into battle, and they will tell you that in times of great stress, the poor character of a leader will have a corrosive effect on an entire unit. Character, integrity and morality do matter.
Johnson is a 2018 recipient of the Ronald Reagan Peace Through Strength Award, presented at the Reagan Presidential Library on December 1, 2018. He has debated at the Oxford and Cambridge Unions several times. In November 2019, he was made an honorary life member of the Cambridge Union. 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.
In June 2020, Chief Judge of New York State, Janet DiFiore, appointed Johnson as Special Advisor on Equal Justice in the courts. After a four-month review, Johnson issued a 100-page public report that contained a number of recommendations. The report included the following observation:
[i]n one form or another, multiple interviewees from all perspectives still complain about an under-resourced, over-burdened New York State court system, the dehumanizing effect it has on litigants, and the disparate impact of all this on people of color. Housing, Family, Civil and Criminal courts of New York City, in particular, continue to be faced with extremely high volumes of cases, fewer resources to hear those cases and aging facilities. Over and over, we heard about the "dehumanizing" and "demeaning cattle-call culture" in these high-volume courts. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of the civil or criminal litigants in the Housing, Family, Civil and Criminal courts in New York City are people of color. The sad picture that emerges is, in effect, a second-class system of justice for people of color in New York State.
1998 - 2001 Jeh Charles Johnson
| General Counsel of the Air Force
| General Counsel of the Department of Defense
| United States Secretary of Homeland Security
John F. Kelly