Mr. Johnson would replace Janet Napolitano, who resigned this year to head the University of California’s system. The sprawling DHS is responsible for everything from enforcing immigration laws to protecting ports and inspecting cargo.
“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,” the White House aide said. “During his tenure at the Department of Defense, he was known for his sound judgment and counsel.”
For most of Mr. Obama’s first term, Mr. Johnson served as the Defense Department’s general counsel. In that post, he reviewed and approved military operations before they were sent to the Defense Secretary and president for final decisions.
In a speech at Yale Law School last year, Mr. Johnson said working for the Obama administration had been the highlight of his life.
“I have been on an incredible journey with Barack Obama … going back to November 2006 when he recruited me to the presidential campaign he was about to launch,” Mr. Johnson said at the time. “I remember thinking then, ‘This is a long-shot, but it will be exciting, historic, and how many times in my life will someone personally ask me to help him become president.’”
He is currently a litigator at Paul Weiss, the law firm he’s worked at periodically over nearly three decades. The firm’s web site says Mr. Johnson spearheaded reforms to the military commissions system at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, and helped write the report that led to the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010.
With the growing threat of al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Africa, Mr. Johnson’s nomination is likely to get some pushback from Senate Republicans over his views that the terror network is rapidly deteriorating.
“I do believe that on the present course, there will come a tipping point,” Mr. Johnson said in a speech at Oxford University late last year. “A tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured … such that al Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed.”