President Barack Obama on Friday formally picked Jeh Johnson, a New York native who began his career as a federal prosecutor in New York's Southern District, to serve as head of the Department of Homeland Security. Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett filed the following report for NY1.
The president called Jeh Johnson a friend and an outstanding public servant in nominating him to head the Department of Homeland Security.
"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.
Johnson said he was happily settling into private life when the White House came calling.
"But when I received the call, I could not refuse it," said Johnson. "I am a New Yorker, and I was present in Manhattan on 9/11, which happens to be my birthday, when that bright and beautiful day was -- a day something like this -- was shattered by the largest terrorist attack on our homeland in history. I wandered the streets of New York that day and wondered and asked, 'What can I do?' Since then, I have tried to devote myself to answering that question."
At the Defense Department, Johnson played a key role in repealing the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy and helped the Pentagon craft its Hurricane Sandy response effort.
He also helped establish the legal policy for the Obama administration's use of drones.
The 56-year-old is a Columbia Law School graduate, who began his legal career as a federal prosecutor in New York's Southern District.
Johnson would replace former Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, who left the post this summer to become president of the University of California system.
"And I’m confident that I could not make a better choice in Jeh, somebody who I’m confident is going to be moving not just the agency forward, but helping to move the country forward," Obama said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Johnson would be the department’s fourth secretary since President George W. Bush created it following the September 11th attacks.
Johnson’s nomination also puts to rest speculation that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly would get the nod.
Kelly was reportedly not on the White House shortlist and never interviewed for the position.