“I was not looking for this opportunity,” Johnson said. “But when I received the call, I could not refuse it.”
Johnson, a multimillionaire lawyer outside of his government posts, has defended the administration’s targeted killings of U.S. citizens overseas as well as the role of the U.S. spy court and crackdowns to keep government secrets.
If confirmed, he would manage a department with more than 20 different agencies, a budget of more than $45 billion and a staff of hundreds of thousands of civilian, law enforcement and military personnel. On any given day, the job includes making decisions about disaster relief, distribution of a shrinking grants budget, which immigrants living in the United States illegally to deport and how to protect passenger jets from would-be terrorists.
Johnson, a one-time assistant U.S. attorney in New York, would inherit a department whose public face in recent years has been associated with immigration. But that’s an area he has little experience with.
Matt Fishbein, who worked with Johnson in a private law firm in the early 1980s and served on a New York City bar panel while the nominee was chairman in the late ‘90s, described the job Johnson will face.
“Ultimately, he’s responsible for security in this age of terrorism,” said Fishbein, a Debevoise & Plimpton law firm partner in New York. “I imagine that means every single day coming across his desk is going to be very scary information that he’s going to have to sort out and see if there’s a basis for it. You need to secure and protect the country while not overstepping the bounds, violating civil liberties. It’s a tough job.”
Johnson has made clear his support for using done strikes to kill enemy combatants, including U.S. citizens overseas. He has also said that he considers “lone wolf” terrorists to be a law enforcement problem, not enemy combatants who should be targeted in military strikes.