Jeh Johnson is a partner in the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and the former Secretary of Homeland Security (2013-2017), General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2009-2012), General Counsel of the Department of the Air Force (1998-2001), and an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York (1989-1991).
In private life, in addition to practicing law, Johnson is on the board of directors of Lockheed Martin, U.S. Steel, MetLife, the Council on Foreign Relations, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, and is a trustee of Columbia University. Johnson is frequent commentator on national and homeland security matters on NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, FOX, CNBC, NPR, Bloomberg TV and other news networks, and has written op-eds in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Hill, Lawfare, and elsewhere. As of March 2022, Johnson also hosts a classic R&B radio show on FM public radio station WBGO, 88.3FM, based in Newark, NJ.
As Secretary of Homeland Security, Johnson was the head of the third largest cabinet department of the U.S. government, consisting of 230,000 personnel and 22 components, including TSA, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Services, U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, and FEMA. Johnson’s responsibilities as Secretary included counterterrorism, cybersecurity, aviation security, border security, port security, maritime security, protection of our national leaders, the detection of chemical, biological and nuclear threats to the homeland, and response to natural disasters. In three years as Secretary of DHS, Johnson is credited with management reform of the Department, which brought about a more centralized approach to decision-making in the areas of budgets, acquisition and overall policy. Johnson also raised employee morale across the Department, reflected in the September 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
As General Counsel of the Department of Defense, Johnson is credited with being the legal architect for the U.S. military’s counterterrorism efforts in the Obama Administration. In 2010, Johnson co-authored the report that paved the way for the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by Congress later that year. In his book Duty, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote 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.” According to published reports, Johnson provided the opinion that was the legal basis for U.S. special forces to enter Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011.
Johnson is a 2022 recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, a 2021 recipient of the American Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award, as “an American statesman [who] has devoted his career to the public interest,” and a 2018 recipient of the Ronald Reagan Peace Through Strength Award, presented at the Reagan Presidential Library, for “contribut[ing] greatly to the defense of our nation,” and “guiding us through turbulent times with courage and wisdom.”
In 2020 the Chief Judge of New York State asked Johnson to conduct a comprehensive review of equal justice in the New York State courts. On October 1, 2020 Johnson issued a public report with his findings and recommendations, all of which the Chief Judge has committed to adopting.
Johnson has debated at both the Cambridge and Oxford Unions in England, and in November 2019 was conferred honorary life membership in the Cambridge Union. Johnson is a graduate of Morehouse College (1979) and Columbia Law School (1982) and the recipient of 13 honorary degrees.
Johnson married “the girl next-door,” literally, Dr. Susan DiMarco, in 1994. Susan is a retired dentist, a volunteer at the southern border and in numerous other activities, and, at the request of the U.S. Navy, is the sponsor of the Virginia-class submarine USS NEW JERSEY (SSN-796). In February 2023, Johnson and his family history were profiled on an episode of PBS’ Finding Your Roots.
For Jazz fans, tune into “All Things Soul with Jeh Johnson”, once a month on Saturdays from 8 – 10 am on WBGO 88.3 FM.
On this episode, Secretary Johnson shares his one way ticket to Birmingham, Alabama on May 20, 1961, to resume the Freedom Rides, and highlights the role they had in the US Civil Rights Movement.
During the course of our conversation, he also covers his family history as unearthed by Henry Louis Gates on Finding Your Roots, how he approached managing the Department of Homeland Security, concerns about cybersecurity and AI and his love for classic R&B which he features on his radio show.