By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: August 11, 2021 ~
When it comes to prosecuting the serial criminal cases arising out of Wall Street, there are two critical posts: the head of the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. (The Securities and Exchange Commission has only civil powers and, thus, conveniently, cannot bring criminal charges.)
President Biden failed to properly vet his nominee, Kenneth Polite, to head the Criminal Division, “despite screaming red flags on his financial disclosure form.” Polite was confirmed for the job by the U.S. Senate on July 20. Senators asked zero questions about these financial red flags.
Yesterday, President Biden announced that he was nominating Damian Williams to become the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the office that brings (or fails to bring) the majority of criminal cases involving Wall Street crimes. Williams should be swiftly confirmed by the Senate as he has worked in that office since 2012 and is currently the Chief of its Securities and Commodities Fraud Unit.
Williams obtained a BA in Economics from Harvard University in 2002; a Masters of Philosophy in International Relations from the University of Cambridge in 2003; and a law degree from Yale University in 2007. Following law school, Williams clerked for Merrick Garland on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. District and for Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court. Garland is currently the Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Following his clerkships, Williams worked at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, a law firm with a long history of defending Wall Street’s mega banks. His stint there was brief, however, from 2009 to 2012.
Williams is married to Jennifer Nicole Wynn, an Adjunct Assistant Professor at NYU Stern School of Business and founder of Wynn Strategies, a leadership consultancy firm. Wynn holds an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business, an M.Ed. from Hunter College, and an A.B. from Harvard University.
Biden’s decision to promote from within the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York will be a welcome departure from the attempted coup that occurred there in the spring of last year.
Shortly after 9 p.m. on Friday evening, June 19, 2020, the then U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, released a statement indicating that U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, was “stepping down.” As to who would be replacing Berman, Barr said this: “I am pleased to announce that President Trump intends to nominate Jay Clayton, currently the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, to serve as the next United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.”
Prior to Trump’s nomination of Clayton to Chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, Clayton was a partner at the BigLaw firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, for more than two decades and had represented 8 of the 10 largest Wall Street banks in the prior three years.
Adding to the outrage over the late Friday night attempted coup, Berman released his own statement later that evening indicating that William Barr had just told a whopper of a lie to the American people. Berman’s statement was this: “I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney. I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning my position, to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.”
The White House and media outlets confirmed that Clayton asked for the job as U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York and that the President discussed the job with him and ultimately agreed to oust Berman in order to install Clayton.
On Saturday, June 20, Barr issued another statement indicating that President Trump was removing Berman from his post but would leave Berman’s Deputy, Audrey Strauss, in charge of the office on an interim basis. Barr had previously stated the prior Friday evening that he would be installing Craig Carpenito, the sitting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, as acting head of the office until Clayton’s confirmation hearing. The acknowledgement by Barr that Berman’s Deputy would fill the post until a confirmation hearing occurred seemed to appease Berman and he agreed to step down.
Clayton did not ultimately get the job because the Senators from New York indicated that they would not vote for his confirmation and other Senators indicated that endorsement by home-state senators is considered a prerequisite to confirmation.
On February 18, Sullivan & Cromwell announced that Clayton would be rejoining the firm as Senior Policy Advisor and Of Counsel. Apollo Global Management, the private equity firm embroiled in the Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficking scandal, announced that Clayton was appointed to serve as Lead Independent Director of Apollo’s Board of Directors effective March 1, 2021 and Chairman of the Board effective March 21, 2021.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is prosecuting the case against Epstein’s alleged accomplice, Ghislane Maxwell. Epstein died in his jail cell in Manhattan in 2019.
Hopefully, Williams will distinguish himself as an uncompromised prosecutor in this critically important post. We’ll be watching closely.