President Barack Obama has nominated a tax lawyer to head the Tax Division at the Department of Justice, more than two years after his first nominee met jeers on Capitol Hill for her lack of tax experience.
Fulbright & Jaworski LLP partner Kathryn Keneally is the White House’s new choice to head the division, which has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since Nathan J. Hochman left at the end of the George W. Bush administration.
The New York-based Keneally has deep experience in tax law but also white collar crime, government investigations and hot legal areas like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, giving her the kind of background in criminal matters that is crucial to the Tax Division. Her law firm biography lists numerous publications and speeches to her credit, offering a level of engagement with the subject matter that was strikingly lacking from Obama’s first nominee, Mary Smith.
In the Senate, Smith’s credentials were questioned by Republicans publicly and some Democrats privately. She had political chops, having worked in the Clinton White House counsel’s office and connections to the Obama campaign through her home in Chicago. As a member of the Cherokee Nation, would have been the highest-ranking American Indian ever to serve in the Justice Department. But the Senate twice allowed her nomination to expire without action before the White House gave up and withdrew her name.
Smith went to work in 2010 as a counsel to Civil Division Assistant Attorney General Tony West, a position that doesn’t need Senate confirmation.
The Tax Division has been led by career DOJ lawyer John DiCicco during the vacancy in the top spot. The division has notched some significant victories, including a high profile case against Swiss Bank UBS AG to force it to reveal the names of U.S. tax evaders. More recently, it has drawn attention on Capitol Hill by trying to keep secret a settlement the division reached with an Islamic bank implicated in terrorist funding networks, a cautious and unusual position that some observers attribute leadership by a career Justice lawyer instead of a fully empowered political appointee.
Keneally has donated to Democratic campaigns, according to election records cited by the BLT blog, including $2,000 to Obama’s reelection campaign just four months ago. She also gave $2,300 to Obama in 2008. Other contributions have gone to Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.).
The White House announced its choice of Keneally late Wednesday and sent her nomination to the Senate on Thursday.
Keneally began her law career as a clerk for U.S. District Judge Edward R. Neaher in the Eastern District of New York in 1982, after graduating magna cum laud from Fordham Law School.