Mary Jo White, the former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, is being selected by President Barack Obama to be chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission in a move the White House is advertising as a shot against Wall Street.
The New York Times reported that White’s selection would be announced by the President on Thursday afternoon. A Bloomberg report last week described the former Manhattan federal prosecutor as a front-runner to succeed Mary Schapiro as SEC chair. (Since Schapiro stepped down in December, Elisse Walter has filled the seat temporarily.)
The Times also reported that the President will renominate Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a post in which he was installed a year ago under a recess appointment. Cordray, too, is a former law enforcement officials; he served as Ohio Attorney General before coming to Washington and has gone after Wall Street targets. He joined the consumer agency as enforcement director in 2011.
“The President will name two individuals to serve in top enforcement roles in his administration to help ensure we are effectively implementing these reforms so that Wall Street is held accountable and middle-class Americans never again are harmed by the abuses of a few,” a White House official told The Times, virtually confirming that White and Cordray will be in the spotlight.
White, now a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, was chief of the SDNY office from 1993 to 2002, mostly during the Bill Clinton administration. She oversaw cases as varied as the bombings of two American embassies in Africa in 1998 and the long but eventually successful pursuit of flashy-dressing gangster John Gotti. At Debevoise, she works alongside former George W. Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey, a former federal judge in Manhattan.
The Times’ Ben Protess wrote that the nominations “could face a mixed reception in Congress.” The Senate already declined to confirm Cordray, with Republicans vowing to block any candidate for the consumer bureau, “a new agency created to rein in the financial industry’s excesses,” Protess recalled. As for White, she could face questions about the “revolving door” nature of the law, or the “hop the fence” career move in which former prosecutors glide into lucrative roles as defense lawyers, as she did.
But the President’s party has a Senate majority. There are 53 Democratic senators to 45 Republicans, with 2 independents, Angus King of Maine and Bernard Sanders of Vermont. King is a newcomer to the Capitol, but Sanders generally sides with Democrats.
Liberal Democrats reacted warmly to the news of White’s intended nomination.
“Ms. White has proven an excellent public servant and an able prosecutor. I hope to hear from her about her commitment to fully implement the critical financial reforms that arose out of the last financial crisis,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who from his perch as chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has tackled banking issues.
Said Sen. Charles Schumer, (D-N.Y.): “Mary Jo White is a fearless, tough-as-nails prosecutor with the knowledge of industry to keep up with the markets’ swift innovation. She will not shy away from enforcing the laws to ensure that markets operate fairly, but her integrity means she will approach all matters without regard to politics. She will easily be confirmed.”