DOJ Legend Jack Keeney to Retire
By Ryan J. Reilly | July 12, 2022 4:06 pm

Jack Keeney (right) meets First Lady Michelle Obama last month as Attorney General Eric Holder looks on. (DOJ)

One of the longest serving career employees in the history of the U.S. government will retire after nearly 60 years at the Justice Department.

John C. “Jack” Keeney joined the Criminal Division of the Justice Department in 1951, and has served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division for several decades.

Keeney told Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, that he would be retiring last week, and Breuer announced the retirement Monday. Keeney will remain at the Justice Department for about three more months, said Breuer.

“There’s simply no way to talk about the department’s legendary efforts to fight organized crime without talking about and taking a moment to speak about the efforts of one of our most revered forefathers, Jack Keeney,” Breuer said. “Some people mistakenly thought that the biggest career move announced last week involved Lebron James, but for the people at the Department of Justice, the biggest career move announced last week involved a true hall-of-famer, [the] almost five-foot-nine Mr. Keeney.”

Keeney’s decision to retire, said Breuer, “took my breath away.” He called him a “career prosecutor in every sense of the word and meaning.”

“His devotion to the department and to mentoring thousands of young prosecutors is unparalleled,” Breuer said.

Jack Keeney (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Keeney sat in during Breuer’s remarks but did not make any comments.

Keeney served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and was captured by German forces in 1945 and held as a prisoner of war. After he left the Army, Keeney graduated from the University of Scranton in 1947. He received law degrees at Dickinson School of Law in 1949 and from George Washington University School of Law in 1953.

Keeney joined the DOJ Criminal Division in 1951. Three years later, he became chief of the unit that prosecuted Smith Act cases,involving conspiracies to overthrow the U.S. government.

In 1960, he transferred to Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, serving as Deputy Chief. From 1969 to 1973, he served as chief of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

Keeney later representative of the U.S. team that negotiated the mutual legal assistance treaty in criminal matters with Switzerland.

He has served as acting Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division on several occassions.

In 1996, Keeney received the Attorney General’s Award, the highest award bestowed by the Attorney General. In 1990, he also received the Criminal Division’s highest award, the Henry E. Petersen Memorial Award, for his lasting contribution to the division.

In 2000, the Justice Department named one of its buildings (130l New York Avenue, N.W.) after Keeney — an honor rarely bestowed on living persons.

For more on Keeney, see this 2007 NPR interview, the CNN transcript of a segment on his career, and a 1999 interview (PDF) with Keeney in the U.S. Attorneys’ Bulletin.

Additional reporting by Leah Nylen and Joe Palazzolo.


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