ProfessionalsJeh Charles Johnson
Jeh Johnson is a 2021 recipient of The American Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award, as “[a]n American statesman [who] has devoted his career to the public interest.” In public life, he served as 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 as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York (1989-1991). In private law practice Secretary Johnson is an experienced litigator and trial lawyer, and a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers. His most recent jury trial victory was in January 2024. Since returning to Paul, Weiss in 2017, Secretary Johnson is also co-chair of the firm's Cybersecurity & Data Protection practice, and advises high-tech companies, private equity firms and government contractors on the legal aspects of cybersecurity, national security, data privacy, government relations, crisis management, high-stakes litigation and regulatory matters. Secretary Johnson is currently a member of the board of directors of Lockheed Martin, U.S. Steel and MetLife, and is a trustee of Columbia University. At present Secretary Johnson is co-chairing an ABA-sponsored national task force with former judge J. Michael Luttig to assess ways to restore public trust in the American democracy. In private life, Secretary Johnson is also a regular commentator on national issues on NBC's Meet The Press, CBS, MSNBC, CNBC, CNN, PBS, FOX, FOX Business, Bloomberg TV and numerous other outlets, and he has published op-eds in the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Hill, Lawfare and Bloomberg Law. Secretary Johnson is the recipient of 13 honorary degrees.
Secretary Johnson has been affiliated with Paul, Weiss on and off since 1984 and was elected a partner in 1993. He is resident in both the New York and Washington offices.
As head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Johnson was responsible for counterterrorism; cybersecurity; border, port, aviation and maritime security; enforcement and administration of immigration laws; response to national disasters; detection and prevention of nuclear, chemical and biological threats; and the protection of critical infrastructure and the nation’s leadership. Secretary Johnson is credited with building a more effective, cohesive Department of Homeland Security and with raising morale. He served as the public face of the U.S. government’s homeland security mission, engaging with the press on numerous occasions and testifying before Congress 26 times. Secretary Johnson managed 230,000 employees in 22 different components and agencies, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Secret Service.
Between 2009-2012, Secretary Johnson served as General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Defense, where he was a primary legal architect for the military’s counterterrorism missions in the Obama Administration, and was responsible for the prior legal approval for every military operation authorized by the President and the Secretary of Defense. He co-authored the 2010 report that paved the way for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law by Congress. In his book Duty, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called Johnson “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.”
Between 1998-2001, Secretary Johnson served as General Counsel of the U.S. Air Force. He also served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1989-1991, trying 12 cases before a jury and arguing 11 appeals in three years.
Over his many years of private practice at Paul, Weiss, Secretary Johnson has successfully handled a variety of civil and white-collar matters for some of the firm’s most important clients. In 1994 he and two other partners successfully defended Armstrong World Industries in a four-month jury trial involving claims that Armstrong violated the antitrust laws. In 2005, he successfully defended Citigroup against a $900 million arbitration claim — at the time the largest ever filed before the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD). That same year he successfully defended Citigroup against an $86 million claim before the NASD.
BOARDS AND OTHER ACTIVITIES
In addition to Lockheed Martin, U.S. Steel, MetLife and Columbia University, Secretary Johnson is a director or trustee of the Council on Foreign Relations and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
Since leaving government in 2017, Secretary Johnson has been called to testify before Congress five times on matters of cybersecurity, homeland security and national security.
In August 2023 the president of the American Bar Association asked Secretary Johnson and former federal appellate judge J. Michael Luttig to lead a national task force to recommend ways to restore public trust in the American democracy. In June 2023 the president of the New York State Bar Association asked Johnson to co-chair a task force with Paul, Weiss partners Brad Karp and Loretta Lynch to study the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Harvard and UNC cases on affirmative action.
In June 2020 the Chief Judge of New York appointed Secretary Johnson to assess equal justice in the state court system. After a four-month investigation, Secretary Johnson issued a 100-page public report recommending a number of changes, all of which the Chief Judge said would be adopted.
Secretary Johnson has debated numerous times at both the Oxford and Cambridge Unions in England and is an honorary life member of the Cambridge Union. His November 2012 address at the Oxford Union, “How Will the War Against al Qaeda End?,” received international attention and acclaim. In recent years, Secretary Johnson has lectured at Westminster College, Vassar College, Morehouse College, Liberty University, Columbia University, Adelphi University, American University, Arizona State, Kansas State, UC Berkeley, Harvard and Yale Law Schools, the Kennedy School, the National War College and all four U.S. military academies.
From 2001-2004, Johnson chaired the Judiciary Committee of the New York City Bar Association, which rates and approves all federal, state and local judges in New York City. He has also served as a member of the Executive Committee of New York City Bar. In the past, Johnson has served as a trustee, director or governor of Adelphi University, the New York Hall of Science, the Legal Aid Society, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the New York Community Trust, the City Bar Fund, the Roosevelt Institute, the National Institute of Military Justice, the Federal Bar Council, the Fund for Modern Courts, Vera Institute of Justice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
AWARDS AND RECOGNITIONS
In addition to The American Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2018, he was the recipient of the Ronald Reagan Peace Through Strength Award, presented at the Reagan Presidential Library, for “contributing greatly to the defense of our nation” and “guiding us through turbulent times with courage and wisdom.” In 2024, Secretary Johnson received the New York State Bar Association's Gold Medal Award, its highest honor, as “a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion.” In 2022, Secretary Johnson was the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. In 2021, Savoy Magazine recognized Secretary Johnson as one of the most influential Black corporate directors in America. Secretary Johnson has received numerous other awards and acknowledgments, including the Human Relations Award from the Anti-Defamation League of New York/New Jersey, the Trailblazer Award from the U.S. Attorney for Eastern District of New York, the Theodore Roosevelt Leadership Award from the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, and three Department of Defense medals for distinguished public service.