President-elect Barack Obama is expected to announce soon the nomination of David Kris, a former high-ranking national security lawyer in the Justice Department, to head the department’s National Security Division, according to a source close to the transition.
The two-year-old division is central to the department's counterterrorism, counterespionage, and intelligence efforts. As an associate deputy attorney general from 2000 until 2003, Kris oversaw national security issues. He is currently counsel and chief compliance officer at Time Warner Inc.
Kris has been sharply critical of the Bush administration’s key legal justifications for the National Security Agency's domestic spying program. In 2006, he distributed a 23-page legal analysis to reporters concluding that the warrantless wiretapping program was covered by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He also cut down the administration’s argument that Congress’ 2001 authorization of the use of force to root out al-Qaida allowed the president to cut FISA’s corners.
Kris has been working on Obama’s Justice Department transition team, specializing in national security issues. A graduate of Harvard Law, Kris joined the department in 1992 through its honors program. He served as a national security adviser to Sen. Hillary Clinton during her presidential run.
The choice of Kris, coupled with four other nominations to top Justice posts announced earlier this week, signal Obama's desire to depart from some of the most controversial legal policies of the Bush administration.
His nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to the president and all agencies, is particularly illustrative of this new direction.
Johnsen, an Indiana University law professor who served as acting head of OLC before entering academia, has repeatedly disparaged the Bush administration’s legal justifications for the NSA wiretapping program and the use of harsh interrogation methods on suspected terrorists. A law review article she authored last year is titled, “What’s a President to Do: Interpreting the Constitution in the Wake of the Bush Administration’s Abuses.”