President Barack Obama has chosen Fulbright & Jaworski partner Kathryn Keneally for the top tax-enforcement position at the U.S. Justice Department, a job that has been vacant for two and a half years.
Keneally works out of Fulbright's New York office, specializing in a variety of tax matters. That is the kind of experience Obama’s first nominee for the tax job, Mary Smith, did not have, prompting Republicans to block her nomination beginning in 2009. Smith later took a different Justice Department position that didn’t require Senate confirmation.
Keneally joined Fulbright in 2002 when the firm acquired Owen & Davis, a New York litigation boutique where Keneally had worked. Earlier, she was a partner at New York’s Kostelanetz & Fink. She’s also been active in the American Bar Association’s taxation section.
In 2008, the New York Law Journal, which is affiliated with The National Law Journal, called on Keneally as a tax-crimes expert while reporting on allegations against then-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D). Keneally cast doubt on ideas that Spitzer could face criminal charges of money laundering or structuring in connection with payments to a prostitution ring. (Spitzer was not charged.)
Federal election records show she’s been an occasional contributor to political campaigns, all Democratic. Four months ago, she gave $2,000 to Obama’s reelection campaign, and she gave $2,300 to Obama’s campaign in September 2008. She’s also given to Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.).
The White House announced Keneally’s nomination late on Wednesday. She did not immediately return a call requesting comment today. The most recent Senate-confirmed head of DOJ’s Tax Division was Nathan Hochman, now a partner at Bingham McCutchen. He left government at the end of the George W. Bush administration.
The tax job is one of two vacancies atop major DOJ components, along with the head of the Antitrust Division. Obama has not nominated anyone for the antitrust job, which opened up last month when Christine Varney left for Cravath, Swaine & Moore.