Updated 4:29 p.m.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.'s chief of staff, Gary Grindler, is leaving the department this week after serving in various high-level roles since 2009.
Grindler, who joined the department's Criminal Division as a deputy assistant attorney general under the leadership of Lanny Breuer in April 2009, served as the second-in-command at DOJ in 2010 after the departure of David Ogden.
Holder named Grindler—a former white-collar defense and government investigations partner at King & Spalding—chief of staff in January 2011. (Grindler, who had worked under Holder during the Clinton administration, replaced Kevin Ohlson.)
Holder said in a statement today that Grindler "has distinguished himself as an exceptional public servant, a trusted advisor, and a principled leader."
"He has demonstrated time and again his good judgment and an ability to make the tough—and correct—decisions," Holder said in the statement. "I cannot imagine the Department without Gary, though I wish him all the best as he considers opportunities in the private sector—and I know that his extraordinary contributions will continue to guide our efforts.”
The timing of Grindler's decision to leave the department comes between administrations, when it's not uncommon to see changes in federal agency leadership posts.
Assistant Attorney General Christopher Schroeder, who ran the DOJ Office of Legal Policy since April 2010, is returning to Duke Law School, where he taught constitutional, administrative and environmental law before taking a leadership post at the department. Elana Tyrangiel, a top lawyer in the legal policy office, will take over on an acting basis.
DOJ officials didn't say whether Grindler, who will step down effective December 5, plans to return to a law firm. Wick Sollers, the King & Spalding managing partner in Washington, said Grindler is a "terrific lawyer who made a lot of sacrifices in dedicating himself to public service" the last several years.
"This has been, for me, for the last three-plus years, really the most gratifying time of my entire career," Grindler said. "That’s because not just what I've done as chief of staff but also as acting deputy attorney general. It's been a great experience to work with the career lawyers and investigators that make this place go. It’s been incredibly gratifying to come to work every day."
Margaret Richardson, Holder's deputy chief of staff, will be the new chief of staff, DOJ said.
Richardson, who served as director of Women for Obama in several states, including California, joined DOJ in early 2009. Richardson previously directed the Clean Slate Clinic at the East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley, Calif. She has been a counselor to the attorney general since January 2009.
“During her tenure, Margaret has proven through her thoughtful advice and tireless work to be a tremendous asset not just to me, but to the entire Department of Justice," Holder said in a statement. "She is an outstanding public servant, a trusted advisor and a good friend, and I am grateful that she has agreed to continue to work with me as my next Chief of Staff.”
DOJ said Grindler, as chief of staff, played a key role in the negotiation of the criminal settlement—$4 billion in fines and penalties—with BP plc. The deal, which Holder, Breuer and others top officials recently announced in New Orleans, marked the largest-ever criminal resolution in the country's history.
Grindler led the steering committee of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force and he served as the chair of the Task Force on Intellectual Property. In the Criminal Division, as a deputy assistant attorney general, Grindler had oversight of the fraud and appellate sections.
"There's a reason that he had all of those jobs, which is he is very smart, very able, trustworthy and dedicated to the department," said Jamie Gorelick, who leads the defense, national security and government practice group at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in Washington.
Republicans on Capitol Hill made Grindler a target of criticism in the controversy over the Operation Fast and Furious gun sting.
House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a report published in October that Grindler was aware of the connection between flawed investigatory tactics and the December 2010 death of a border patrol agent but failed to “properly supervised the operation."
A DOJ internal investigation about Fast and Furious said Grindler and other top DOJ officials "were not told about ATF’s use of flawed tactics in Operation Wide Receiver until several months after" the shooting death of agent Brian Terry.
Grindler received a briefing about Fast and Furious in 2010, the report said. “However, we found that ATF’s leadership provided him with a relatively brief high-level overview that highlighted the case as a significant investigation but did not identify any questions or concerns about it,” the report said.
FBI Director Robert Mueller III said in a statement that the FBI is "grateful" for Grindler's service.
“Gary has had to handle some tough issues at the Department over the years," Mueller said. "He has been an effective, reliable, steady hand on the tiller."