Kathryn Ruemmler plans to leave her post as White House counsel and return to private practice by the end of the year, a White House official said today.
Ruemmler has served as one of President Barack Obama's closest advisors on legal issues dominating the second term—including judicial nominations, recess appointments and government surveillance.
The former Latham & Watkins partner had agreed to stay on as the White House's top lawyer through the November presidential election, but Obama asked her to stay and she agreed, the White House official said.
Since then, the White House has faced sticky legal issues about National Security Agency surveillance programs and several high-profile political issues such as the attack in Benghazi and accusations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Ruemmler will remain on the job through 2013, the White House official said. Politico first reported news of Ruemmler's departure.
There is no indication what Ruemmler's plans are, but lawyers at her old firm praised her on Wednesday.
"Kathy is a fantastic lawyer who has great instinct and judgment," said Alice Fisher, office managing partner at the Washington office of Latham & Watkins. "She is battle-tested at the highest levels. Quite simply, she is one of the best lawyers with whom I have worked both inside the government and in private practice."
White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed Ruemmler's departure during an afternoon press conference, but said he had no information to divulge on whether Obama has identified a successor.
"She is an enormous asset and a very important advisor to the president, and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and one of the best people I’ve ever worked with," Carney said. "So we will all be sad to see her go when she goes. Beyond that, I have no information to provide, as ever, on personnel decisions by the president."
Ruemmler was among the youngest ever to take the job after moving through the legal circles of the U.S. Department of Justice and private practice. In 2011, she succeeded Robert Bauer, who, after 18 months in the position, rejoined the political law practice at Perkins Coie to advise Obama's re-election campaign. (Bauer replaced Gregory Craig, now a partner in the Washington office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.)
Ruemmler was a Zuckerman Spaeder associate in Washington when she joined the Clinton White House as an associate counsel. She moved to Latham & Watkins in 2007 as a partner. Ruemmler’s public service career also includes stints in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia and at Main Justice, where she was a top lawyer in Deputy Attorney General David Ogden’s office. As an assistant U.S. attorney, Ruemmler worked on the Justice Department’s Enron Task Force.
She was Bauer's principal deputy when she took over the top White House legal spot.