Will President Obama’s nominee to head the Securities and Exchange Commission be the beat cop Wall Street needs?
Obama today nominated ex-federal prosecutor Mary Jo White to take on the post vacated by Mary Schapiro. With her experience as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District New York, White has the reputation as being tough and no-nonsense. She has taken on mobsters, terrorists, NFL linebackers, and even Donald Trump, but she’s also worked in private practice with some major players in the finance industry.
That experience isn’t necessarily a negative. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made Joseph Kennedy the first SEC chairman after its creation in 1934, supposedly reasoning that the financier would know how to police markets that were perceived as crooked. White would be the first prosecutor to head the SEC and, despite her links to banks and bankers, her selection is widely seen as a signal that the administration is looking to take a tougher stance on Wall Street misbehavior.
Here’s what you need to know about White:
1.) Even George W. Bush liked her – Bill Clinton named White as the U.S. attorney in 1993, but the Bush administration asked her to remain at the post for an extra year.
She stayed nine years in the post, after having worked as an assistant attorney in the Manhattan-based district from 1978 to 1981 and again from 1990 to 1993.
2.) She has an M.A. in psychology – White earned her degree in 1971 from the New School for Social Research, a year after graduating from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. She went on to attend law school at Columbia University.
3.) Her husband is an SEC insider – John White served as the commission’s director of corporate finance from 2006 to 2008. As a partner at the firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, he co-authored an article in December noting that the implementation of new rules regulating derivatives “may be delayed.”
4.) Lots of other Wall Street connections – She served on the board of directors for the Nasdaq stock exchange. In her current job at as a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, she defended former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis on charges of civil security fraud.
5.) That Plimpton in her law firm’s name? George Plimpton’s dad – Francis Plimpton joined the firm in 1933 and was the father of the literary bon vivant who founded The Paris Review, quarterbacked for the Detroit Lions, and boxed against Sugar Ray Robinson.
6.) She jailed mobster John Gotti – The boss of New York’s Gambino crime family was convicted in 1992 of racketeering, tax evasion, bribery, loansharking, and his involvement in several murders. White was the government’s lead prosecutor who finally put the “Teflon Don” behind bars.
7.) She took on terrorists –White prosecuted the notorious “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman and Ramzi Ahmed Youzef who were behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. In 1998, her office indicted Osama bin-Laden for his attacks on U.S. embassies.
8.) In 2002, she worried about the government arresting too many top executives – “Arresting executives is a way that the government tries to prove it means what it says in terms of cracking down,” White told The New York Times in 2002. “The danger, of course -- and it's a significant one -- is overkill, sweeping into the prosecutorial frenzy people who should not be charged.”
9.) She challenged the New Orleans Saints – The NFL had White review evidence that New Orleans Saints’ defensive players were paid bounties to injure players on opposing teams, The New York Times reported in June.
10.) She also beat Donald Trump—In private practice, she successfully defended a journalist who wrote that Trump was not actually a billionaire, according to the Columbia Law School Magazine.
The Donald sued for $5 billion in a defamation suit after Timothy O’Brien wrote a 2005 book claiming that the self-promoting real estate heir was only worth $150 million to $250 million. White won the case and Trump moved on to questioning the birth certificate of the man who might be her new boss—Barack Obama.
Updated at 3:06PM