Karl R. Thompson has been named to lead the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, an under-the-radar but critically important unit that approves executive branch legal arguments on armed drones, surveillance and other national security issues.
Thompson has been advising Attorney General Eric Holder on civil litigation and Supreme Court issues since 2013. But he worked for nearly four years in the Office of Legal Counsel earlier in the Obama administration. He's leading that unit on an acting basis after its Senate confirmed head, Virginia Seitz, quietly resigned last year and her deputy, Caroline Krass, became the CIA's top lawyer earlier this month.
Given troubles moving President Obama's nominees through the Senate, Thompson is expected to serve in the Justice Department post for a while, perhaps through the end of Obama's second term.
"During his five years at the department, Karl has distinguished himself as a lawyer of unparalleled intellect and integrity," Holder said in a prepared statement.
Thompson is a graduate of Harvard University, the University of Cambridge and the University of Chicago law school. He previously worked as a law clerk for U.S. appeals court judge David Tatel and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Justice Department sources say the White House is working with the Senate to advance other DOJ nominees, including John Carlin to lead the National Security Division, Leslie Caldwell to lead the Criminal Division and Peter Kadzik to lead the Office of Legislative Affairs.