News & Politics

The President’s Top Lawyers Are All Women

The top positions in the White House Counsel's Office are staffed entirely by women. Here's a look at Obama's legal eagles.

Avril Haines Leslie Kiernan Kathryn Ruemmler Kimberley Harris
Counsel Role Haines focuses on national security, a portfolio Ruemmler describes as “a huge basket of issues.” She’s also legal adviser to the National Security Council. Kiernan focuses on ethics compliance, vetting presidential appointees and judicial nominations. She also has a general-counsel role, handles internal legal matters. As White House counsel, Ruemmler is President Obama’s head lawyer. “It’s one of the best legal jobs in the world,” she says. “And I have a great client.” As the resident defense lawyer, Harris manages the response to congressional investigations and handles litigation against Obama or Executive Office staff.
Past Credits Assistant legal adviser for treaty affairs at the State Department. Deputy chief counsel for the majority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the 110th Congress. As a Zuckerman Spaeder partner, she was hired by the White House to interview Sonia Sotomayor while Obama decided whom to appoint to the Supreme Court. Kiernan defended Congressman Charles Rangel during the House Ethics Committee investigation into him. Principal deputy White House counsel until June, when she succeeded Bob Bauer. Principal associate deputy attorney general at the Department of Justice from 2009 to 2010. Partner at Latham & Watkins. Senior counsel to the assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division at the Justice Department. Partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell.
How She Got the Job Haines started in a lower-level position in the office while Bauer was its head. She was promoted when Obama nominated her predecessor, Mary DeRosa, to be a UN representative. Ruemmler has known Kiernan for 15 years, dating to when Ruemmler was an associate at Zuckerman Spaeder, whereKiernan wasa partner. “I have always admired her skill,” says Ruemmler. As Bauer’s number two, she was a logical successor and apparently won over the President. “Kathy is an outstanding lawyer with impeccable judgment,” said Obama in appointing her as his new counsel. Ruemmler and Harris met while both worked at the Justice Department. Says Ruemmler: “I was immediately struck by how talented she was.”

Photograph courtesy of the White House

This article appears in the November 2011 issue of The Washingtonian. 

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 and was a senior editor until 2022.