Damian Williams Could Become Manhattan’s First Black U.S. Attorney

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Ishena Robinson
·3 min read
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Damian Williams, a longtime New York prosecutor who currently heads the Securities and Commodities Task Force in the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York, is now being considered to lead the office.

If confirmed, Williams would be the first African American to serve as Manhattan’s U.S. attorney.

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who represents New York, announced on Tuesday that he will recommend that the Biden administration nominate Williams for the top post, which Schumer says is considered “the most consequential prosecutorial office in America.”

“Damian Williams has tremendous legal acumen, is deeply experienced in the Southern District, has tried significant cases and has a strong commitment to equal justice and civil rights under the law. He is ready to take the helm to steer the Southern District forward into a bright future,” said Schumer.

Williams currently leads a team of prosecutors in the Southern District that works with law enforcement agencies to investigate white-collar crimes. He also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District until 2018, and during that tenure, he prosecuted politicians from both parties in cases involving insider trading and bribery.

He holds a J.D. from Yale and previously clerked for former federal judge Merrick Garland, who was recently confirmed as the country’s attorney general.

However, Williams’ chops in trying cases of financial crimes by the wealthy seem to be most relevant for the post-Schumer is calling the Biden administration to nominate him for.

From Bloomberg:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is well-known for its white-collar and Wall Street prosecutions, and previous officeholders like Preet Bharara, Rudy Giuliani and James Comey built national reputations with insider-trading cases against figures like Michael Milken, Raj Rajaratnam and Martha Stewart. It is often referred to as the “Sovereign District of New York,” a play on its official name, in a reference to the office’s independence from the Justice Department in Washington.

The selection of Williams, a current Manhattan federal prosecutor who leads the office’s securities-fraud unit, signals a strong desire on the part of policy makers to bolster white-collar enforcement in New York, which waned during the Trump administration.

According to Bloomberg, Williams was born in Brooklyn and is the son of Jamaican immigrants.

Schumer says he will also recommend Trini Ross and Breon Peace, also African American attorneys, to respectively serve as U.S. attorneys for the Western and Eastern Districts of New York.

“I am confident all three of these legal leaders will pursue the facts and justice without fear or favor and will greatly help rebuild public confidence in an unbiased and professional Department of Justice,” said Schumer of his recommendations.

The Biden administration has so far kept its promise of committing to diversity in his presidential appointments and nominations for other top federal positions. But this approach hasn’t been without its hiccups when it comes time for Senate confirmations. The confirmation of Vanita Gupta, a widely respected civil rights lawyer who served as head of the DOJ’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama, continues to be stalled by Senate Republicans. Neera Tanden, a Biden nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget, withdrew her name after several senators said they would not support her nomination over her past tweets.

If Schumer’s picks for leading the New York U.S. Attorney’s Offices are successful, it would be the first time that three African-American leaders hold critical positions in the DOJ.