To those who have observed Jay Clayton’s tenure therein, it’s been patently obvious that he doesn’t enjoy being chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. His first announcement after his nomination was that he was pretty much going to take his first year off. Since then, he’s presided over an agency whose chief inclination is to do nothing while generally looking and sounding miserable all of the time. It turns out, however, that this unhappiness wasn’t about the skepticism or starvation budgets or cybersecurity snafus or angry phone calls from former colleagues or constantly having to be a wet blanket. It was homesickness.
After three years at the helm of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Jay Clayton had made it known to colleagues, friends and the Trump administration that he was itching to go back to New York.
The longtime and highly-paid corporate lawyer, who had spent his career at Sullivan & Cromwell representing some of the world’s biggest financial institutions, including Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, wanted to be closer to his family.
Of course, there was nothing keeping Clayton from simply resigning and going back to New York. He could very easily have returned to Sullivan & Cromwell and a lucrative practice, or gone to work for one of his former clients, perhaps Goldman Sachs. Hell, he could have returned to New York and done nothing at all, because he’s worth $50 million and never needs to earn another dime.
But no: Clayton’s only 53, and not yet ready for a gilded retirement. But also not interested in returning to his old life working on IPOs: Three years at the helm of the SEC were evidence enough of just how boring financial services transactional law is. No, Clayton wanted to try his hand at being a proper lawyer, a litigator. Of course, he wasn’t interested in starting over at the bottom and working his way up, and this being the Trump administration, whoever would think he should?
In a private discussion with Attorney General William P. Barr, Mr. Clayton, 53, expressed interest in becoming the top prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, according to a Justice Department official. After a lifetime of practicing securities law and prepping companies for initial public offerings, Mr. Clayton told friends he saw the job as a way to establish his litigation credentials, according to people who know him.
That’s right, he’d learn on the job—arguably the second-most important prosecutorial job in the country after the one held by the guy he was spitballing with. I mean, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York really sings on a résumé, and who says it should have to be the culmination of a long career in litigation rather than the stepping stone to a second lucrative legal career? Not this president, that’s for sure.
“Mr. Clayton wanted to go back to New York City and we wanted to keep him in government,” McEnany said at a White House press briefing.
She said Clayton is “highly regarded” by the president.
And what’s a little turmoil in the most important prosecutors’ office in the country and another avoidable scandal in service of helping a golfing buddy land on his feet back home?
The sudden leadership shuffle is playing out as several politically sensitive investigations are under way and Democratic lawmakers say they want to look into whether those investigations played a part in Mr. Barr’s decision. The Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office has been investigating the business and political activities of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and some of Mr. Giuliani’s associates. Mr. Barr gave no rationale for the move.
Alas, it’s all for naught: If Jay Clayton wants to move back to New York and establish himself as a top-notch litigator, he’s probably going to have to find some other way.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called Berman’s firing “corrupt,” and that it “gives the impression that the President interfered in ongoing criminal investigations into himself and his associates….”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said he will respect a Senate tradition that gives effective veto power over the nomination of U.S. attorneys to the senators from the states that contain the prosecutors’ offices. New York’s other senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, is also a Democrat and expected to block Clayton’s appointment, along with Schumer.
“Jay Clayton can allow himself to be used in the brazen Trump-Barr scheme to interfere in investigations by the U.S. Attorney for SDNY, or he can stand up to this corruption, withdraw his name from consideration, and save his own reputation from overnight ruin,” Mr. Schumer said on Twitter.
Jay Clayton, Low-Profile Regulator, Is Catapulted Into a Political Fight [NYT]
Trump fired Berman to give U.S. attorney job to SEC Chairman Clayton, White House claims [CNBC]
Trump Administration Move Disrupts U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan [WSJ]