Congress Executive Branch

A New Legal Adviser Nominee

John Bellinger
Monday, January 13, 2020, 8:56 AM

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

Lost in the tumult of the past 10 days over the Suleimani strike was the president’s announcement on Jan. 3 of his intent to nominate a new legal adviser, Ambassador C.J. Mahoney, to replace Jennifer Newstead, who resigned last April to become general counsel of Facebook.

I did not know Ambassador Mahoney previously, but he comes well qualified for the job. He has developed valuable diplomatic—and interagency—experience over the past 20 months as deputy U.S. trade representative, where he has been one of the principal negotiators for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement. Remarkably, Mexican Ambassador Martha Bárcena and Mexico’s deputy foreign minister and lead trade negotiator, Jesus Seade, both tweeted support for his nomination as legal adviser. Under Secretary Seade called him “Totally the best man for the job. We look forward to working with him.”

Ambassador Mahoney also has impressive legal credentials: He was previously a partner in the international arbitration practice of Williams & Connolly and a law clerk to Judge Alex Kozinski on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and to Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. He graduated from Yale Law School and was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal.

Ambassador Mahoney’s nomination comes at a critical junction in the Trump administration’s approach to international law and international institutions. It will be important—for both internal U.S. government discussions and external legal diplomacy—to have a confirmed legal adviser, and I would urge the Senate to confirm him quickly. In the meantime, Marik String, a former staff member for Sen. Richard Lugar on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, continues to do an excellent job as acting legal adviser.

John B. Bellinger III is a partner in the international and national security law practices at Arnold & Porter in Washington, DC. He is also Adjunct Senior Fellow in International and National Security Law at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as The Legal Adviser for the Department of State from 2005–2009, as Senior Associate Counsel to the President and Legal Adviser to the National Security Council at the White House from 2001–2005, and as Counsel for National Security Matters in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice from 1997–2001.

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