President Joe Biden has tapped Ed Siskel, the former White House attorney who helped manage the Obama White House’s response to the Benghazi and Solyndra investigations, to serve as his next White House counsel.
Siskel will step into the role next month, the White House said, as Biden is charging into a reelection battle and at a time when the various judicial and congressional investigations circling around the president, his family and his administration are entering a critical stage.
Biden could soon be interviewed by federal investigators as part of the special counsel investigation into his handling of classified documents; the US attorney investigating the president’s son Hunter has just been named a special counsel; and House Republicans, who are already investigating Biden on several fronts, are eyeing a potential impeachment inquiry into the president.
He succeeds White House counsel Stuart Delery, who announced last week he will step down after a little over a year in the top role.
“Ed Siskel’s many years of experience in public service and a career defending the rule of law make him the perfect choice to serve as my next White House Counsel,” Biden said in a statement to CNN. “For nearly four years in the White House when I was Vice President, he helped the Counsel’s Office navigate complex challenges and advance the President’s agenda on behalf of the American people, and first as a federal prosecutor and then as the top counsel for one of America’s biggest and most vibrant cities, his hometown of Chicago, Ed has shown a deep commitment to public service and respect for the law.”
Siskel helped manage the Obama White House’s response to House Republicans’ 2011 investigation of the White House’s relationship with Solyndra, the solar energy company that received a government loan and ultimately went bankrupt, as well as into the US government’s response to the terrorist attack on the US mission in Benghazi in 2012.
A person familiar with Siskel’s selection said his experience in defending against those GOP investigations was viewed as an asset and played an important role in his selection.
“The fact that he’s tough, respected, level-headed and meticulous and has years of experience at the White House and elsewhere in highly charged environments was a big factor,” said the source, who requested anonymity to freely discuss his selection.
“Ed Siskel’s deep expertise and resolute commitment to serve will be essential for the President to continue getting big things done for the American people,” said White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, who called the counsel’s role “critical to advancing the Administration’s top priorities.”
His former colleagues say his background managing high-profile, politically charged congressional investigations, his time as a federal prosecutor in Chicago and his time working at the Justice Department all helped prepare him for the complex interplay between the White House, Department of Justice and Congress that he is sure to face as White House counsel.
Former White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler, who tapped Siskel as deputy White House counsel under President Barack Obama, said Siskel’s time in the White House counsel’s office ahead of the 2012 election and amid the Benghazi inquiry by House Republicans makes him the right fit for another “politically charged” cycle.
“He’s got precisely the right temperament for this kind of role. He’s great under pressure. Really calm and very understated, but also tough as nails,” Ruemmler said. “He’s the guy who you want in the foxhole with you.”
Siskel also advised Biden when he served as vice president and worked under Bob Bauer, Biden’s personal attorney, when Bauer served as Obama’s White House counsel.
Those relationships will be crucial as Siskel navigates his responsibilities regarding legal matters relating to Biden’s official role as president versus those regarding his role as a candidate or private citizen. Bauer and Siskel’s predecessors have coordinated closely on legal matters facing the president and his son while also working to divide up areas of responsibility.
Pat Fitzgerald, the former US attorney for the Northern District of Illinois who hired Siskel as a prosecutor in his office, called Siskel “unflappable,” and said his combined experience at DOJ, the White House and in private practice gives Siskel “a really good sense of where the lines should be drawn.”
“He’s seen the DOJ side of things and when DOJ thinks it’s appropriate to coordinate with the White House, and when not. And then he’s been in the White House and seen contentious issues from the White House counsel perspective,” Fitzgerald said.
Siskel will take on the role after serving most recently as chief legal officer for the Chicago-based investment firm Grosvenor Holdings. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, where he was a constitutional law student of Obama’s, before clerking for late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
Siskel previously served as Chicago’s Corporation Counsel, the city’s top lawyer, under then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and helped manage the city’s efforts at police reform as the city prepared to enter into a consent decree.