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Justice Department's No. 3 Stepping Down

Outgoing Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
Outgoing Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli.

Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli will leave the third highest-ranking post at the Justice Department in March after nearly three years managing a bustling portfolio that has run the gamut from mortgage abuses and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to stamping out domestic violence in Indian country.

Perrelli, 45, says that he'll take several months off to spend with his growing family. He and his wife have a five-year-old, a two-year-old, and a pair of twins due in May. "This is the best job I'll ever have," Perrelli tells us, "you really couldn't ask for better." But, long hours spent overseeing Justice Department units that handle tax, civil rights, environment, antitrust, civil cases and billions of dollars in federal grant programs has taken "an enormous amount of energy and commitment and sacrifice."

Perrelli says he started working at the Justice Department as a 19-year-old, when he helped write computer programs during his summer breaks. He returned to headquarters during the tenure of President Clinton, and developed a strong interest in public safety and law enforcement in Indian Country. That came full circle in 2009, when Perrelli helped negotiate an end to a decade-long case filed by Native Americans who argued the government had mismanaged their federal trusts. Lately, Perrelli has appeared on Capitol Hill to testify in support of legislation that would improve the response to domestic violence on reservations.

Perrelli, who became a friend of President Obama during their service on the Harvard Law Review, has mostly adopted a low key approach to his job. But he made national headlines when he appeared at the White House in 2010 to persuade oil giant BP to set aside $20 billion to "ensure there'd be funds available to compensate people harmed by the damage in the Gulf." He followed up with several letters to the man overseeing the settlement pot, urging him to pick up the pace and get more money to victims of the spill.

One of his biggest efforts has yet to come to fruition. For more than a year, the Justice Department and state attorneys general have been hammering out a settlement with the country's largest mortgage servicing companies over faulty paperwork and forclosure abuses known as "robo signing" that helped push people out of their homes. The process has been complicated and sometimes fractious, as top lawyers for the state of California and New York criticized the process as going too soft on the banks.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.