The top official overseeing the criminal division at the US justice department is expected to step down this summer, according to three people briefed on the matter. His tenure included managing high-profile investigations into corporate crime and the January 6 Capitol attack.
The departure of assistant attorney general Kenneth Polite is significant given he occupies one of its most high-profile and influential roles and oversees 600 federal prosecutors.
Polite is expected to return to private practice when he formally steps down next week, the people said. In the interim, and until the White House’s next nominee for the role is confirmed, the criminal division is expected to be overseen by his principal deputy, Nicole Argentieri.
“I am deeply grateful to Kenneth for the skill and integrity with which he has led the department’s criminal division,” the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, said in a statement. “The impact of his leadership on the criminal division and the justice department will be felt for a long time to come.”
Polite’s chief of staff, Jessica Kim, is also leaving the criminal division after she was appointed the US special prosecutor to the International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression Against Ukraine earlier this month.
The departure of an assistant attorney general after two to three years is typical for the intense and fast-paced nature of the position, though Polite – who was based in Washington while his wife and children stayed in Philadelphia – had started to consider leaving at least as early as February.
The difficulty Polite found in working with the deputy attorney general, Lisa Monaco, appears to have played an additional part in his decision to leave.
The deputy attorney general manages the day-to-day running of the justice department and Monaco is Polite’s direct superior. But Monaco is also known to manage with a heavy hand and to trust only a small circle of advisers that did not always seem to include Polite, the people said.
Polite took charge of the criminal division in April 2021, during one of the most turbulent times for the department as it sought to grapple with the aftermath of the Capitol attack and leftover issues from the Trump administration, including Russian cyber-attacks against the US government.
The criminal division under Polite, though, quickly set its priorities on combating corporate and violent crime, and was involved in prosecuting executives of the cryptocurrency hedge fund FTX following its collapse last year, as well as pursuing Russian war crimes in Ukraine.
Polite’s departure from the justice department will be his third. Before he became the assistant attorney general, he was a line prosecutor at the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York. He then returned to private practice until he was nominated by Barack Obama to serve as the US attorney in New Orleans.