Ex-U.S. Attorney Yang Is Trump’s Top Contender for SEC

  • Debra Wong Yang is now a partner at law firm Gibson Dunn
  • She was part of team that absolved Christie in bridge scandal

Debra Wong Yang at Trump Tower in New York, on Dec. 5, 2016.

Photographer: John Angelillo/Pool via Bloomberg

President-elect Donald Trump is considering nominating ex-U.S. attorney Debra Wong Yang to run the Securities and Exchange Commission, positioning her to be the second consecutive former federal prosecutor to lead Wall Street’s top regulator, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

While Trump and his transition team have spoken with a handful of candidates, Yang is the top contender to be SEC chairman, said the person, who asked not to be named because the incoming president hasn’t announced his pick. Yang, who is now a partner at law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, would replace Mary Jo White, who has said she will step down at the end of the Obama administration.

Trump hasn’t made a decision about who should lead the SEC, said Jason Miller, a spokesmen for the president-elect. Yang didn’t immediately return an e-mail or phone call seeking comment.

Yang joined Gibson Dunn in 2006 after serving as a U.S. attorney in Los Angeles during George W. Bush’s presidency. With a background as a government lawyer and in private practice, she has had stints going after companies and defending them.

Corporate Wrongdoing

In favoring an ex-prosecutor, Trump is emphasizing the SEC’s role in investigating corporate wrongdoing rather than its more mundane -- though often as important -- policy-making side. Yang’s lack of experience in securities regulation could present challenges for her in trying to quickly roll back rules stemming from the Dodd-Frank Act, a priority of many Republican lawmakers and Wall Street firms.

Another potential hurdle for Yang could be trying to navigate the SEC’s byzantine bureaucracy as an outsider. Though the agency’s chairman sets the agenda, rules are usually spearheaded by longtime staff members whose cooperation is vital to getting things done. The SEC regulates everything from stock trading to asset managers to disclosures by public companies.

White, President Barack Obama’s final SEC chief, also defended companies as a private lawyer after serving as a U.S. attorney in New York during Bill Clinton’s presidency. At the SEC, which she joined in 2013, she was tripped up by policy, and her tenure was at times marked by discord and paralysis over passing regulations. White’s office was even nicknamed the cheese cellar by SEC staff members, who would quip that it was where policies went to age.

Enron Team

Wang leads Gibson Dunn’s crisis management practice group and was part of a team of lawyers that issued a 2014 report absolving New Jersey Governor Chris Christie of blame for the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal. Gibson Dunn was hired by Christie’s office.

Appointed by Bush in 2002, Yang was the first Asian-American woman to be named a U.S. attorney. At the Justice Department, she served on the Bush administration’s corporate fraud task force, which was set up in the wake of Enron Corp.’s accounting scandal. Yang was a California state judge before becoming a federal prosecutor.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE