Lisa Miller doesn’t easily fit the profile of a political appointee to a top Justice Department post helping lead efforts to crackdown on corporate crime.
Miller had no visible ties to President Joe Biden. She’d never previously crossed paths with her new boss, Criminal Division chief Kenneth Polite.
In fact, Miller’s only apparent personal connection to a senior DOJ leader happened to be in the previous administration. Her sister, up-and-coming Supreme Court litigator Sarah Harris, also served as a deputy assistant attorney general, albeit in the department’s Office of Legal Counsel under former President Donald Trump.
Close colleagues and courtroom foes over Miller’s eight years ascending the Justice Department said they couldn’t ascertain her political leanings. Former DOJ attorneys, however, weren’t surprised that a prosecutor who has litigated and supervised a series of complex, high-profile white-collar cases was named to oversee the Criminal Division’s fraud and appellate sections.
“Lisa is a veteran prosecutor—which makes her selection as a full-time political Criminal Division DAAG somewhat anomalous but ultimately incredibly advantageous to those she is supporting,” said Sandra Moser, a former chief of DOJ’s Fraud Section, who is now a partner at Morgan Lewis in Washington.
Miller’s trajectory at the Justice Department, which includes two stints at the Fraud Section and three-years at the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami, sets her apart from past appointees to the job.
Prior administrations often brought in outsiders, such as from Capitol Hill or Big Law to this position, particularly people who had established rapports with the Criminal Division chief.
Miller’s expansive new portfolio places her at the center of the department’s recently-launched initiative to pursue more individuals involved in corporate crime, toughen consequences for recidivist companies, and review a broader enforcement overhaul.
The person in her position traditionally is charged with shepherding corporate enforcement policies to fruition. The job includes dealing with top DOJ leaders, as well as hundreds of section managers and trial attorneys based in D.C., and 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices and other federal agencies partnering in white-collar investigations.
Miller’s resume brings her instant credibility, former DOJ attorneys said.
Her exposure to both the Fraud Section at Main Justice and a massive U.S. Attorney’s Office “just gives her a huge advantage,” over predecessors who might have only had exposure to one or the other, said Daniel Kahn, a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell, who held the same job on an acting basis earlier in the Biden administration.
“It’s just critically important to be able to balance those parts of the department,” said Greg Andres, a Davis Polk partner who held the job for three years in the Obama administration.
In an email to Bloomberg Law, Miller said she’s drawing on her experience as a line prosecutor “on a daily basis.”
“Every matter that we charge in the Criminal Division could end up before a jury—or at the very least, in active litigation,” she said.
Miller spent her first three years in the federal government as a Fraud Section trial attorney and then moved to the U.S. attorney’s office in south Florida, one of the nation’s largest, most active jurisdictions.
There, she co-led the prosecution of former investment firm CEO Robert Shapiro, who was handed the maximum 25-year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to running a $1.3 billion Ponzi scheme that defrauded more than 7,000 investors.
Shapiro’s attorney, Ryan O’Quinn, maintains his client’s 2019 sentence was “extremely severe,” while also crediting Miller’s “intense focus” that pushed an elaborate case forward.
“She certainly presented a credible threat as a trial lawyer, and that would be a major consideration that went into Mr. Shapiro’s decision to plead guilty,” O’Quinn added.
Miller also impressed another defense attorney, Joel Hirschhorn, who she faced in a trial that led to the convictions and prison for three owners of a chain of south Florida substance abuse rehab centers.
“She took every incoming salvo that I tossed and flipped it off like it was an irrelevant bomb,” said Hirschhorn. He praised Miller as “one of the best, most prepared prosecutors” he’s encountered in 54 years.
Back to D.C.
Fraud Section leaders recruited Miller back to Washington in 2020 to serve as one of the top supervisors in the section’s Health Care Fraud Unit.
That launched a string of four consecutive promotions over the next 20 months, most recently when Polite, with White House approval, removed her acting title in early December as the DAAG in charge of fraud and appellate work. The acting Fraud Section chief, who was Miller’s boss a few months earlier, now reports to her.
In the new role, she is serving on a corporate crime advisory group convened by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco last year. That puts Miller in position to shape policies on whether more guilty pleas should be sought as opposed to deferred and nonprosecution agreements and how frequently independent monitors are imposed as penalties in corporate resolutions.
“She’s a prosecutor so she will be strong in how she interprets the policies but she’s also a very reasonable person who understands complex corporate cases, so she will have a balanced eye,” said Laura Perkins, a former DOJ Fraud Section supervisor who’s now the co-managing partner at Hughes Hubbard & Reed’s Washington office.
Lawyers who have faced-off with her say they don’t expect her to be ideologically-driven.
“It’s refreshing that I worked with her in close proximity and have no idea what her personal politics are,” said O’Quinn. “It’s refreshing to see senior appointees who are being promoted based on merit.”
Miller and her sister both declined to comment about any political differences they might have in separate emails to Bloomberg Law. Serving in the Trump and Biden administrations doesn’t seem to have gotten in the way of their relationship.
Miller said she’s “quite close” with the elder Harris, as well as their younger sister.
Harris, who is now a partner at Williams & Connolly, said, “I would like to claim credit for honing Lisa’s skills through years of dinner-table arguments, but the truth is she’s been a natural as a prosecutor and a manager from Day 1.”