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First Black attorney takes helm atop pivotal New York attorney's office

Damian Williams, a career federal attorney, became the first Black person to lead the pivotal US attorney’s office that oversees Manhattan, the Bronx and southern New York.

Williams received Senate confirmation Tuesday to lead the Southern District of New York, making him the first Black lawyer to lead the office in its 232-year history.

He graduated from Yale Law School in 2007 after receiving a Master of Philosophy in International Relations from the University of Cambridge in 2003, and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Harvard University in 2002.

He had been working as an assistant US attorney in the Southern District of New York after starting there in 2012 and was chief of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force within the office since 2018.

US President Joe Biden nominated Williams in August as one of eight nominees to become US attorneys. He received the Senate’s sign-off alongside Breon Peace and Trini Ross, two other Black lawyers who will become the US attorneys for the Eastern District and Western District of New York, respectively.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who recommended the nominations to Biden, hailed their Senate approval in a voice vote late Tuesday, saying on Twitter that it marks “the 1st time 3 African American leaders will fill these 3 critical roles at once!”

Williams is taking the helm of the Southern District as it prepares to take the spotlight with the prosecution of Ghislaine Maxwell, the longtime aide to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein. Maxwell had sought to have the sex trafficking case against her dismissed, but a federal judge rejected that request in August.

The Southern District is also leading investigations into former New York City mayor and personal attorney to former President Donald Trump — Rudy Giuliani. That case is related to Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine.

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