Michael J. Elston
Rockford, Illinois, U.S.
|Education||Drake University (BA)|
Duke University (JD)
Michael J. Elston (born 1969), is a United States lawyer who currently serves as Acting Secretary of the Board of Governors for the United States Postal Service (USPS), in Washington, D.C. Elston has served as the Associate General Counsel and Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer for the USPS since 2014. From November 2005 to June 2007, he was a political appointee in the administration of President George W. Bush, serving as the Chief of Staff & Counselor, Office of the Deputy Attorney General, United States Department of Justice, before resigning in the wake of the dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy. He was appointed as an Assistant United States Attorney in 1999 by Attorney General Janet Reno.
Early life, education and clerkship
Elston grew up in Rockford, Illinois where he attended Rockford Auburn High School graduating in 1987. He received his undergraduate degree from Drake University in 1991, where he was president of Theta Chi and vice president of the student senate. He was a co-winner of the Oreon E. Scott Award, and he was named the 1991 recipient of Theta Chi's Reginald E.F. Colley Trophy. He earned his law degree from the Duke University School of Law, where he graduated with high honors in 1994. He served as the Administrative Editor of the journal Law & Contemporary Problems. From 1994 to 1996, Elston clerked for judge Pasco M. Bowman of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
From 1997 to 1999, he worked as an attorney on the staff of the Shughart Thomson & Kilroy firm in Kansas City, Missouri. While there, he argued and won a case involving prisoner rights before all 11 judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Department of Justice
In 1999, he was named an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Illinois in Rockford where he served until 2002. From there he moved to the Eastern District of Virginia, where he worked on the prosecutions of John Walker Lindh, the American who fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan; and Zacarias Moussaoui, the convicted al-Qaida operative who alternately claimed and denied a role in the September 11 attacks. Elston also worked on early drafts of the Patriot Act. He served as co-chief of criminal appeals from 2003 to 2005, when he became Counsel to the U.S. Attorney. From 2005 to 2007, he was Chief of Staff to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. From October 2005 to October 2006, he also represented the Attorney General as the Justice Department's ex officio member of the United States Sentencing Commission.
Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy
While serving as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Attorney General, Elston was involved in the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys, and was accused of threatening "at least four" of the fired U.S. attorneys. Elston denied these allegations, and a subsequent report by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concluded that "we do not have sufficient evidence to conclude that Elston intended to threaten" any of the dismissed U.S. Attorneys. Elston resigned in June 2007 following the May 2007 announcement of the resignation of the Deputy Attorney General whom he served as chief of staff.
One of the dismissed attorneys, John L. Brownlee, testified that Elston had called him on behalf of Paul McNulty and asked him to extend a deadline for Purdue Pharma regarding their drug OxyContin. Brownlee declined and his name appeared on Elston's list of attorneys to be fired eight days later. Elston stated that he did not recall any link between the two events.
Allegations of improperly politicized hirings
In June 2008, the OIG issued a separate report alleging that Elston had violated federal regulations by taking political affiliations into account when screening hires for the department. Elston denied the allegations. In July 2008, the OIG issued a report regarding another DOJ official in which the OIG detailed efforts that Elston, a Republican, made to retain individuals with Democratic party affiliations in leadership positions in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General despite objections from other DOJ officials.
Private practice and USPS
From 2007 to 2009, Elston was a partner with the McGuireWoods law firm in its Tysons Corner and Washington, D.C. offices. In 2010, he rejoined the government and continued his public service with the Office of the General Counsel of the United States Postal Service. In 2011, he was promoted to the position of Chief Counsel, Appellate and Commercial Litigation. From 2012 to 2014, he served as Chief Counsel, Employment Law. He was appointed to his present position in May 2014.
In June 2018, the Postmaster General of the United States appointed Elston as the acting Secretary of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service.
Awards and publications
In September 2006, the Department of Justice gave Elston its highest award presented to attorneys for contributions and excellence in legal performance – the John Marshall Award – "for his outstanding legal advice, leadership and excellence related to the appellate work of the Eastern District of Virginia." He is also a recipient of the Liam O'Grady Award for outstanding service to the Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Program in the Eastern District of Virginia and a Certificate of Appreciation from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Elston is also a co-author of the two-volume treatise "Grand Jury Law & Practice", which is updated annually.
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Elston was the Senior Warden of Pohick Church from 2011 to 2014. He was first elected to the Vestry in 2010 and was immediately selected as Junior Warden. He also served as chair of the church's 66th annual country fair in 2011. He was a member of the Vestry and Junior Warden of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Rockford, Illinois, from 2001 to 2002. He was a member of the board of directors of Shelter Care Ministries,[failed verification] a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, from 2001 to 2002.
In February 2017, Elston was sworn in as the 97th President of the Virginia Society, Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). He has served as a state officer since 2013, and he served as president of the George Washington Chapter in 2013. At the national level, he is a Trustee and was a member of the Executive Committee from 2016 to 2017. In 2015, he was elected to a three-year term as a director of the SAR Foundation, and in 2017 he was elected Vice President of the SAR Foundation. He has received several SAR awards, including the Meritorious Service Medal (chapter, state and national levels) and the Distinguished Service Medal (chapter and state level).
In April 2018, Elston was sworn in as the Senior State President of the Virginia Society, Children of the American Revolution (CAR). He was also appointed Senior National Ethics Chairman for the CAR.
- "Acting Secretary, United States Postal Service Board of Governors". n.d. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
- Eggen, Dan; Goldstein, Amy (June 15, 2007). "Justice Official to Quit, Elston Had Role in Prosecutor Firings". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
- Smith, Stephen (June 15, 2007). "More Firings Fallout As Justice Aide Quits". CBS News. Associated Press. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
- Cunningham, Pat (June 26, 2008). "Feds say Rockford native violated law as Justice Department official". e-rockford.com. Rockford Register Star. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
- "Oreon E. Scott Award Winners". Drake University. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
- "Profile: Michael Elston". Rockford Register Star. 2007. Retrieved March 7, 2007.
- "Journal Staff". Law and Contemporary Problems. Duke University School of Law. Winter–Spring 1994. Retrieved May 2, 2019.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
- Nichols v. Bowersox, F.3d 1068, 1072-73 (8th Cir. April 13, 1999).
- "Alumni Views". Duke Law School. Archived from the original on March 1, 2008. Retrieved June 15, 2007.
- Lichtblau, Eric (June 25, 2008). "Report Assails Political Hiring in Justice Dept". The New York Times. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
- Jordan, Lara Jakes (June 16, 2007). "Official close to attorney firings quits". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
- Office of the Inspector General; Office of Professional Responsibility (September 2008). An Investigation into the Removal of Nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006 (pdf). United States Department of Justice (Report). p. 355.
While we understand why McKay, Charlton, and Cummins may have interpreted Elston's phone calls as a threat, we do not have sufficient evidence to conclude that Elston intended to threaten them. In an interview with a reporter the day before he testified before Congress, and his congressional testimony, Cummins did not characterize Elston's call as a threat. Elston's comments appear close to the line, and we do not believe it unreasonable for McKay, Charlton, and Cummins to have reached the conclusions they did. Nevertheless, we do not believe the evidence is sufficient to show that his intent was to threaten or intimidate the three U.S. Attorneys.
- Johnston, David (June 16, 2007). "Another Justice Dept. Official Resigns". Retrieved May 3, 2019.
- "Another Justice Dept. official quits". United Press International. June 16, 2007. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
- McGreal, Chris (May 22, 2018). "Rudy Giuliani won deal for OxyContin maker to continue sales of drug behind opioid deaths". Retrieved May 3, 2019.
- Goldstein, Amy; Johnson, Carrie (August 1, 2007). "U.S. Attorney Became Target After Rebuffing Justice Dept". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
John L. Brownlee, the U.S. attorney in Roanoke, testified that he was at home the evening of Oct. 24 when he received the call on his cellphone from Michael J. Elston, then chief of staff to the deputy attorney general and one of the Justice aides involved in the removal of nine U.S. attorneys last year. Brownlee settled the case anyway. Eight days later, his name appeared on a list compiled by Elston of prosecutors that officials had suggested be fired.
- Barton, Ethan (January 20, 2019). "Top DOJ Official Reportedly Helped Keep Opioid Executives From Prison. She's Since Defended Pharma Against The Government". Daily Caller. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
- Beall, Pat (January 31, 2019). "Purdue Pharma plants the seeds of the opioid epidemic in a tiny Virginia town and others". The Palm Beach Post. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
In late October 2006, Brownlee got a green light to criminally charge Purdue if the company balked at a plea deal. He also got a phone call at home. Mike Elston, the chief of staff for then-U.S. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, was on the line. "He (Elston) told me he had received a phone call from one of the (Purdue) lawyers about the case," Brownlee later testified in a congressional hearing. Purdue's attorneys "had once again said that we were moving too quickly," Brownlee said. Purdue wanted more time. Brownlee had known Elston barely 90 days, had spoken to him just once and never about the case. "I sensed that he was inquiring almost on (Purdue's) behalf," Brownlee testified. [...] On the night of the phone call from Elston, Brownlee testified that he told the chief of staff that DOJ had given him permission to move forward, "and we were going to do just that, and he needed to back out of the way of the case." Eight days later, Elston put Brownlee's name on a list of federal prosecutors to be fired.
- Shnayerson, Michael (January 2008). "A Tale of Two Giulianis". Vanity Fair.
Brownlee gave the company a deadline of October 24, 2006, to accept those charges or go to court, in which case additional charges would be filed. That night, Brownlee would later tell the Senate Judiciary Committee, he got a call at home. On the line was Michael Elston, chief of staff for Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. Brownlee knew that McNulty worked directly for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. According to Brownlee, Elston said Purdue complained that it needed more time. Brownlee told the committee, "I told him to leave it alone, to go away, and he did." The next day, Brownlee held to the deadline. Purdue and its top three executives accepted their guilty pleas of misbranding. A week or so later, Brownlee found his name on a list compiled by Elston. On it were names of U.S. attorneys whom officials wanted to be considered for firing.
- Bresnahan, John (June 24, 2008). "IG Report: DOJ under Bush favored GOP-conservative job candidates". Politico. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
- Johnson, Carrie (June 25, 2008). "Ideology-Based Hiring at Justice Broke Laws, Investigation Finds". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
- "An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring in the Department of Justice Honors Program". oig.justice.gov. United States Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General. June 2008. Archived from the original on January 14, 2017. Retrieved March 2, 2018.
The documentary evidence and witness interviews also support the conclusion that two members of the 2006 Screening Committee, Esther Slater McDonald and Michael Elston, took political or ideological affiliations into account in deselecting candidates in violation of Department policy and federal law.
- "An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring in the Department of Justice Honors Program". oig.justice.gov. United States Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General. June 2008. Archived from the original on January 14, 2017. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
Elston denied approving or deselecting candidates based on political or ideological affiliations indicated on their applications or identified through the Internet searches. He said he attempted to do exactly the opposite.
- "An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring by Monica Goodling and Other Staff in the Office of the Attorney General" (PDF). oig.justice.gov. United States Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General. July 2008. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
[A]fter Elston met with , Elston reported that they would only agree to a 3-month extension of [Candidate #2's] detail. The detailee said Elston told her he had humiliated himself and got down on his knees to even get this temporary extension. (p. 51) Elston told us, however, that either  told him that they did not want to extend the detail [of Candidate #5] because she was a Democrat. Elston said that the detailee's supervisor told him that if the detailee left ODAG, he would "throw himself out the window." Elston said he felt the same way about her. According to Elston, for a period of time the OAG would only extend the detail on a month-to-month basis, until  grudgingly extended it for 6 months. (p. 54) Elston told us he tried to hire [Candidate #6] several times for the ODAG. Elston said  never gave him the real reason why she did not like the AUSA, and said he did not recall a conversation in which he and argued about whether the AUSA was a Democrat or Republican. Elston said he did not think her party affiliation was 's real reason for not approving the AUSA's details. (p.57)
- "Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales Honors Employees and Others at the Department of Justice's Annual Awards Ceremony" (Press release). September 12, 2006. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
- "Grand Jury Law & Practice, 2d". thomsonreuters.com. n.d. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
- "Shelter Care Ministries of Rockford Illinois Home".
- "2017-2018 Virginia Society SAR Officers". Retrieved May 2, 2019.