WASHINGTON — John C. Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, will step down at the end of next week, according to an email he sent to his staff on Monday. His departure was arranged months ago but comes amid backlash over investigations into leaks of classified information.
Mr. Demers was the longest-serving Senate-confirmed official from the Trump administration to remain at the Justice Department during the Biden presidency.
“You can probably imagine that I’ve stayed much longer than planned, but long ago I told the new folks that when school was out, I was out,” Mr. Demers, who has school-age children, wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. “And that’s the end of next week.”
Mark J. Lesko, the acting top federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York, will replace Mr. Demers on an interim basis until the division’s new leader is confirmed by the Senate, according to an official familiar with the matter. President Biden has nominated Matthew G. Olsen, an Uber executive who has served in several national security roles in government, to serve as the head of the national security division. His Senate confirmation hearing could take place as soon as next month.
John P. Carlin, the second in command in the deputy attorney general’s office, asked Mr. Demers in April to remain at the department, according to the official. Lisa O. Monaco had just been confirmed as the deputy attorney general, and because it would be months before a new leader for the national security division could be confirmed, Mr. Demers would provide continuity.
Mr. Demers asked to leave by summer, and the two men eventually agreed that he would stay on through June 25, the official said.
But his departure comes as Democrats and First Amendment advocates have attacked the Justice Department after revelations that prosecutors supervised by Mr. Demers seized the records of reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN.
Just before Mr. Demers was confirmed in 2018, those prosecutors also obtained the records of top House Democrats while investigating leaks of classified information. The department’s inspector general announced an investigation on Friday into the matters.
While it is common for the Justice Department to try to find out who shared classified information with the news media, it is highly unusual to secretly gather records of journalists and lawmakers. The prosecutors also prevented the lawyers and executives of The Times and CNN from disclosing that records had been taken, even to their newsroom leaders, another highly aggressive step.
Though such moves require signoff by the attorney general, Mr. Demers and his top counterintelligence deputies would typically be briefed and updated on those efforts.
Much of the spotlight on national security cases during Mr. Demers’s tenure focused instead on the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who ran the Russia…