Courtesy of Sidley Austin LLP

Christopher Fonzone '98 is a partner at Sidley Austin LLP as well as a former member of the Obama administration.

March 17, 2021

Biden Nominates Alumnus to National Intelligence General Counsel

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As President Joe Biden fills his administration, another Cornellian has been nominated to its ranks. 

The White House announced Monday that the administration will nominate Christopher Fonzone ’98 as general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The general counsel oversees the legal matters of the national intelligence office and provides legal advice on national security issues.

Fonzone will step into this role after serving on the Biden-Harris transition team as part of the National Security Council where he, alongside 14 other volunteers, assisted the president on foreign policy and national security matters. The team also reviewed the Homeland Security Council, the National Space Council and the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.

The Cornell alumnus has led a long legal career in the public sector. After graduating cum laude from Cornell in 1998 with a degree in English and economics, he attended Harvard Law School and graduated magna cum laude in 2007. Fonzone later clerked under two judges, Justice Stephen Breyer of the United States Supreme Court and Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Fonzone has also held positions within the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice. In 2008, he served as an attorney on the appellate staff in the civil division of the Justice Department, handling cases involving civil suit appeals handled by the national states attorneys. 

In 2010, he served as special counsel for the Office of the General Counsel in the Defense Department for two years before he returned to the Justice Department in 2012 as an attorney adviser in the Office of Legal Counsel, which assists the attorney general as a legal adviser to the president and all the executive branch agencies. 

Like many of Biden’s nominees, Fonzone is a former member of the Obama administration. In 2013, he served as the deputy assistant and deputy counsel to former President Barack Obama as well as legal adviser to the National Security Council. 

The Biden-Harris transition team included 19 Cornellians, and Fonzone is not the only alum the Biden administration has nominated, with Seth Harris’s ’83 nomination announced last week.

As Fonzone brings legal expertise to the White House, he most recently worked as a partner at the Washington, D.C. office of Sidley Austin LLP in its global privacy and cybersecurity practice. 

Alan Raul, the founder of Sidley Austin’s cybersecurity practice, described Fonzone as “an extraordinarily accomplished lawyer with significant high-level policy experience and an impressive background providing counsel on complex cybersecurity issues,” in an announcement released when Fonzone joined the firm in 2017.

While working on cybersecurity cases, Fonzone was also a member of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, a 12-member board that oversees the global Fulbright Program that allows college graduates to research a topic of their interest abroad to improve intercultural relations and diplomacy.

“Chris Fonzone is an excellent choice for [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] General Counsel, with years of critical national security experience in a variety of roles,” said Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence, in a press release. “His wealth of experience and expertise will make Chris an outstanding addition to the ODNI leadership team.”