Obama expected to name SJU grad as chief of staff

by Mark Lauer – news@thenewsleaders.com

A man with ties to St. John’s University is expected to become President Barack Obama’s right-hand man in the coming days.

Denis McDonough, who is the deputy national security advisor and one of the president’s closest and most trusted aides, will likely be named as the new White House chief of staff, according to reports coming out of the nation’s capitol. McDonough would succeed Jacob J. Lew in that position, after Lew was recently nominated as Treasury secretary.

The 43-year-old McDonough, a native of Stillwater, is a 1992 graduate of SJU. He earned bachelor’s degrees in history and Spanish at SJU, graduating summa cum laude (with highest honors).

As a post-graduate student, McDonough received a master’s of science degree and foreign service degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The MSFS program at Georgetown is reputed to be one of the most exclusive at any university.

McDonough has established a career in foreign policy at the highest level. He served as an aide to the House International Relations Committee and later served as a foreign-policy and legislative advisor to several U.S. senators, including Obama in 2007. McDonough was a key advisor to Obama during the 2008 campaign and after the election was named to the new administration’s National Security Council as head of Strategic Communication.

His expected appointment to the position of chief of staff would put a national-security expert in a position that would require him to handle a variety of complicated domestic issues, ranging from the budget and dealing with gun violence to dealing with the U.S. Congress.

During his time on the National Security Council, McDonough has been involved in every major foreign policy crisis of Obama’s first term and has been allowed a very high level of access to the president. He has a reputation as an intense loyalist of the president and would likely take on jobs that no one else wants to tackle.

McDonough was a part of a small group of Obama aides who were involved in the planning of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in May 2011. He is pictured in a widely publicized photo of President Obama and his staff watching the raid by Navy SEAL Team 6 members from the White House Situation Room.

He has also taken a role in a series of meetings to redefine the American mission in Afghanistan and has been a key player in assembling Obama’s second-term national security team.

McDonough’s career has certainly taken him a long way from his days as a freshman at SJU.

Ken Jones, history professor at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University, remembers McDonough as a very bright first-year history student at SJU. Jones taught an introduction to U.S. History class that McDonough enrolled in, and he recalls his student as one of only two first-year students to receive an A grade in the class.

“He was very dedicated as a student, very focused,” Jones says. “He was very smart and was interested in knowing about a lot of things, asking a lot of questions.”

Jones added: “I think he saved his intensity for the football field.”

As a Johnnie, McDonough played all four years on the SJU football team as a defensive back under John Gagliardi.

The White House chief of staff is the highest-ranking employee of the White House Office, but the duties of that position can vary greatly from one administration to another. As an assistant to the president, the roles of the chief of staff can be both managerial and advisory in nature. They generally consist of tasks such as: selecting key White House staff members and supervising them; controlling the flow of people into the Oval Office; managing the flow of information; protecting the interests of the president; and advising the president on various issues.

In 2012, McDonough was a recipient of the SJU Alumni Achievement Award, along with eight other fellow Johnnie graduates. The award recognizes SJU alumni who have been successful in their careers and/or active in church or community service.

Jones was asked if he could ever have foreseen his student taking his talents to the national level of government.

“We have lots of very talented students,” he said. “You just never know where they might go someday.”


In this famous photograph, Denis McDonough is seated just behind Hillary Clinton as President Barack Obama and his staff watch, in real time, the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. The terrorist leader was killed during the SEAL raid.

Dennis Dalman

Dennis Dalman


Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.
Dennis Dalman

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