Meet Debra Wong Yang, who could be Trump's SEC chairman

Icahn: I'm against the stupidity of some regulations
Icahn: I'm against the stupidity of some regulations

The next top cop on Wall Street could be Debra Wong Yang, a former federal prosecutor who is currently a star lawyer who has defended the likes of Uber and Chris Christie.

Yang is being considered by President-elect Donald Trump to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a senior transition official told CNN.

Asked if Yang is the leading contender, the official said, "She is up there."

Before becoming a high-powered lawyer at Gibson Dunn, Yang made history in 2002 when President George W. Bush named her as the country's first Asian-American female U.S. attorney. Yang earned a reputation for toughness by taking down a violent drug-dealing gang in California and investigating financial fraud.

If confirmed by the Senate, Yang would be responsible for leading the agency's enforcement actions into financial misdeeds such as fraud and insider trading.

The selection of Yang, who was once called the "the 5-foot-1-inch giant killer," suggests Trump may take a tougher stance against financial crime than many expected. Trump has also asked Preet Bharara, the powerful Manhattan U.S. attorney who has aggressively taken on corruption and insider trading, to stay on.

Trump has promised to take a lighter approach to regulation and his election has sent shares of big banks like Goldman Sachs (GS) surging.

"We believe the expected easing in the enforcement environment that industry was expecting is unlikely to occur," Jaret Seiberg, a Cowen & Co. analyst, wrote in a note in response to the news that Yang is top contender to lead the SEC.

Yang's background as a former prosecutor and white collar defense attorney mirrors that of Mary Jo White, the current SEC chief who has said she will step down in January. Similar to White before she took office, Yang lacks deep financial regulatory experience one might expect from a top regulator.

If selected, Yang could expect to be peppered by lawmakers with questions about her beliefs on financial reform.

Related: Trump adds yet another billionaire to his team

debra wong yang

As a prosecutor, Yang took down the notorious Vineland Boyz drug gang by using RICO laws and prosecuted French financial firm Credit Lyonnais for fraud.

Yang's decision in 2006 to step down as a prosecutor was controversial. She immediately joined Gibson Dunn, the law firm that had been representing Jerry Lewis, a Republican congressman that Yang's office had been investigating for corruption. Ultimately Lewis did not face charges related to the investigation.

Some, including editors at The New York Times, speculated at the time that Yang may have been pushed out by the Bush administration for political reasons. Her departure came just weeks before the highly controversial firings of nine U.S. prosecutors. Investigators later concluded that those firings were inappropriately political.

Yang, a single mother of three, recently dismissed the idea she was pushed out.

"Leaving was a completely personal decision," Yang told the Boston College Law School magazine in June.

"When you're starting to borrow money from your mother to pay the mortgage, it's time to leave government," she said.

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Yang has had countless big clients at Gibson Dunn, including Christie. The New Jersey governor tapped Yang's firm to run an internal review into the Bridgegate scandal. The law firm produced a report that essentially exonerated Christie.

Since then, two Christie aides have been convicted for their role in a scheme to cause problems for a political foe by closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge. Yang hosted a December 2015 fundraiser for the governor.

Yang also defended Uber in a class action lawsuit by drivers who said they should be classified as employees instead of contractors. Earlier this year, Uber and its drivers reached a $100 million settlement, but a federal judge rejected the deal over concerns it failed to compensate drivers enough.

Yang also defended DraftKings against crackdowns on the daily fantasy sports site.

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