TIME.com Profile: Mary Jo White

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Heading Pardongate investigation: U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White

Name: Mary Jo White
Age: 53
Occupation: United States attorney for the Southern District of New York since June 1, 1993
Family: Husband John White and a teenage son
Education: B.A. and M.A., College of William and Mary; J.D., Columbia University School of Law
Most famous cases: Brought racketeering charges against John Gotti; prosecuted terrorists responsible for bombing the World Trade Center

He gave her reputation a spectacular boost. And now she could push what's left of his to the brink of oblivion.

In 1993, President Clinton appointed Mary Jo White the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, the first woman to hold what is widely considered the nation's most prestigious post for prosecutors. Eight years later, after months of grandstanding at congressional hearings and scattered inquiries into Clinton's last-minute pardon spree, Attorney General John Ashcroft has given White the green light to investigate any of the 177 eleventh-hour pardons and commutations. The Justice Department characterized Ashcroft's decision, which could involve cases lying outside White's jurisdiction, as a "routine effort to consolidate cases."

White, in other words, may very well hold her onetime sponsor's fate in her hands. And no one who knows her doubts she will tackle this case with the same energy she gives to every one that crosses her Manhattan desk.

Invariably described as "smart" and "tough," White is regarded as a relentless prosecutor — someone, in other words, criminals don't relish running into. During her eight years heading the U.S. attorney's office for Manhattan, the Bronx and six counties north of the city, White has faced off against everyone from international terrorists to Mafia hit men. Most have suffered under White's prosecutorial zest, including Marc Rich and his partner Pincus Green, who were initially prosecuted by then–U.S. attorney Rudy Giuliani but were pursued vigorously during White's tenure as well.

Born in Kansas City, Mo., White grew up in McLean, Va., just outside Washington. She attended the College of William and Mary and graduated at the top of her class from Columbia Law School. After clerking for a federal judge, White became an assistant U. S. attorney. She and her husband, Washington attorney John White, have a teenage son.

Colleagues say White was "furious" when she learned that Clinton had pardoned Rich; despite her office's obvious interest in Rich's case, White says the President never consulted her. And while no one knows what might have happened had the President made a pre-pardon phone call to White's office, his lapse in professional etiquette could eventually prove costly.