Jim Webb, a former Democratic senator from Virginia and 2016 presidential candidate, is reportedly on President Donald Trump’s short list as a potential new Secretary of Defense. Webb served as Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan and was critical of President Obama’s decision to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran. If selected, he would replace acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
During the 2016 primary season, Webb’s aides told CNN that his closest advisor is his wife, Hong Le Webb. She is Webb’s third wife and they have one daughter together. Le, 22 years younger than Webb, is a lawyer and has been active in her husband’s past campaigns.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Hong Le Was Born in Vietnam & Her Family Had to Flee Their Village in the Middle of the Night After the Fall of Saigon
Hong Le Webb was born in 1968 in southern Vietnam, in the small village of Vung Tau. At the age of 7, she and her family escaped after Saigon, which is now Ho Chi Minh City, fell to the North Vietnamese.
Le explained in an interview with the Washington Post in 2006 that she vaguely remembers her family escaping their village on a fishing boat. The refugees were picked up by U.S. Navy ships. She told the Daily Kos that her entire immediate family made it out.
Le told the Washington Post that her husband, Jim Webb, ribs her sometimes about how her life would have ended up dramatically different had she not escaped. “He says that if [U.S. troops] hadn’t rescued me, I’d be snaggletoothed and selling pencils on the streets of Saigon. It wouldn’t be too far from the truth. If I’d stayed behind in Vietnam, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Le and her family started a new life in New Orleans after arriving in the United States. She also shared that she and her family are practicing Catholics.
2. Hong Le Worked as a Legal Interpreter During College at the University of Michigan, Became Fluent in Mandarin Chinese & Earned a Law Degree From Cornell
Hong Le earned a full academic scholarship to the University of Michigan. According to her Linkedin profile, she studied history and political science, with a focus on Asian Studies. She became fluent in Mandarin Chinese as a student.
According to the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, a non-profit organization that Le was previously involved with, she worked as a legal interpreter during her undergraduate education. She assisted in cases that involved clients who spoke Vietnamese. After earning her bachelor’s degree in 1990, Le spent time in Hong Kong. She worked for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees; she was tasked with interviewing and counseling asylum seekers.
Le next headed to law school at Cornell. While a student, she served as an editor of the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy. She graduated in 1993.
3. Le Webb is a Partner at the Law Firm Murphy & McGonigle in Washington, D.C.
Hong Le Webb has continued her work as an attorney. She has been a partner at the firm Murphy & McGonigle since September of 2016. The firm is located in Washington, D.C.
According to Le Webb’s bio on the firm’s website, she “has experience in the areas of corporate/securities and banking law and regulation, representing public and private companies, commercial banks, investment companies, investment advisers and broker/dealers. In addition, Ms. Webb advises clients with interests in Asia in the areas of strategic planning, government relations, and international business expansions, operations and transactions.”
In the years leading up to joining Murphy & McGonigle, Le Webb spent time in private practice specializing in “the areas of biotech, alternative energy, and health care.”
4. Hong Le & Jim Webb First Met in 1994 & Began Dating in 2002; They Reportedly Bonded Over a Love for Vietnamese Culture
Hong Le Webb and Jim Webb began dating in 2002. But they had actually known each other for several years. They met in 1994 at a working lunch. She told the Daily Kos in 2006, “It’s hard to say what attracted us to each other since we were basically distant, business-oriented friends over a number of years. We started dating while we were separated from our former spouses, and perhaps going through similarly difficult experiences in our lives allowed our friendship to blossom.”
In the Washington Post profile from 2006 referenced above, Le Webb shared that they connected over an appreciation for Vietnam. Webb served in the Marines during the Vietnam War. A published author, Webb focused one of his novels on Vietnam; “Fields of Fire” was published in 1978 and was inspired by his own war experience. Webb also reportedly speaks Vietnamese fluently.
Le and Webb tied the knot in October 2005. They have one daughter named Georgia LeAhn, who was born in December 2006. According to a birth announcement in the Daily Kos, “Georgia is taken from Jim Webb’s maternal grandmother, Georgia Doyle Hodges… LeAnh is taken from Hong’s Vietnamese family name (Le) and a familiar Vietnamese middle name (Anh).”
Le has another daughter, Emily, from her first marriage.
5. Jim Webb Was Criticized Over Payments to His Wife & Oldest Daughter During the 2016 Presidential Election
Hong Le Webb appears to have been very involved in helping to organize her husband’s 2016 presidential campaign. According to her law firm’s bio, she “was involved in the legal, political and media functions” of the campaign. Aides described Le as her husband’s “closest advisor.”
Webb dropped out of the race in October 2015. But he faces major scrutiny over payments to his wife and oldest daughter, Amy Webb Hogan. The New York Post reported at the time that Webb paid Le and his daughter money raised by his political action committee, which was called “Born Fighting.”
According to the Federal Election Commission, nearly 10 percent of the funds received by the PAC went to family members. Le and Amy Webb Hogan reportedly received nearly $100,000 for consulting and “website services.” Webb insisted that the payments were for honest work and that there was nothing unethical about them.