Dinh was born in Saigon, South Vietnam. He and his family emigrated to the United States in 1978, three years after Vietnam had fully embraced communism. They initially settled in Portland, Oregon, but moved to Fullerton, California, two years later.
Dinh graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1990 with an A.B. in Government and Economics. While at Harvard, he was a member of the Phoenix S.K. Club. He then attended Harvard Law School, where he was a Class Marshal, an Olin Research Fellow in Law and Economics, and Bluebook editor of the Harvard Law Review, and received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) magna cum laude in 1993.
After graduating from law school, Dinh served as a law clerk to Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor during the 1994 Term.
Dinh has served as Associate Special Counsel to the U.S. Senate Whitewater Committee, as Special Counsel to Senator Pete V. Domenici for the Impeachment Trial of President Bill Clinton, and as counsel to the Special Master in re Austrian and German Bank Holocaust Litigation.
He is a member of the District of Columbia and Supreme Court bars.
In late 2003, he was one of a group of prominent U.S. security officials hired by ChoicePoint to advise the company on developing its government homeland security contracts.
In 2006 he joined Kenneth Starr in challenging the constitutionality of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
Dinh currently serves on or has served on the boards of the News Corporation, The Orchard Enterprises, Inc. (NASDAQ; ORCD), Liberty’s Promise, the American Judicature Society, the Transition Committee for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Section on National Security Law of the Association of American Law Schools, and the ABA Section on Administrative Law.
He currently resides in Washington, D.C., teaches at Georgetown University Law Center, and is a partner at Kirkland & Ellis. In September 2016, Kirkland hired all of the attorneys at the firm Dinh founded, Bancroft PLLC.
Dinh's representative publications include Defending Liberty: Terrorism and Human Rights in the Helsinki Monitor, Codetermination and Corporate Governance in a Multinational Business Enterprise in the Journal of Corporation Law, and Financial Sector Reform and Economic Development in Vietnam in Law and Policy in International Business. He was writing a book Judicial Authority and Separation of Powers (forthcoming as of 2000) and published The USA Patriot Act: Preserving Life and Liberty in 2008. He published a piece of fiction in the Chicago Review in 2004.
In September 2006 Dinh received publicity for representing Tom Perkins, a former Hewlett-Packard director involved in the company's pretexting scandal. The emails between Perkins and Larry Sonsini, a corporate lawyer involved with Board of Directors decisions for many Corporations were eventually forwarded to reporters and became public.
Dinh, along with fellow News Corp. board member, fellow lawyer, and Corporation executive Joel Klein, took over the investigation of the News of the World phone hacking affair and related Corporation issues in July, 2011, from News International UK Chief Executive, Rebekah Brooks. Brooks' own possible involvement in the phone hacking scandal made her unable to continue as an impartial investigator. Tom Perkins, also on the News Corp. board, was one who recommended Dinh for the investigation role.
It emerged after he was appointed to the board investigation that Dinh is godfather to one of Lachlan Murdoch's children and friend of Lachlan since 2003. Further, in 1992, a decade before he met Lachlan, Dinh wrote of his sister, held in a Hong Kong refugee camp, in the New York Times, which led to NBC TV coverage and then to a series of articles in the South China Morning Post. The Post was owned by Rupert Murdoch, and Dinh's articles there were credited with helping free his sister. The personal ties to Murdoch interests and family were debated as Dinh took the role in the phone-hacking investigation.
Dinh served as Assistant Attorney General of the United States from 2001 to 2003, under the presidency of George W. Bush. He was confirmed in the Senate by a vote of 96 to 1, with the sole No vote coming from Hillary Clinton. As the official responsible for federal legal policy, Dinh worked with issues of illicit drugs, racial profiling in federal law enforcement, exploitation of children, human trafficking, DNA technology, gun violence, and civil and criminal justice procedural reform. Dinh was also involved in the selection and confirmation of 100 district and 23 appellate judges in his role representing the U.S. Department of Justice. After 9/11, Dinh conducted a comprehensive review of DOJ priorities, policies and practices, and played a key role in developing the USA PATRIOT Act and revising the Attorney General's Guidelines, which govern federal law enforcement activities and national security investigations.
Dinh is Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center. His expertise lies in constitutional law, corporations law, and the law and economics of development. He is also currently Co-Director of the Asian Law & Policy Studies Program. He previously served as Co-Director of the Joint Program in Law and Business Administration, from 1998–99.
His family was separated in 1975 when his father, Phong Dinh, was being held as a political prisoner in the family's war-ravaged homeland after the fall of Saigon. He escaped in 1978, and remained a fugitive in Vietnam, when his mother, Nga Thu Nguyễn, and his older siblings got on a boat with 85 other people and set out. For 12 days Dinh was in a broken 15-foot-long boat, at one point with no food or water. An earlier account of this tale, had Dinh at sea with no food or water for 12 days, which is biologically impossible. They encountered a Thai fishing crew that gave them food and gas, and helped fix the boat and pointed them toward land. When they reached Malaysia they were met by gunshots from a patrol boat; the Malaysians didn't want them. Their boat docked but Dinh's mother realized that the port police would force them to leave the next morning, so she sneaked back out to the boat alone that night with an axe and damaged the boat so as not to be sent back on it. After six months as refugees in Malaysia, Dinh's family arrived at Oregon in November 1978. They picked strawberries for menial wages, sending money back to Dinh's father and a sibling hiding out in Vietnam. After Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, the crop damage forced his family to relocate to Fullerton.
Dinh was honored by his high school alma mater when he was added to Fullerton's wall of fame. He will share that wall with an ideological opposite, David Boies, former Vice President Al Gore's lawyer for the Florida recount.
Dinh was reunited with his father in 1982. In 1992, he was reunited with one of his sisters at a refugee camp in Hong Kong, a meeting filmed by the newsmagazine show Dateline NBC.
Dinh was mentioned as a potential nominee to The Supreme Court of the United States in a Republican administration.Pincus, Walter (2006-02-14). "Former Official Backs Lobbyists in Leak Case". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-27.
Milbank, Dana (2006-02-11). "Bob Barr, Bane of the Right?". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-27.
"The Patriot Act and Privacy Issues" (PDF). Transcript, Hardball with Chris Matthews, 2006-02-02. (Adobe PDF)
"The Patriot Act and Privacy Issues" (PDF). Transcript, Hardball with Chris Matthews, 2006-01-13. (Adobe PDF)
"Congress Has Jurisdiction on Hawaiians" (PDF). Honolulu Advertiser. 2005-11-01. (Adobe PDF)
"Enough Already" (PDF). Wall Street Journal. 2005-10-27. (Adobe PDF)
"Candor Needs Privacy" (PDF). USA Today. 2005-07-27. (Adobe PDF)
"Roberts Reviewed". Slate. July 2005.
"Justice O'Connor's Indelible Stamp" (PDF). Washington Post. 2005-07-03. (Adobe PDF)
"No Place to Hide". Washington Post. 2005-02-18.
Dinh, Viet D. (2004-12-19). "Detentions Are Appropriate". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-05-27.
"The Patriot Act Is Your Friend", Interview with Kim Zetter, Wired News, 2004-02-24
"Justice for All" (PDF). Wall Street Journal. 2003-12-15. (Adobe PDF)
"America After 9/11: Freedom Preserved or Freedom Lost?", Testimony for the Senate Judiciary Committee, 2003-11-18
"Let Justice Take Its Course" (PDF). New York Times. 2003-10-02. (Adobe PDF)
"No Place to Hide". American RadioWorks. Retrieved 2006-04-11.
"Sacrifices of Security", Interview with Bryant Gumbel, PBS, 2003-07-15
"At Home in War on Terror". Los Angeles Times. 2002-09-18.
Remarks at the Swearing in of U.S. citizens, Ellis Island, 2001-07-10
"Once Upon a Time in Arkansas", Interview with Peter Boyer, Frontline, PBS, 1988