- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2003

A final hurdle was cleared yesterday for a Justice Department lawyer whose nomination to the federal bench had been delayed by a conservative watchdog group’s investigation.

Michael Chertoff, who was nominated by President Bush to the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, was investigated by Judicial Watch about his tenure as U.S. attorney for New Jersey from 1987 to 1994. The charges included the “misuse of organized crime operatives by the FBI and other U.S. government agencies in the District of New Jersey,” according to a Judicial Watch press release.

But after a brief investigation by Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judicial Watch’s claims were dismissed.

In a rare joint press release from committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, the two usually feuding senators announced “that there is no credible evidence linking Mr. Chertoff with any of the wrongdoing alleged by Judicial Watch.”

But Judicial Watch Chairman Larry Klayman said a two-week investigation was not long enough to investigate the charges they raised.

“Of course there is no credible evidence,” he said. “There was no credible investigation.”

Mr. Klayman said the group does not believe Mr. Chertoff did anything wrong directly, but that he was not forthcoming during the nomination process.

“This is like Alice in Wonderland,” Mr. Klayman said. “This is the theater of the absurd.”

Before a hearing last month, Judicial Watch had lobbied committee members in person and with letters claiming — with sketchy details — to have “evidence it had developed” of wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Chertoff.

At the May 22 hearing, the Judiciary Committee voted favorably on Mr. Chertoff, but Mr. Hatch agreed to wait until the conclusion of the investigation before forwarding the nomination to the Senate floor. A date for the Senate vote has not been set.

Judicial Watch, which has sued the government over Democrats’ delay tactics against judicial nominees, issued a press releases taking credit for balling up the nomination.

“Judicial Watch Chairman and General Counsel Larry Klayman wrote letters to, and personally approached, senators in a last-ditch effort to have the committee examine and consider the evidence,” said the release.

Before joining the Department of Justice, Mr. Chertoff worked as special counsel on the Senate Whitewater committee investigating a land investment by former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

For the most part, Democrats support Mr. Chertoff. Even Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and leader of many of the battles against Mr. Bush’s nominees, told his colleagues that he wished more nominees were as fit as Mr. Chertoff.

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