- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Senate yesterday confirmed Michael Chertoff, a federal judge, as homeland security secretary, making him the second leader of the fledgling agency and filling the last Cabinet seat of President Bush’s second administration.

The 98-0 vote for Mr. Chertoff followed weeks of delays by a key Democrat who questioned whether the former Justice Department official had been aware of tactics used to detain and interrogate terror suspects. Sens. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, and Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, did not vote.

Harriet Miers, counsel to the president, issued the oath of office to Mr. Chertoff, who was joined by his wife, Meryl, at about 6:30 p.m. at a private White House ceremony, the administration said.

Mr. Chertoff was “subjected to extraordinary scrutiny” and his nomination was delayed unnecessarily, said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said Mr. Chertoff, who has promised to balance national security concerns and civil liberties, has “proven his ability to lead in terms of a national crisis.” Mr. Chertoff, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge until yesterday, had led the Justice Department’s Criminal Division after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Final confirmation was delayed by Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, to protest the Justice Department’s decision to redact from a memo names of officials associated with developing policy for the treatment of terror suspects in the United States and at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Justice Department has been criticized for possibly violating the rights of terror suspects.

Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, criticized the Bush administration’s “penchant for secrecy,” saying it undermines the Senate’s role for oversight and clearing nominees.

Mr. Chertoff, 51, said during a committee hearing that he never was involved directly in the decision-making process for the handling of suspects, and answered more than 250 written questions. The White House and Justice Department say Mr. Chertoff was never named in the memo.

Miss Collins called Mr. Chertoff’s testimony before her committee “clear, forthright and candid.”

“This is a distinguished public servant, a sitting federal judge who testified before our committee under oath, and there is no reason to doubt his sincerity,” Miss Collins said before the vote yesterday.

“It is demeaning to suggest somehow we need to probe this further because we do not believe him,” she said.

The committee hearing was held Feb. 2, one day after Tom Ridge stepped down as secretary of the 180,000-employee Department of Homeland Security, and the panel voted unanimously on Feb. 7 to send Mr. Chertoff’s nomination before the full Senate.

Mr. Reid, who defended Mr. Levin for forcing the issue, said he supported Mr. Chertoff and will “have to take him at his word.”

“This is one of the most important posts the president has,” Mr. Reid said. “Judge Chertoff will have an enormous challenge.”

Senators on both sides of the aisle praised the appellate court judge for forfeiting a lifelong appointment to the federal bench to serve a four-year term in the Bush administration.

“It is crystal clear Judge Chertoff has the intellectual skill to run this behemoth department,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

This is the fourth Senate confirmation for Mr. Chertoff, who also has been confirmed as a 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, Justice Department assistant attorney general and U.S. attorney in New Jersey. He also served as majority counsel for the Senate committee investigating the Whitewater-related scandals around the Clinton White House.

James G. Lakely contributed to this report

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