- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Michael Chertoff, nominated yesterday by President Bush to serve as secretary of homeland security, is an outstanding choice to head the agency responsible for protecting the homeland from terrorism. Mr. Chertoff (who on three different occasions has been confirmed by the Senate for various federal positions) has a wealth of real-world experience as a judge, federal prosecutor, attorney in private practice and congressional investigator. As head of the Justice Department’s criminal division (2001-03), he played a lead role in overseeing the response to the September 11 attacks. As President Bush rightly said yesterday, he is “a key leader in the war on terror.”

A graduate of Harvard Law School and former law clerk for Justice William Brennan (one of the most stalwart liberals on the high court), Mr. Chertoff served as a federal prosecutor in New York and later as U.S. attorney for New Jersey. From 1994 to 1996, he served as special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee, which investigated the Arkansas land deals of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton. He has a long record of prosecutorial successes, ranging from the convictions of corrupt local officials in New Jersey to overseeing the prosecutions of Enron and the Arthur Anderson LLP accounting firm during his tenure at the Justice Department.

Years before September 11, Mr. Chertoff argued that federal prosecutors needed more effective tools to fight terrorists. In 1996, he published an article in the New Jersey Law Journal in favor of legislation strengthening the federal government’s ability to prosecute suspected terrorists. “Our institutions are no longer exempt from the reach of overseas terrorists,” Mr. Chertoff wrote.

Following September 11, Mr. Chertoff played a leading role in crafting and articulating the Justice Department’s efforts to head off a much-feared follow-up terrorist attack on the United States. He forcefully defended the Patriot Act, and the detentions of hundreds of illegal aliens. “Are we being aggressive and hard-nosed? You bet. In the aftermath of September 11th, how could we not be?”, the blunt-spoken Mr. Chertoff told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 28, 2001.

The chief question that is being raised about Mr. Chertoff is his lack of experience in managing a bureaucracy like DHS, which has 180,000 employees. But if there is concern about that, it can be remedied with the appointment of a deputy with such managerial experience. Indeed, one of outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge’s strong points was his managerial experience. But Mr. Chertoff brings different strengths to the position — in particular, the ability to make a powerful case to Congress and the American people for doing what is necessary, even when politically unpopular, to protect the American homeland.

Even the most doctrinaire Senate liberals will find it difficult to oppose Mr. Chertoff. Two years ago, after grilling him in the Judiciary Committee over civil-liberties issues, the Senate voted 88-1 to confirm him to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, with only Mrs. Clinton voting no. Mr. Chertoff deserves confirmation to the top post at DHS.

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