- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A federal appeals court judge who served as special counsel during the Senate Whitewater hearings and vigorously led a committee probe of President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was nominated yesterday by President Bush to head the Department of Homeland Security.

Michael Chertoff, who as head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division helped craft the war on terrorism after the September 11 attacks, would replace Tom Ridge, Homeland Security’s first chief.

“In all of his roles, Mike has shown a deep commitment to the cause of justice, and an unwavering determination to protect the American people,” the president said during a brief ceremony in the White House Cabinet Room.

Embarrassed when his last pick for the post, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, withdrew amid accusations of extramarital affairs and his questionable employment of a Mexican housekeeper, Mr. Bush twice noted that Mr. Chertoff has been through the Senate vetting process three times.

The president also sought to allay concerns over hot-button issues, including racial profiling and information-sharing among the 22 agencies that now comprise Homeland Security.

“As head of the Criminal Division, and as a U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Mike built an impressive record of cutting through red tape and moving organizations into action. He’s worked cooperatively with the federal and state and local law-enforcement officials. He will always be a friend to America’s first responders,” Mr. Bush said.

The president also said Mr. Chertoff, 51, is “against racial profiling” and worked with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund “to represent poor inmates on death row.”

Glenn Ivey, a former Democratic attorney on the Senate Whitewater Committee and now the state’s attorney in Prince George’s County, said if Mr. Chertoff is “as tough on terrorists as he was on the Democrats in the Whitewater investigation, the nation is in pretty good hands.”

Mr. Chertoff’s involvement in the Whitewater inquiry, where he was authorized to investigate accusations into suspected wrongdoing by the Clintons and other administration officials, is not expected to play a role in his confirmation process. His three Senate confirmations came after his work with the Whitewater committee.

It was Mr. Chertoff who pushed the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s former Little Rock, Ark., Rose Law Firm billing records, mysteriously found in the White House residence two years after they had been subpoenaed, suggesting a conspiracy to obstruct justice by Mrs. Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton, in a statement, said she looked forward to meeting with Mr. Chertoff “in the very near future to discuss many important issues, including the specific homeland security needs of New York as well as the many homeland security challenges confronting our nation.”

In 2001, when Mr. Chertoff was confirmed 95-1 by the Senate to head the Criminal Division, Mrs. Clinton was the lone dissenter.

Republicans and other Democrats reacted favorably to the nomination.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which will hold the Chertoff confirmation hearings, described the nominee as “a respected lawyer and law enforcer,” saying he looked forward to “reviewing his record in detail.”

“Judge Chertoff, if confirmed, will face significant challenges to improve the department’s operations and set clear security policies to safeguard the American public from future terrorist attacks,” he said. “But, ultimately, the department will succeed only with muscular leadership from the top.”

Sen. Jon Corzine, a Democrat from New Jersey, where Mr. Chertoff’s appeals court jurisdiction extends as a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, called the nominee “one of the most able people and public servants I have ever known.” He said Mr. Chertoff is “highly qualified and has impeccable law-enforcement credentials.”

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said that since Mr. Chertoff’s time as chief of the Criminal Division, he has been “a key figure in the nation’s legal efforts to fight terrorism.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), although as a matter of policy it has taken no position on the Chertoff nomination, said it was “troubled that his public record suggests he sees the Bill of Rights as an obstacle to national security, rather than a guidebook for how to do security properly.”

ACLU spokesman Shin Inouye, in a statement, called Mr. Chertoff a “vocal champion” of Bush administration beliefs that the executive branch “should be free of many of the checks and balances that keep it from abusing its immense power over our lives and liberty.”

The statement said that reports by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General in 2003 challenged Mr. Chertoff’s use of rarely enforced and minor immigration violations to hold noncitizens shortly after September 11 without bail or access to a lawyer.

“He was instrumental in revising the internal attorney general guidelines to allow the FBI to infiltrate religious and political gatherings with undercover agents, and he was apparently the catalyst behind the federal Bureau of Prisons rule change permitting agents to eavesdrop on previously confidential attorney-client conversations in federal prisons,” Mr. Inouye said. “And he directed the initial ‘voluntary’ dragnet interviews of thousands of Arabs and Muslims.”

As head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in the wake of September 11, Mr. Chertoff was a driving force in bringing the global war against terrorists “inside America,” assigning prosecutors and investigators to tap into the terrorists’ financial empires. He committed the FBI to identifying terrorists and bringing them, their associates and those who financed them to justice.

“To conceal their identities and their unlawful purpose, they exploit weaknesses in domestic and international financial systems,” Mr. Chertoff told the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in January 2002. “Curtailing terrorism requires a systemic approach to investigating the financial links to the terrorist organizations.”

Mr. Chertoff, the son of a rabbi, helped reconstruct what he called the “web of planning and finance” that supported the September 11 attacks.

If confirmed, he said he will “stand again with the men and women who form our front line against terror.” He also sought to reassure skittish Democrats he will protect the “fundamental” rights of Americans.

“I appreciate the trust you have placed in me,” Mr. Chertoff told the president. “If confirmed, I pledge to devote all my energy to promoting our homeland security, and as important, to preserving our fundamental liberties.”

• Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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