N.Y. judge nominated for Cabinet

Michael Chertoff's nomination comes a month and a day after President Bush's original choice, Bernard B. Kerik, withdrew under scrutiny.


Federal appeals court judge Michael Chertoff speaks Tuesday during the announcement by President Bush of Chertoff's nomination to be his new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 11, 2005 at 11:52 p.m.
President Bush on Tuesday nominated Michael Chertoff, a federal appeals judge and former prosecutor who helped oversee the Justice Department's anti-terrorism efforts after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to succeed Tom Ridge as homeland security secretary.
Bush made the announcement a month and a day after his original choice to succeed Ridge, Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, withdrew his nomination amid legal and ethical questions.
In Chertoff, Bush chose another veteran of law enforcement in the New York metropolitan region who, as the president pointedly noted, has been confirmed three times by the Senate to previous posts, the last in 2003.
"When Mike is confirmed by the Senate, the Department of Homeland Security will be led by a practical organizer, a skilled manager and a brilliant thinker," Bush said.
He praised Chertoff as having an "impressive record of cutting through red tape and moving organizations into action."
In brief remarks, Chertoff recalled helping respond to the Sept. 11 attacks as head of the criminal division at the Justice Department and said that if confirmed, "I will be proud to stand again with the men and women who form our front line against terror."
Chertoff has a well-documented if at times controversial record on issues related to fighting terrorism. As the Justice Department, he favored aggressive steps such as holding Muslim immigrants for questioning and passage of the USA Patriot Act to give the government more anti-terrorism tools.
In 2003, he argued before a federal appeals court that a terrorism suspect who faces a federal trial, Zacarias Moussaoui, was not entitled to question an operative of al-Qaeda who was held overseas as an enemy combatant.
Moussaoui's case, which has stalled, and the collapse of a terrorism case in Detroit amid charges of prosecutorial misconduct, are among the few missteps in a record that includes the successful prosecutions of John Walker Lindh, an American captured in Afghanistan, and accused al-Qaeda sympathizers in Lackawanna, N.Y.
Since leaving the Justice Department, Chertoff has questioned the administration's policy of holding enemy combatants indefinitely without charge or trial.
"We need to debate a long-term and sustainable architecture for the process of determining when, why and for how long someone may be detained as an enemy combatant, and what judicial review should be available," he wrote in The Weekly Standard in December 2003. Chertoff was the administration's leading prosecutor on corporate fraud, spearheading the case in the Enron scandal that led to the collapse of Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm. At one point, the White House considered appointing him to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.
At the Homeland Security Department, Chertoff will confront a sprawling bureaucracy created out of 22 agencies to protect against another terrorist strike. Ridge, a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania who informed Bush after the election that he intended to step down, was widely credited with getting the department up and running. There has been no terrorist attack under his watch.
But many Democrats and some Republicans faulted Ridge for not doing enough to fight for bigger budgets or to improve security at nuclear and chemical plants and ports.
Chertoff's nomination is sure to draw intense scrutiny from the New York congressional delegation, given New York City's status as a primary terrorism target and the region's efforts to ensure that it receives what it considers its fair share of money to improve security.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said that in a conversation on Tuesday that Chertoff acknowledged the need to make the full financing and improved coordination of security issues "a very high priority."
The nomination was generally well received on Capitol Hill, where members of both parties predicted that he would be confirmed.
A former federal prosecutor in New York and New Jersey, Chertoff was confirmed in 2003 to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Philadelphia, 88-1.
The lone vote against him was by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who had tangled with him while he was special counsel to the Senate panel that investigated the Whitewater affair in Bill Clinton's presidency.
In a statement, Clinton said she would give the nomination "careful consideration."
The son of a New Jersey rabbi, Chertoff has earned a reputation as a tough-minded prosecutor with a razor-sharp legal mind. He led the prosecution of Sol Wachtler, who was chief justice of New York, for harassing a former lover and threatening to kidnap her daughter.
His tactics have sometimes drawn criticism, particularly when he became a chief architect of the legal response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
After Kerick's nomination collapsed, Chertoff represents a safe choice because he is such a known quantity here.
(END OPTIONAL TRIM.) The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said the White House was originally under the impression that Chertoff would be unwilling to give up his seat on the federal bench, which has lifetime tenure. But he said Chertoff signaled, when the White House contacted, that he would be interested in the domestic security post.
Bush met Chertoff on Saturday morning at the White House to discuss the position, McClellan said. The White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., then spoke with Chertoff. On Sunday morning, the president called Chertoff to offer the post, McClellan said.
As a federal prosecutor in New Jersey, Chertoff oversaw organized crime prosecutions but was perhaps best known for his case against "Crazy Eddie" Antar, an appliance dealer whose photo later hung on his wall at the Justice Department.
At the department, Chertoff was responsible for essentially reshaping its mission after Sept. 11, adopting a much more aggressive policy aimed at preventing attacks rather than simply prosecuting them after they were carried out.
He helped lead the push to expand surveillance under the Patriot Act. That law and the broader push to increase government power to fight terrorists, drew criticism that the administration was sacrificing civil liberties. Chertoff was among those often cited by critics for having pushed the pendulum too far. In the administration, he won high marks.
"Mike was a true agent of change after 9/11, and he took us into a mindset of prevention," said Viet Dinh, a former senior Justice Department official who also worked with Chertoff on the Whitewater case. "He can do the same thing with homeland security, develop a vision and a consensus and build toward that, moving from disparate components with different interests into a common mission. That will be his first order of business, not to consolidate but to coordinate."
If confirmed, Chertoff faces the task of easing the growing pains for a mammoth department. It answers to many masters. More than 80 congressional committees claim parts of oversight and internal audits have pointed to failings in areas like developing a watch list and ensuring cost-effective contracts.

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