WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush on Tuesday chose federal appeals court judge Michael Chertoff to be his new Homeland Security chief, turning to a former prosecutor who helped craft the early war on terror strategy.
‘Mike has shown a deep commitment to the cause of justice and an unwavering determination to protect the American people,’ Bush said. ‘Mike has also been a key leader in the war on terror.’
Chertoff headed the Justice Department’s criminal division from 2001 to 2003, where he played a central role in the nation’s legal response to the Sept. 11 attacks, before the president named him to appeals court position in New Jersey.
Chertoff would replace Tom Ridge, the department’s first chief. ‘He leaves some very deep shoes to fill,’ Chertoff said of Ridge.
Chertoff, a federal appellate court judge with the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, would replace Tom Ridge, the department’s first chief.
Chertoff, who rounds out Bush’s second-term Cabinet, was actually the president’s second pick for the job. Former New York City police chief Bernard Kerik withdrew as nominee last month, citing immigration problems with a family housekeeper.
After failing to disclose the nanny problem during an initial screening, Kerik acknowledged it during a subsequent vetting phase as he filled out a clearance form. Chertoff, whose resume includes stints as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey and the Senate Republicans’ chief counsel for the Clinton-era Whitewater investigation, was one of the administration’s key figures in the war on terror.
He took the lead in 2003 in successfully arguing the government’s case in a potentially precedent-setting appeal involving terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, the lone man charged as a conspirator in the Sept. 11 attacks and playing a significant role in development of the U.S. Patriot Act to combat terrorist attacks. The choice of a new homeland security chief completes a substantial makeover of the Bush team as the president awaits his swearing-in Jan. 20 for a new term.
Donald H. Rumsfeld, John Snow and Norman Mineta have remained as secretaries of defense, treasury and transportation, but Bush has changed most other key agency positions.
He turned to close associates Margaret Spellings and Alberto Gonzales for the positions of secretary of education and attorney general and chose his first-term national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to be secretary of state.
Congress has started the process of confirmation hearings, and Gonzales appeared last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Democrats quizzed him aggressively about his role in the writing of an administrations policy paper interpreting what kinds of interrogations of enemy combatants could be permitted under a 1994 law banning torture. Rice has her initial confirmation hearing on Jan. 18, two days before Bush’s inauguration.