Bush Picks A 'Known' For Cabinet

Carousel - Police hold a demonstrator in Oakland, Calif., after a guilty verdict for Johannes Mehserle, Thursday, July 8, 2010. Former San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle was found guilty in Los Angeles for shooting unarmed black man Oscar Grant on New Year's Day 2009 at a BART station in Oakland. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
President Bush on Tuesday chose federal appeals court judge Michael Chertoff to be his new Homeland Security chief, turning to a former federal 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," Mr. 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 an appeals court position in New Jersey.

While at the Justice Department, according to the New York Times, Chertoff was the one to promote the tactic of declaring terror suspects to be "material witnesses" and locking them up without first charging them with any crime.

That strategy sparked numerous complaints from civil rights advocates. Chertoff, reports the Times, responded to those concerns in a speech to the American Bar Association in 2002: "We are in a time of war," said Chertoff, "If you step back and look at the total picture, the government has been very restrained."

The American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement reacting to the nomination, says it is troubled that Chertoff's 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."

The ACLU, which says it has a policy against specifically endorsing or opposing the nomination, is calling on the Senate to question Chertoff aggressively "to ensure his fitness for the position, and the strength of his dedication to the Bill of Rights."

The civil rights group points in particular to what it says was Chertoff's role as an architect of the Patriot Act, a policy change allowing FBI infiltrations of religious and political meetings, and a rule change allowing authorities to listen in on attorney-client conversations in federal prisons.

Chertoff's supporters, according to the Washington Post, defend him as respectful of the Constitution and skillful as both a prosecutor and a trial lawyer.

"He's got the right mix of substantive knowledge and administrative skill that is needed for this job," said George Terwilliger, a Justice Department official in the first Bush administration, in an interview with the Post.

Another former colleague from the Justice Department, William Majeta, describes Chertoff as a hard worker who never lost his focus or shrank from complicated cases.

"He liked to roll up his sleeves and work into the middle of the night, mastering the details of terrorism or corporate-fraud cases," said William Mateja, who worked with Chertoff on criminal cases, in a Wall Street Journal interview. "He never got lost in the cornflakes - he always had the big picture in mind."

If the nomination is confirmed, Chertoff, 51, will replace Tom Ridge, 59, who was first at the helm of the Homeland Security department - sworn in less than a month after the Sept. 11 attacks. Ridge, says Chertoff, "leaves some very deep shoes to fill."

"I will be proud to stand again with the men and women who form our front line against terror," he said.

By selecting Chertoff, Mr. Bush is looking to avoid a repeat of the administration's embarrassment when problems cropped up in the Bernard Kerik nomination last month, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.

Kerik withdrew his name from consideration for the Homeland Security post, citing immigration problems with a family housekeeper. An avalanche of bad publicity soon followed for the former New York City police commissioner, including reports of questionable business dealings and extramarital affairs.

Mr. Bush said that Chertoff has "been confirmed by the Senate three times," signaling that he should have no problem surmounting the advise and consent process.

Chertoff's resume includes stints as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey and as the Senate Republicans' chief counsel for the Clinton-era Whitewater investigation.

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 Patriot Act to combat terrorist attacks.

Appointed by President George H.W. Bush as a federal prosecutor in Newark, N.J., in 1990, Chertoff was on the job through the first year of the Clinton administration and oversaw high-profile prosecutions of Jersey City Mayor Gerald McCann, New York chief judge Sol Wachtler and the kidnappers and killers of Exxon executive Sidney Reso.

He also worked in Trenton as special counsel to the state Senate Judiciary Committee that investigated racial profiling in New Jersey. And much earlier in his career, working in the U.S. Attorney's office in New York - then led by Rudolph Guiliani - Chertoff was lead prosecutor in a trial which convicted the leaders of four organized crime families.

The choice of a new homeland security chief rounds out Mr. Bush's second-term Cabinet and completes a substantial makeover of the president's team as he awaits his Jan. 20 inauguration.

Donald Rumsfeld, John Snow and Norman Mineta have remained as secretaries of defense, treasury and transportation, but President 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 administration 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.