Clinton Nemesis Named as Security Chief
Published on Wedesday, January 12, 2005 by the Guardian/UK
Clinton Nemesis Named as Security Chief
by Julian Borger

President Bush named a former assistant attorney general, who was once one of Bill Clinton's principal inquisitors in the Whitewater affair, as his new homeland security secretary yesterday.

The nomination of Michael Chertoff, 51, came as a surprise in Washington, where he was not seen as an influential political player. Since 2003, he has worked as an appeal court judge in New Jersey but for two years he led the justice department's criminal investigation into the September 11 attacks.

"Mike has shown a deep commitment to the cause of justice and an unwavering determination to protect the American people," the president said, introducing Mr Chertoff at the White House. "Mike has also been a key leader in the war on terror."

Mr Bush also pointed out that Mr Chertoff had been confirmed by the Senate for top positions three times before, an important consideration.

The only vote against his appointment as an appeal court judge in 2003 was cast by Hillary Clinton, a reflection of the lingering bitterness over the Whitewater affair, a five-year, $50m inquiry into the Clintons' real-estate investments in Arkansas which turned up no evidence of wrongdoing, but which evolved into an investigation into Mr Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. However, Mr Chertoff left the investigation before Ms Lewinsky appeared on the scene and later criticised the Republican-led inquisition for going on too long.

Juliette Kayyem, a counter-terrorism expert at Harvard University who has worked with Mr Chertoff for several years, said he was not a particularly partisan figure. "He's not a show-boater. He's much more concerned about the criminal justice process than some others were at the justice department under John Ashcroft," Ms Kayyem said. "The others would say this is a war and the normal rules don't apply. I don't think Michael Chertoff would say that. He's a lawyer's lawyer."

Although Mr Chertoff was one of the architects of the Patriot Act, which reduced civil liberties to give greater investigative powers for the authorities, he has also criticised some prosecutions carried out by the justice department which denied normal legal safeguards to the suspects.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr Chertoff, who has little management experience, will face a huge task. The homeland security department has a staff of 180,000, cobbled together from 22 federal agencies in 2002, and it has yet to mesh properly.

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