Only in Washington, a city where politicians and journalists pretend to have no memories, could the selection of Michael Chertoff to serve as homeland security secretary be hailed as a positive development for the republic.
Chertoff, who provided the intellectual muscle to back up outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft's fundamentalist fantasies and totalitarian twists, is perhaps best remembered as the primary author of the Patriot Act. As such, he will go down in history as one of the worst enemies of the Constitution ever to serve in a high-level federal post.
He was, in addition, deeply involved in the troubling assaults on civil liberties associated with the prosecution of John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban." Chertoff's actions were so clearly contrary to legal standards that lawyers in the Justice Department contacted the department's Professional Responsibility Advisory Office regarding their concerns about ethics violations.
And newly released documents suggest that Chertoff deceived Congress when he was asked about the Lindh case while being questioned by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2003.
The Department of Homeland Security, with its vast authority over so many aspects of American life, should not be headed by someone with a record of undermining the Constitution, violating ethical standards and lying to Congress.
Compared to Chertoff, Bush's first pick to head the homeland security agency, former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, looks like a stellar selection. Kerik was merely a serial adulterer who had violated tax rules and been involved in legally dubious business endeavors. Chertoff, on the other hand, appears to be a man with no respect for the law.
Kerik was a poor pick to serve as secretary of homeland security. But Michael Chertoff is a far worse selection. Kerik was a fool, while Chertoff is a threat. That threat can and should be averted.
Chertoff's nomination should be rejected by senators who believe that federal officials ought to mean it when they swear an oath to abide by the Constitution.
© 2005 Capital Times