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Inside Politics

Bush nominates new Homeland Security chief

Chertoff is federal appellate court judge

Judge Michael Chertoff
more videoVIDEO
President Bush makes the official announcement.
Age: 51, born November 28, 1953
  • Harvard University, A.B. degree, 1975
  • Harvard University, J.D. degree, 1978
  • 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, 2003-present
  • U.S. Department of Justice, assistant attorney general, 2001-2003
  • Latham & Watkins, partner, 1994-1996
  • U.S. Senate special counsel for Whitewater committee, 1994-1996
    Michael Chertoff
    Tom Ridge
    George W. Bush

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Tuesday nominated federal appeals court Judge Michael Chertoff to replace Tom Ridge as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

    Bush made the announcement from the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

    "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 a strong and decent man, saying that he had an impressive record of cutting through red tape as an assistant attorney general.

    Chertoff, 51, sits on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles appeals from New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and the Virgin Islands.

    Before becoming a judge, he was assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice's criminal division from 2001 to 2003.

    Chertoff argued the government's case against terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui's request for access to other al Qaeda suspects in U.S. custody. Allowing such access, Chertoff said, would create "immediate and irreparable harm" to U.S. security.

    Bush called Chertoff a good leader in the war against terror and said that he played a key role in linking the September 11, 2001, attacks to al Qaeda.

    "He understood immediately that the strategy on the war on terror is to prevent the attacks before they occur. His energy and intellect put him at the center of many vital homeland security improvements ...," Bush said. "He's faced countless challenging decisions and has helped to protect his fellow Americans while protecting their civil liberties."

    Bush established the Homeland Security Department after the 2001 attacks, appointing Ridge to oversee the department's attempts to prevent another strike on U.S. soil.

    On Tuesday, the president heaped praise on Ridge, saying he had "the gratitude of the nation" for his work.

    Chertoff said he was "deeply honored" by the nomination. "Tom Ridge ... leaves some very big shoes to fill," he said. "If confirmed, I pledge to devote all my energy to promoting homeland security and all our fundamental liberties."

    Bush's first choice for the post, former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, withdrew his name from consideration last month after discovering that a former household employee had a questionable immigration status.

    In the week after his nomination, questions also were raised about some of his business dealings and about accusations that he misused resources while head of the New York Police Department. (Full story)

    More than half of Bush's 15-member Cabinet announced their resignations following his re-election in November.

    GOP counsel on Whitewater panel

    Chertoff received his law degree from Harvard University and was a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice William H. Brennan Jr. in 1979 and 1980. He first stepped into a prosecutorial role as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York from 1983 to 1987.

    From there, he moved to the District of New Jersey and was assistant U.S. attorney from 1987 to 1990 and U.S. attorney until 1994.

    Between 1994 and 1996, Chertoff was counsel to the GOP Whitewater committee investigating the business dealings of President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is now New York's junior senator.

    The Whitewater investigation eventually led to Clinton's impeachment in the House of Representatives, but the bid to remove him from office failed in the Senate.

    An independent counsel later determined that the Whitewater investigation did not uncover sufficient evidence to warrant any criminal charges against the Clintons.

    As a senator, Mrs. Clinton cast the only vote against Chertoff when he was nominated for the appeals court in 2003.

    New York's other senator, Charles Schumer, quickly gave a qualified endorsement of Chertoff's nomination.

    "Judge Mike Chertoff has the resume to be an excellent Homeland Security secretary, given his law enforcement background and understanding of New York's and America's neglected homeland security needs," Schumer said.

    "I look forward to sitting down with him and fleshing out his views, but at the outset, he appears to be a strong choice."

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