Rumor has it that Bush will announce his new choice for Fatherland Security is Michael Chertoff. Here is what the Alliance for Justice said about him when Chertoff was named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Michael Chertoff received a “well qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.
There is little doubt that he is a talented attorney and an intelligent, committed public servant. Nevertheless, his behavior in the Whitewater investigation and his current role in the War Against Terrorism raise questions about his partisanship and his belief in the civil liberties of all people.
Chertoff supervised the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui and has been described as “the driving force behind the Justice Department’s most controversial initiatives in the war on terrorism.” Civil liberties advocates blame him for what they see as dangerous curtailments to free speech and the rights of criminal defendants.
According to press reports, Chertoff has played a key role in several matters: first, the increase in FBI agents’ authority to conduct domestic surveillance; second, the use of “material witness” warrants to lock up people of Middle Eastern dissent; third, the interviewing of thousands of Middle Eastern men who entered the United States before and after the 9/11 attacks; fourth, the aggressive prosecution of Moussaoui, despite concern that the FBI had not found sufficient evidence to link him to the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. Chertoff’s has not only played an active role in these cases, he has also been the first to defend controversial Justice Department policies. He spoke up for the government’s right to hold suspects indefinitely without counsel as “enemy combatants,” as well as the government’s decision to interview 5,000 Arab Americans after the 9/11 attacks.
Chertoff also appears to have played a role in recent congressional action to limit judge’s sentencing discretion.
Chertoff also co-wrote a brief in Chavez v. Martinez arguing that there is no general constitutional right to be free of coercive police questioning.
As counsel to Senator Alphonse D’Amato (R-NY) in the Whitewater investigation, Chertoff proved his loyalty to the Republican Party and his willingness to turn a legal investigation into a political one. He ruthlessly pursued the Clintons, on behalf of the Republican controlled Senate. Shortly after the congressional Whitewater investigation had been finished, Chertoff utilized his role in the probe to promote Robert Dole’s presidential campaign. Chertoff stumped for Dole as a warm-up speaker at a fundraiser in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Referring to his work in Whitewater, Chertoff asked the crowd, “[Clinton] promised us the most ethical administration in American history. Well, how many of that administration are in jail now? Why does the White House spend more time hiding its files from subpoenas than it does pursuing drug dealers?” How many members of this administration have to resign in disgrace?”
Chertoff also wrote an article for Newsweek in 1996 entitled Why Whitewater Matters describing the Clintons wrongdoing and why it was important. It is clear that Chertoff had no problem taking his knowledge of the investigation and using it to turn Americans against the President during an election campaign. Senators might ask if this is an appropriate role for an investigator in what was supposed to be an apolitical investigation.
A glimmer of good news: the fundies won’t like him.
In an Op-Ed published by the New Jersey Law Journal (June 17th, 1996) Chertoff spoke out in favor of the Supreme Court’s decision in Romer v. Evans. Though he found fault with the logical reasoning of the Court’s majority, he took issue with Justice Scalia’s condemnation of homosexuality. Chertoff wrote of Scalia: “He is wrong, and an honest and forthright majority opinion would have said why. He is wrong because the sex lives of adult Americans, like their religion, is none of the government’s business.”