Chertoff confirmed by Senate, takes over Homeland Security

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Michael Chertoff was sworn in Tuesday as the nation's second Homeland Security secretary, hours after the Senate placed the tough-on-terrorism former prosecutor in charge of a bureaucracy prone to infighting and turf wars.

Chertoff, 51, has promised to balance protecting the country with preserving civil liberties as head of the sprawling agency that was created as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Harriet Miers, counsel to the president, swore in Chertoff at the White House two hours after the Senate confirmed him by a 98-0 vote. He starts at the Homeland Security Department today, and plans to meet with agency employees.

The Senate confirmed him nearly two weeks after he faced pointed questioning from Democrats about his role -- as head of the Justice Department's criminal division -- in shaping the probe into the terror attacks. Hundreds of foreigners were swept up on relatively minor charges and held for an average of 80 days. Some detainees were denied their right to see an attorney, were not told of the charges against them or were physically abused.

At the Feb. 2 hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Chertoff defended the investigation strategy but conceded it "had not always been executed perfectly."

Few expected Chertoff to face widespread opposition in the Senate. But his confirmation was delayed by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., to protest being denied Justice Department information about the treatment of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

Levin unsuccessfully sought an unedited copy of a May 2004 secret FBI memo that discussed interrogation techniques to see if it mentioned or involved Chertoff. The department denied Levin's request but said the memo did not refer to Chertoff "by name or otherwise."

Known as a fiery, wiry workhorse, Chertoff previously had been confirmed three times -- as a 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, Justice Department assistant attorney general and U.S. attorney in New Jersey.

He takes over the 180,000-employee Homeland Security Department in the wake of new regulations replacing salaries based on workers' seniority with a merit pay system. Four labor unions who represent the agency's employees are challenging the regulations in federal court.

Chertoff replaces Tom Ridge, who stepped down Feb. 1.

Senators not voting were Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

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