Profile: Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff

ByABC News

— -- Michael Chertoff made his name by getting the bosses of the five biggest Mafia families in New York off the streets. In his new job of secretary of Homeland Security, he will be responsible for keeping America's streets safe from terrorists.

"Mike has shown a deep commitment to the cause of justice and an unwavering determination to protect the American people," Bush said when he announced the nomination. "Mike has also been a key leader in the war on terror."

The Senate approved his nomination in a 98-0 vote on Feb. 15, 2005. He succeeds Tom Ridge as head of the Department of Homeland Security.

"I believe the secretary of Homeland Security will have to be mindful of the need to reconcile the imperatives of security with the preservation of liberty and privacy," Chertoff said in a prepared statement for a hearing on his nomination before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Chertoff, 51, has been a federal judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since 2003 and was the director of the Justice Department's criminal division from 2001 to 2003.

He has been concerned with the terrorist threat against the United States for a long time, and in 1996 argued in an article published in the New Jersey Law Journal titled "Tools Against Terrorism" that law enforcement and prosecutors need greater leeway in their pursuit of suspected terrorists, even if that involved a limiting of some of the civil liberties that Americans have grown accustomed to.

He is known as an aggressive prosecutor and a good manager, though his critics have claimed that he has sometimes gone overboard, such as in the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person to be charged in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks; his opposition to allowing judges discretion in deciding sentences; and his position, argued in an amicus brief he co-wrote for a case before the Supreme Court, that there is no constitutional right to be free of coercive questioning by the police.


Like former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, Bush's first nominee for the Homeland Security job, Chertoff first gained attention as a result of his association with Rudolph Giuliani. Chertoff was the former New York City mayor's assistant when Giuliani was a federal prosecutor working on a case against organized crime families.

Just as the case was due to go to trial in 1985, Giuliani decided to lead the prosecution of a municipal corruption case, leaving Chertoff in charge of the organized crime prosecution. The assistant prosecutor got the conviction, and the headlines that went with putting top-level mobsters behind bars.

His success eventually brought him the job of top U.S. prosecutor in New Jersey, where he went after electronics tycoon "Crazy Eddie" Antar, who was convicted of racketeering and securities fraud.

He went into private practice in 1994, as a partner with Latham & Watkins, but was also the special counsel for the U.S. Senate Whitewater Commission, which investigated the involvement of President Clinton and members of his staff in an Arkansas real estate company.

His campaign appearances for Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, who ran against Clinton in 1996, raised some eyebrows among other former special prosecutors, who questioned whether that was appropriate.

Chertoff returned to government service in 2001, taking over as chief of the Justice Department's criminal division, and has pushed for greater powers for law enforcement to pursue and prosecute suspected terrorists.

Even though he has been an aggressive champion of the administration's legal tactics in the war on terror, he joined with a group of other conservative lawyers who criticized Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Bush for the indefinite detention of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay.

Chertoff, who was born in Elizabeth, N.J., on Nov. 28, 1953, received his bachelor's degree from Harvard University in 1975 and his lawdegree from Harvard University in 1978.

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