President Bush on Tuesday chose federal appeals court judge Michael Chertoff to be his new Homeland Security chief, turning to a former federal prosecutor who helped craft the early war on terror strategy.
"Mike has shown a deep commitment to the cause of justice and an unwavering determination to protect the American people," Bush said. "Mike has also been a key leader in the war on terror."
Chertoff headed the Justice Department's criminal division from 2001 to 2003, where he played a central role in the nation's legal response to the Sept. 11 attacks, before the president named him to appeals court position in New Jersey.
Chertoff would replace Tom Ridge, the department's first chief. "He leaves some very deep shoes to fill," Chertoff said of Ridge.
"I will be proud to stand again with the men and women who form our front line against terror," he said.
Chertoff, a federal appellate court judge with the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, would replace Tom Ridge, the department's first chief.
Chertoff, who rounds out Bush's second-term Cabinet, is actually the president's second pick for the job. Former New York City police chief Bernard Kerik withdrew as nominee last month, citing immigration problems with a family housekeeper.
After failing to disclose the nanny problem during an initial screening, Kerik acknowledged it during a subsequent vetting phase as he filled out a clearance form.
Bush said that Chertoff has "been confirmed by the Senate three times," signaling that he should have no problem surmounting the advise and consent process.
Chertoff, whose appeal court nomination sailed through Congress, won immediate support on Capitol Hill, where even Democrats applauded the choice.
"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," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Chertoff, whose resume includes stints as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey and the Senate Republicans' chief counsel for the Clinton-era Whitewater investigation, was one of the administration's key figures in the war on terror.
He took the lead in 2003 in successfully arguing the government's case in a potentially precedent-setting appeal involving terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, the lone man charged as a conspirator in the Sept. 11 attacks and playing a significant role in development of the U.S. Patriot Act to combat terrorist attacks.
As the U.S. attorney for New Jersey from 1990 to 1994 — named by Bush's father — Chertoff oversaw high-profile prosecutions of Jersey City Mayor Gerald McCann, New York chief judge Sol Wachtler and the kidnappers and killers of Exxon executive Sidney Reso. Chertoff personally handled the stock fraud trial of Eddie Antar, founder of the failed Crazy Eddie discount electronics chain.
He entered private practice in 1994 but stayed in the public spotlight.
As chief Republican counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee during the administration of President Bill Clinton, Chertoff played a major role in the investigation of the Clintons' Arkansas business dealings; the suicide of Vincent Foster, a Clinton aide and former law partner of Hillary Clinton; and other allegations against the Clintons.
In 2000, he worked in Trenton, N.J., as special counsel to the state Senate Judiciary Committee that investigated racial profiling in New Jersey.
The choice of a new homeland security chief completes a substantial makeover of the Bush team as the president awaits his swearing-in Jan. 20 for a new term.
Donald H. Rumsfeld, John Snow and Norman Mineta have remained as secretaries of defense, treasury and transportation, but Bush has changed most other key agency positions.
He turned to close associates Margaret Spellings and Alberto Gonzales for the positions of secretary of education and attorney general and chose his first-term national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to be secretary of state.
Congress has started the process of confirmation hearings, and Gonzales appeared last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Democrats quizzed him aggressively about his role in the writing of an administration policy paper interpreting what kinds of interrogations of enemy combatants could be permitted under a 1994 law banning torture.
Rice has her initial confirmation hearing on Jan. 18, two days before Bush's inauguration.