I was rather startled to hear someone say that appointing Michael Chertoff as head of Homeland Security was to the Clintons like holding up a cross to vampires. That certainly got my attention.
Kris Kobach has worked with Chertoff and here's what he has to say:
PRESIDENT Bush's nomination of Michael Chertoff to the position of Secretary of Homeland Security is a homerun. More than that, it is a step that will directly and significantly improve our country's security.
Chertoff's qualifications are impeccable. Currently a Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, he headed the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice during 2001-2003. He also served as a mob-crushing federal prosecutor in New York, followed by a four-year stint as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey.
Need more? How about degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, as well as a judicial clerkship with Supreme Court Justice William Brennan?
I worked with Chertoff at the Department of Justice. He is one of the smartest people I have ever known. And he combines his intellect with a drive to get things done. He is a legal dynamo who focuses on the task at hand with amazing intensity. He thinks fast, he talks fast, he works fast.
In the wake of 9/11, it was Chertoff who directed the prosecution of terrorists and who led efforts to increase information-sharing between federal prosecutors, the FBI, and other intelligence agencies.
Since 9/11, the Department of Justice has brought criminal charges against 372 suspected terrorists in the United States. To date, 194 have been convicted or have pleaded guilty. By any reckoning, that is an impressive record. And Chertoff deserves much of the credit.
He did not merely "oversee" these prosecutions in some detached sense. He personally rolled up his sleeves and did the heavy lifting in the critical cases. He knew the facts, knew the law and knew how to win.
Few people have the ability to change the landscape of Washington — to single-handedly move an executive department in the right direction, overcoming bureaucratic inertia. Chertoff is one of those people.
The Department of Homeland Security is many things — monitor of our country's security, assessor of its vulnerabilities, protector of our borders and coordinator of first responders, to name just a few of its missions.
But what many forget is that the department is also a law-enforcement agency. Effective law enforcement is critical to the department's success in each of these missions. And no one knows law enforcement as well as Chertoff.
When the Patriot Act was drafted to fill gaping holes in our anti-terrorism laws, Chertoff's expertise was invaluable. He knew where the problems were and knew what needed to be done. Before the Patriot Act, prosecutors who unearthed critical information about a future attack could not share that information with the intelligence community. And some forms of terrorist activity weren't even illegal.
In the confirmation hearings that lie ahead, a few senators may be tempted to question Chertoff harshly, offended by his role as prosecutorial point-man in the war against terrorism. Others may resent the fact that he served as special counsel for the Senate's Whitewater Committee in 1994-96.
However, they would be well-advised to tread carefully. If any senator decides to engage in some sparring, he or she will have a hard time landing a punch. Chertoff is an intellectual heavyweight. Most senators already know that, having confirmed him in three federal posts.
Although he's not well known outside of Washington and the legal community, Chertoff will soon be a household name. He's not simply a good pick for secretary of homeland security — he's the perfect person for the job.
So I will rest easier at night now. Not that Tom Ridge wasn't the best -- he was. It's the transition period that has had me worried. If Kris Kobach says Chertoff is a good man, he is.