Chertoff Confirmed as Homeland Security Secretary

Federal judge voted in 98-0 as new DHS secretary to fill position vacated by Ridge


WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate confirmed federal judge Michael Chertoff as the nation's second Homeland Security secretary on Tuesday, placing 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.

The 98-0 vote came nearly two weeks after Chertoff faced pointed questioning from Democrats about his role in developing the U.S. investigation immediately after the attacks.

Chertoff headed the Justice Department's criminal division when 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 had previously 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. The regulations are being challenged in federal court by four labor unions who represent the agency's employees.

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

Not voting were Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa.