Chertoff nomination stalls over Guantanamo Bay questions

Michael Chertoff was on the fast track this week to become the next Homeland Security secretary, but debate on class-action overhaul and a holdup over a contentious FBI memo has pushed back the vote to Tuesday.

"There are on-going negotiations between [Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.] and the Bush administration, and we're focused on the class-action debate," said a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Wednesday. She said the vote is likely to be early next week. Levin's spokesman Wednesday said the senator was not holding up the vote.

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Levin are waiting for the Justice Department to produce an uncensored copy of a memo on the Bush administration's interrogation policies at Guantanamo Bay during Chertoff's tenure as head of the department's criminal division, according to aides.

"The document indicates that FBI personnel were deeply concerned about interrogation techniques which were being used in Guantanamo Bay by the Defense Department and [Homeland Security officials]," the senators wrote Friday to the Justice Department. "It further indicates that FBI personnel communicated with the [Justice Department], including the Criminal Division, regarding their concerns ... Based on the content of the document, we believe many of the referenced events occurred during the tenure of Judge Chertoff ... and an unredacted copy of the document will allow us a fuller understanding of the events being discussed."

In a letter responding to the senators' request, the Justice Department refused to provide the classified document, citing deliberative process and privacy exemptions. The department claimed the document is "comprised of FBI messages that were not sent by or addressed to Judge Chertoff and it contains no reference to him by name [or] otherwise."

During the confirmation hearing last week, Levin peppered Chertoff with questions about his role in advising Justice Department officials about the department's torture policies, repeatedly asking Chertoff if he saw memorandums that allegedly contributed to abuses at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

One memo ignited a fierce and lengthy debate between Republicans and Democrats over Attorney General Gonzales' nomination.

Chertoff told the panel he had a limited role in the administration's policies, but said he advised officials "if you are dealing with something that makes you nervous, you'd better make sure that you are doing the right thing."

The Senate still is expected to confirm the federal appeals court judge, who had been confirmed by the Senate for three positions before President Bush tapped him to serve as the second Homeland Security secretary.

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, wanted her panel to vote on the nomination last Thursday, following a confirmation hearing Wednesday, but Democrats on the panel asked that a vote be delayed until Monday to allow them to enter more questions and receive responses from Chertoff.

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