Homeland Security nominee seeks to bring allies to department

A look at some of the people Michael Chertoff might seek to bring on as his top deputies.

Looking to tame a young department that the White House sees as an unruly teenager, President Bush has tapped 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Michael Chertoff to be the stern father at the Homeland Security Department.

But if he's confirmed as secretary, Chertoff's disciplinary options will be limited, unless he can recruit reliable allies to the department.

Shortly after being nominated, Chertoff inquired about how much influence he'd have over filling vacancies. Departing Secretary Tom Ridge had little voice in the selection of his own subordinates. And for Chertoff, the early signals from the White House have not been encouraging, according to sources close to him.

Beginning with the Reagan administration, secretaries' control over the appointments of their deputies and undersecretaries has declined precipitously, observes Paul Light, a New York University professor who has studied the presidential appointments process. He says among the current secretaries, the only two who've had much of a say are Donald Rumsfeld at Defense and Colin Powell, who is leaving the State Department.

In lower-ranking posts, Chertoff has found ways to pull in his own people. Soon after taking over the Justice Department's Criminal Division in May 2001, he fired half of the division's section chiefs. "People respect him enough and respect his judgment so that if he says, 'This is who I need,' he can make it happen," says one former colleague.

And Chertoff has a well-placed ally. Julie Myers, a former Chertoff chief of staff, is now working in the White House personnel office on the staffing of the Homeland Security and Justice departments. And there are enough vacancies in the top ranks of Homeland Security that Chertoff can quickly put his own imprint on the department, if the White House will let him.

Three senior posts -- those in charge of departmental security, cyber-security, and infrastructure protection -- are already open. And Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson and Assistant Secretary for Information Analysis Patrick Hughes are rumored to be plotting exit strategies.

"It's an opportunity to get a management team around the secretary that collectively has all the qualities that we need for the leadership of the department," says former department Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin.

Chertoff has a bipartisan bench of allies to draw on, from his time as GOP special counsel for the Whitewater investigation; as a partner at the law firm of Latham & Watkins; and at Justice. Colleagues say he'd like to recruit the following:

  • Alice Fisher was Chertoff's deputy in the Criminal Division, where she spent much of her time on counter-terrorism. Fisher and Chertoff worked together on the Whitewater investigation. And Fisher was a partner in Latham & Watkins's Washington office when Chertoff lured her back to work for him at Justice. She's now back at the firm.
  • Matthew Martens and Chertoff began working together when Martens was an associate in Latham & Watkins's New Jersey office. Chertoff then wooed Martens to Washington to be his deputy chief of staff and, later, his chief of staff. Martens left the Criminal Division to become an assistant U.S. attorney in North Carolina, and he remains in close touch with Chertoff.
  • Viet Dinh worked with Chertoff both on the Whitewater investigation and at Justice, where Dinh was the assistant attorney general for legal policy. Together, they led the department's work on counter-terrorism, especially on developing the USA PATRIOT Act. Dinh has since returned to teaching at Georgetown University Law Center.
  • Michael Horowitz was chief of staff in the Criminal Division in the Clinton administration and stayed on to help with the transition. A week after Horowitz's going-away party, Chertoff asked him to return as his first chief of staff. A former assistant U.S. attorney in New York, Horowitz is respected by both parties. Now in private practice at Cadwalader, Wickersham, & Taft, he was appointed to the U.S. Sentencing Commission by President George W. Bush.
  • Lucy Clark is an alum of both the Justice Department and Latham & Watkins. At Justice, she was counselor to the acting assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. She then moved to the White House Office of Homeland Security and went on to serve as counsel to the secretary at the Homeland Security Department. She's now at FTI Consulting.
  • Julie Myers spent nearly a year as Chertoff's chief of staff. Now in the White House personnel office, she also worked at the Commerce and Treasury departments and as an assistant U.S. attorney. She was an associate independent counsel for Kenneth Starr's investigation of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
  • Robert Giuffra Jr. worked with Chertoff on the Whitewater investigation and is currently a partner at the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. He has represented, among other clients, Enron's lead auditor.
  • Beth Wilkinson is a partner at Latham & Watkins in Washington. A top counter-terrorism official in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration, she was the lead prosecutor in the Oklahoma City bombing case. She is a former assistant U.S. attorney and a former captain in the Army general counsel's office.

People familiar with the complicated inner workings of Homeland Security say Chertoff must make his mark within 90 days, or he won't make one. Where his closest allies end up will be a real indicator of whether Chertoff is likely to succeed.