Chertoff's Nomination Won't be Derailed by a 'Nannygate,' but He Faces Serious Challenges

Catherine Herridge
Washington, D.C. — As the president indicated today, Judge Michael Chertoff is a "skilled manager and brilliant thinker," who may bring a dramatic change in tone, if he is accepted to take the helm of Homeland Security. Significantly and perhaps not coincidentally, unlike the previous nominee, Bernard Kerik, it seems Chertoff's nomination won't be derailed by a "nannygate" or other skeletons in the closet. Chertoff has been confirmed by the Senate three times before.

However, his biggest challenge, if things go well, will be understanding that there's no glory, and if things go south — you get all the blame. While his judicial and law enforcement backgrounds are enviable, they could put some noses out of joint. After all, those two departments only represent one slice of Homeland Security. The massive department is 22 agencies rolled into one — Secret Service, customs and immigration — that all have their own law enforcement functions.

According to those who worked closely with him, Chertoff is aggressive, forceful and ambitious. When he worked as a lawyer, even his opposing counsel respected his aggressiveness, although they didn't always like him personally. "He is a force to be reckoned with," said one longtime friend.

I interviewed Chertoff in the spring of 2002 when he was head of the criminal division at the U.S. Justice Department, a period when they prosecuted terror suspects, John Walker Lindh and Zacarious Moussaoui, and formulated the Patriot Act, which gave law enforcement broader surveillance powers.

In that interview, Chertoff described the importance of disrupting terrorist cells before they act — what law enforcement and intelligence officials describe as "the strategy of pre-emption." Chertoff confirmed as early as two years ago that there was a new attitude and a new posture within the Justice Department.

"There's been a sea of change in terms of philosophy, " Chertoff told me. "Obviously we prosecute cases, but now we look to prevent further acts of terrorism, which means that our primary purpose is to get info which will allow us to overt a terrorist incident and a loss of life."

The judge had long been on the list of possibilities for the Supreme Court. Many of those who know and have worked with him, say they are surprised that he took the job at Homeland Security, instead of waiting for an opportunity at the high court. However, as one source pointed out, taking the job at Homeland Security doesn't rule out his going to the Supreme Court in a year or so, when and if there is an opening.

Catherine Herridge is the Homeland Defense correspondent for FOX News. FOX Fans can catch Catherine on "FOX News Live" 9 am to 1 pm daily.

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.