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If nominated as AG, Chertoff could face questions on Katrina

  • Story Highlights
  • Chertoff may be nominated to replace Alberto Gonzales, officials say
  • Chertoff has been Homeland Security Secretary since 2005
  • He was a federal judge, assistant attorney general, federal prosecutor before that
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(CNN) -- If Michael Chertoff is nominated to be the next attorney general, he's likely to face a tough confirmation battle, according to Democratic congressional aides.


Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff may be nominated to be attorney general, officials say.

Supporters will hail his career as a judge and federal prosecutor, while detractors are likely to point out that he was in charge of the Department of Homeland Security as it struggled with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Senior administration officials told CNN that President Bush may nominate Chertoff to replace Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who announced his resignation on Monday.

But a source close to Chertoff said, "this would be a surprise to Mike."

Chertoff has been secretary of Homeland Security since February 2005.

Before that he was a federal appeals court judge, and an assistant attorney general who helped trace the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to al Qaeda, according to his biography on the White House Web site.

He was special counsel for the U.S. Senate Whitewater Committee from 1994 to 1996, and spent more than a decade as a federal prosecutor, the biography says.

Asked about Chertoff on Monday, New York Sen. Charles Schumer declined to speculate about possible nominees to replace Gonzales, but added, "My opinion of Michael Chertoff is that at Homeland Security, there are still lots and lots and lots of problems. I haven't been as keen on his administration as others."

Schumer, a Democrat, has been a vocal critic of Gonzales and sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will consider the nomination for the next attorney general.

"Our initial attitude is going to be one of cooperation," Schumer said. "We hope it is reciprocated."

Congressional Republicans who had argued for Gonzales to stay in office -- including Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas -- have told CNN that they were concerned that a confirmation fight would be more politically damaging than having Gonzales continue in office.

At a Senate hearing in February 2006 on the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, Chertoff took responsibility for his department's inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina, which "unnecessarily prolonged" the suffering of people along the Gulf Coast.

But Chertoff flatly rejected the accusation that either the Department of Homeland Security or the White House was disengaged as the storm deluged New Orleans and leveled much of coastal Mississippi.

"The idea that this department and this administration and the president were somehow detached from Katrina is simply not correct," he said. "We were acutely aware of Katrina and the risk it posed."

Chertoff testified the same day a House report was released accusing him of missteps in his response to the storm, which claimed 1,322 lives.

The report, written by a committee of Republicans, takes Chertoff to task for waiting until two days after the storm hit to activate a national response plan and for appointing Michael Brown, then-director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to lead the federal response effort despite Brown's lack of training for that role.

"If I knew then what I know now about Mr. Brown's agenda, I would have done something different," Chertoff said. Brown quit his post following widespread criticism after the storm, later blaming Chertoff and others for dragging their feet and ignoring his warnings about massive flooding.

Official announcement of a replacement for Gonzales is not expected to come on Monday. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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