Flashback: Chertoff’s Incompetence At DHS Prompted Repeated Calls For Resignation

One of the most repeated criticisms of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s tenure was that he continued to serve as Bush’s lawyer, rather than the nation’s lawyer. “He lacked independence, he lacked judgment, and he lacked the spine to say no to Karl Rove,” said Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-NV) in a statment today.

The media are reporting that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is the frontrunner to replace Gonzales. Yet it’s not clear that Chertoff will be any more independent or competent.


Most recently, Chertoff was criticized for claiming that he had a “gut feeling” the nation faced a heightened chance of a terrorist attack this summer. As head of the agency overseeing FEMA, he managed the administration’s bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. He also faced bipartisan criticism for his agency’s misallocation of terrorism funding.

This morning, CNN’s legal analyst Jeff Toobin speculated that there are already “very good sign[s]” for Chertoff’s nomination. But in the past, Chertoff’s incompetence as DHS head has prompted bipartisan calls for his resignation:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called for the resignation of Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff on Wednesday, one day after the government dropped Las Vegas from a list of cities considered potential high-risk targets eligible for special anti-terrorism grants. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1/5/06]

Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY): Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, warned that if the funding isn’t fixed, “Chertoff should consider resigning.” [New York Daily News, 6/2/06]

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown: Asked whether Chertoff should be dismissed, Brown said, “Well, I think so.” He said FEMA had been “marginalized” by Chertoff and his predecessor, Tom Ridge, and that he had expected the agency’s performance to suffer. [CNN, 3/3/06]

New York Times: “On Wednesday, an 11-member, all-Republican Congressional panel released a scathing report on the leadership failures before, during and after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. While there is no shortage of incompetent public officials involved in this tragedy, one stands out above the rest. That person is Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. … It would be nice for the administration to finally send a message that if important people do a bad job, they go away.” [2/17/06]

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX): “Do you believe you should be fired because I believe you should.” [House Homeland Security Committee hearing, 2/16/06]

Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) and Charlie Melancon (D-LA): “What the majority report does not do, however, is draw the logical conclusion to its own findings and recommend Secretary Chertoff’s removal from office. Our judgment, based on a careful review of the record, is that the Department of Homeland Security needs new and more experienced leadership.” [Minority report by the House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate Katrina, 2/15/06]

As Salon’s Glenn Greenwald notes, the “DOJ and the country desperately need a completely outside figure who will ensure that the prosecutorial machinery operates independently. … That is not going to happen if the Democrats allow the confirmation of one of the ostensibly less corrupt and ‘establishment-respected’ members of the Bush circle — Michael Chertoff or Fred Fielding or Paul Clement or some Bush appointee along those lines.”

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