Lieberman Endorses Chertoff For Homeland Security Secretary

WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Monday delivered the following prepared statement on the Senate floor in favor of Michael Chertoff’s nomination to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security:

Mr. President, I rise today to express my support for the nomination of Michael Chertoff to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Judge Chertoff has an impressive record and has served his country well as a prosecutor, an Assistant Attorney General, and a federal judge. He comes with a reputation as a strong, intellectually demanding leader – characteristics that will serve him well if he is confirmed, as I believe he should be, for the job to which he is nominated. Judge Chertoff’s dedication to public service is demonstrated by his willingness to give up a lifetime appointment to the Federal bench and take on this challenge. I respect him for that and appreciate his dedication to our country, and to the security of the American people. Homeland Security Secretary is clearly one of the most difficult jobs in Washington today, not only for the awesome responsibility it carries to safeguard the American people from terrorist attack -or natural catastrophe – but also because of the serious work that still needs to be done to make the Department the success it must be. Since it was created two years ago, the Department has become the leader among government agencies protecting Americans here at home. Secretary Ridge launched this process and admirably led the Department through the initial pain of merging 22 separate agencies and programs with different cultures, structures, and priorities – the largest government reorganization in half a century. We knew this transformation would be a monumental task and that it would take time for the Department to emerge as a well-run, coordinated bureaucracy – even more so after it became clear that the Administration was not providing the resources and attention that were needed. Understandably, the Department and its 180,000 employees still faces significant challenges in everything from its strategic vision to its day-to-day operations. The lack of a focused, long-term homeland security strategy is one of the greatest disappointments to me. No organization – especially one as large and complicated as this one – can succeed without one. Given the importance of the Department’s mission, the new Secretary will immediately need to develop an updated strategy that clarifies not only the Department’s priorities, roles, and responsibilities, but those of other key partners, as well. Consultation will have to occur with others in the Administration – at Defense, Health and Human Services, and Justice – to ensure an integrated and overarching vision of how the government will tackle its role of defending the homeland. One of the changes recommended by experts is the creation of an Under Secretary for Policy and Planning to perform the kind of long range thinking within DHS that has been in short supply. I am pleased this development is underway, and it should ease the new Secretary’s burden considerably. If confirmed, Judge Chertoff and his key deputies will need some very basic tools that are now lacking – for example, professional staff. The Secretary and the Deputy Secretary of the Department must have sufficient numbers of assistants to manage 180,000 employees. We heard testimony before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the Deputy Secretary’s office currently has five staff members. Senator Warner, a member of the Committee and a former Deputy Secretary of the Navy, recalled that he had a well over 100 staff members. DHS employees must also be adequately trained to perform new and more complex tasks than they performed before the Department was created. Looking beyond these internal problems, the Department must also step up its efforts to eliminate persistent vulnerabilities in a variety of sectors – both public and private. The security of our borders and ports, within our rail and transit systems, and at the nation’s core energy, telecommunications, water, transportation, and financial networks is not what it should be three years after the most horrific attack on American life and property in our nation’s history. The Coast Guard is in dire need of a modern fleet. At the current rate of funding, it will take 20 years to complete the necessary upgrades. The Administration absolutely must do more to prepare the nation for a possible bioterror attack, which could put millions of citizens at risk. And we must do a better job of enlisting the private sector as a necessary partner in our shared security since the private sector controls 85 percent of our critical infrastructure. We know, for example, that an attack on a chemical facility could put the lives of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens at risk, on a scale even larger than September 11. We know that al Qaeda has examined information about U.S. chemical facilities. Yet, according to Richard Falkenrath, who served as deputy homeland security adviser to the President, we have done essentially nothing to reduce the inherent insecurity of our chemical facilities. Mr. President, we have the most advanced and powerful and effective military in the history of the world. One of the reasons is because we have invested trillions of dollars over the years. So we must also invest in our homeland security if it, too, is to be the best in the world. Last year, regrettably, the Administration proposed unconscionable cuts – government-wide – for first responders. They have further reduced first responder funding for Fiscal Year 2006, and that is absolutely the wrong direction to be going in. We are all aware of the funding realities and we know it is impossible to protect every potential terrorist target. But our first responders in particular – who risk their lives so the rest of us may be safe – deserve the training and equipment they need to do their jobs. And they must have the basic capability to talk to one another. To do that, they need interoperable communications equipment to coordinate within and between jurisdictions in the event of a large or widespread catastrophe, or even to respond effectively to day-to-day emergencies. This is a daunting list, but somehow we must regain the sense of anger and urgency that propelled us forward in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks so that we can check each item off as having been improved. I am confident that Judge Chertoff too feels that sense of urgency. That was the impression I got when he appeared before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week to answer a battery of questions from Committee members, including several on his role in the administration’s prosecution of the war on terror and the advice he provided on anti-torture laws when he was head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. Judge Chertoff assured us that he was mindful of the historic tension between two values, two attributes that define us as a nation – life and liberty – and the need to protect ourselves against those who would deny us those freedoms. His exact words were, and I quote, “I believe that we cannot live in liberty without security, but we would not want to live in security without liberty.” Striking the right balance will be an ongoing challenge. I am pleased that those who know him best say Judge Chertoff is more than up to the task. His background in the law prepares him to balance security and liberty. When our colleague and friend Senator Corzine introduced his friend before our Committee when we held the nomination hearing, he referred to Judge Chertoff’s work with the New Jersey state Senate investigating and legislating against racial profiling. Senator Corzine described that experience as, and here I’m quoting, “a test of balancing protecting the American public or protecting the Jersey public and our civil liberties.” No one, he said, could have balanced those competing interests “more intelligently” than Judge Chertoff had. I also welcomed Judge Chertoff’s expression of his belief that the Office of Legal Counsel’s definition of torture – as described in an August 2002 memo written by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee – was too narrow. I am, however, troubled by how the Justice Department handled the detention of hundreds of Muslim men rounded up in the aftermath of September 11. It has been extensively documented that many of the detainees were held under quite flimsy pretexts, were incarcerated far too long without having their cases investigated, and were often denied access to lawyers and family members. Many were even physically abused by guards. Judge Chertoff has acknowledged that mistakes were made in the detention and treatment of those detainees. I wish the Department of Justice had acknowledged the same failures when the Department of Justice Inspector General released its report in 2003, and I hope and have confidence that the Department of Justice has learned a lesson. Failing to do so would be a lost opportunity to show the world that the principles of our democracy are continually being renewed. But there are also lessons I know others, including Judge Chertoff can take, as well. In his previous position at the Department of Justice, Judge Chertoff was responsible for running a criminal division. As Secretary of DHS, he will be running a Department with many different agencies, with many different missions. Included within the Department are the agencies that deal with our nation’s immigrant community, and that relationship must not be based primarily on a law enforcement mentality. DHS must strive to forge a strong relationship with the nation’s immigrants, one based on respect. So, Mr. President, I am voting for Judge Chertoff because I believe he is the right man for this job. But I do not want my comments about him and my vote for him to obscure the fact that I share some of the objections Senator Levin talked about regarding the Justice Department’s and the FBI’s unwillingness to share with us an uncensored version of the document Senator Levin referred to earlier. I have long had a concern about this Administration’s reluctance to share information with Congress. It’s a problem we’ve encountered on our Committee since this Administration took office. Whether conducting oversight or considering nominations, Senators have a right to see the material they believe necessary to discharge their Constitutional functions, barring a Presidential invocation of executive privilege or some other clear statutory prohibition. In this case, the President has not claimed privilege and the statute the Justice Department cites – the Privacy Act – simply doesn’t apply. Indeed, as Senator Levin has pointed out, to accept the Justice Department’s position that the Privacy Act requires the Administration to withhold the name of a high level government official from a document simply mentioning that official’s attending of a official meeting would be to allow for a stunning expansion of the Privacy Act that could thwart even the most basic of Congressional oversight activities. I hope every Senator will pay attention to what Senator Levin has said because it does undercut Congress. Now, having said that, why do I nonetheless go ahead and strongly support Judge Chertoff? Because I believe that Judge Chertoff, in his testimony before the Committee, responded to concerns that something in that redacted document might disqualify him for this position. First, he was not at the meeting, Second, he specifically said under oath he was never informed while head of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department that there was any mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo. I accept that statement, given by a federal judge under oath. These are not ordinary times and they demand extraordinary commitment from those who have chosen public service. Judge Chertoff has an admirable record of serving the American public, and I believe he is a very strong choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security’s continuing transformation into a strong, cohesive, well-operating force in securing the safety of the American people. I urge my colleagues to support his nomination. Thank you, Mr. President.