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After a rocky year, things are looking brighter for some prot�g�s of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. On Jan. 4, President George W. Bush granted a recess appointment to Julie Myers, making the 36-year-old former Chertoff chief of staff the head of Homeland Security’s 15,000-employee Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Just a day earlier, Alice Fisher, Chertoff’s former deputy at the Justice Department who now heads the DOJ’s Criminal Division, had been on national television touting the guilty plea federal prosecutors had extracted from Jack Abramoff. That guilty plea had been won by a team of career prosecutors supervised by Noel Hillman, the head of the DOJ’s public integrity section who was first hired by Chertoff as a federal prosecutor during Chertoff’s tenure as U.S. attorney in New Jersey. On the surface it would seem that Myers, Fisher, and Hillman, among others, have basked in the reflected glory of Chertoff, who once enjoyed, by Washington standards, a stainless reputation as a straight-shooting, mob-busting, former prosecutor turned general in the war on terror. But Hurricane Katrina dented Chertoff’s armor, leading critics to call into question his leadership at the DHS. And criticism of the response to Katrina as well as terror policies promulgated under Chertoff during his time at Justice has also tarred his understudies � some of whom were forced to claim their positions through the back door of presidential recess appointments. Their successes � and their travails � provide a window into how one lawyer’s high-flying career in public service can both open doors for and complicate the lives of his loyal aides and assistants. “When people get into positions of power, they tend to bring in people they know,” says Michael Greenberger, a former Clinton-era DOJ official who now runs the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland. “The question is the competency of those people.” ALL IN THE FAMILY The top rungs of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security are crowded with lawyers who’ve worked with Chertoff in a number of his previous jobs: as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey, as a partner at Latham & Watkins in New Jersey, as counsel to the Senate committee investigating the Clintons, and as the assistant attorney general overseeing the DOJ’s Criminal Division.
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Some have had an easier time in their roles than others. Myers perhaps suffered the most by her association with the post-Katrina Chertoff. Myers and Chertoff both worked on the Whitewater investigation; Chertoff was special counsel to the Senate, and later Myers was a junior lawyer in independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s office. After brief stints as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York and at the Treasury Department, Myers became Chertoff’s chief of staff in November 2002, during his tenure as assistant attorney general in charge of the DOJ’s Criminal Division. She then left the DOJ just 10 months later, after Chertoff won confirmation as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in the summer of 2003. But when Chertoff returned to the Bush administration last year, he hadn’t forgotten Myers, who had job-hopped from Justice to the Commerce Department to the White House’s personnel office. Her confirmation hearings couldn’t have come at a tougher time. It was Sept. 15, 2005, and the political winds stirred up by Homeland Security’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina were still blowing through Congress. Three days earlier, Michael Brown had resigned in disgrace as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Congress and the media were on the hunt for underqualified Bush administration cronies. Myers fit the bill. Nominated to become head of the federal government’s second-largest investigative agency, Myers had virtually no experience in immigration policy and a thin record of management of any sort. (Myers was unavailable for an interview. A spokesman for her office issued a statement saying, “She has great respect for Michael Chertoff and is extremely proud of her work with him.”) And it couldn’t have helped that the other DHS nominee before the Senate committee was Stewart Baker, an older and deeply experienced Washington lawyer and policy-maker who is now assistant secretary for policy at the department. “I think we ought to have a meeting with [DHS Secretary] Mike Chertoff, either privately or publicly, to ask him why he particularly . . . thinks you’re qualified for the job,” Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) told Myers, with her parents, her fianc�, and her future in-laws looking on from the audience. “Because based on the r�sum�, I don’t think you are.” But Voinovich had hit on Myers’ ace in the hole. Chertoff would not only speak privately with Voinovich but, according to one of the senator’s aides, would play a key role in persuading the senator to back her nomination. When Bush bypassed the Senate to give Myers a controversial recess appointment over the holidays, there was nary a protest from the normally independent-minded Voinovich. “He believes she has the potential to be a good manager,” says Marcie Ridgway, Voinovich’s press secretary. If Myers’ credentials aren’t impeccable, her connections certainly are. She is the niece of Gen. Richard Myers, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Upon taking the helm at the DHS, Chertoff tapped her then-fiance (now husband), John Wood, who was once an aide to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, to be his chief of staff. But Myers is far from the only government lawyer whose career has taken off after working for Chertoff. There’s also Alice Fisher, who worked with Chertoff on the Whitewater investigation. After Fisher left the Senate committee, she joined Latham & Watkins, Chertoff’s old firm. She became a partner at the firm in 2001, just as Chertoff tapped her to become one of five deputy assistants at the Criminal Division. When Chertoff left to join the federal bench in 2003, Fisher returned to private practice at Latham. But when Chertoff returned to the administration last year, Fisher, 38, was nominated to take his old job leading DOJ’s 500-lawyer Criminal Division. (Fisher declined an interview request for this article.) That nomination was both helped and hindered by her ties to Chertoff and his tenure at Justice. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in his introduction of Fisher, went out of his way to point out that “Secretary Chertoff, who’s worked closely with her over the years, has called her, quote, �one of the best lawyers I’ve seen in my entire career.’ “ But the Criminal Division’s record under Chertoff and Fisher was far from flawless. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Justice was criticized for ordering the roundup and incarceration of hundreds of Muslims in the United States. The department was also embarrassed after it was forced to drop the much-touted 2003 convictions of members of an alleged Detroit terror cell amid allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. And one of the Criminal Division’s signature successes in the area of white-collar crime during Chertoff’s tenure � the 2002 conviction of accounting firm Arthur Andersen for obstruction of justice � was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Fisher and Chertoff’s role in crafting some of the more controversial legal aspects of the Bush administration’s war on terror also proved thorny. Ultimately, Fisher’s confirmation was blocked in the Senate by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), over questions about her connections to legal policies used to justify the harsh treatment of foreign detainees. In response, Bush granted Fisher a recess appointment, using the same constitutional provision that allowed him to appoint Myers without Senate approval. And, as with Myers, Fisher’s husband is no stranger to Chertoff. W. Clinton Fisher III is currently a senior adviser for aviation policy at the DHS’ Transportation Security Administration. Although Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) criticized Alice Fisher at the time of her nomination for having no prosecutorial experience and a thin trial record, her short tenure atop the Criminal Division has been marked by its success in winning guilty pleas from Abramoff and his former associate Michael Scanlon in the ongoing congressional corruption probe. One of the career DOJ attorneys supervising the 18-month investigation is Hillman, 49, the section chief of the public integrity division who followed Chertoff to Washington. LENGTHY COATTAILS Those close to Chertoff’s inner circle are quick to credit the success of his prot�g�s to their individual skills as much as to their relationship with the Cabinet secretary. “I think relatively talented people have gravitated to him over the years and want to learn at the knee of the master,” says Eric Jaso, a federal prosecutor in New Jersey who worked on Chertoff’s staff at the DOJ in Washington. “He takes his mentoring role very seriously and likes to see people learn and ultimately succeed.” Beyond Myers, Fisher, and Hillman, Chertoff’s family tree within the federal government includes a number of other successful lawyers who regularly keep in contact, according to a number of lawyers who have worked with Chertoff. They include: • Philip Perry: The career of the son-in-law of Vice President Dick Cheney has in many ways mirrored Chertoff’s over the past decade. Also a former partner at Latham & Watkins, he worked on the Whitewater investigation with Chertoff and joined the DOJ after Bush’s election in 2000. After stints at the Office of Management and Budget and back at Latham, Perry joined Chertoff at the DHS last year as the department’s general counsel. • John Elwood: First hired as a counsel to Chertoff in the Criminal Division, Elwood became an assistant solicitor general and argued several cases before the Supreme Court. He’s now deputy assistant attorney general at Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, the office charged with providing the legal justification for the president’s authorization of warrantless eavesdropping. • Laura Parsky: She was brought to the Criminal Division by Chertoff and is now a deputy assistant attorney general overseeing computer crimes and child exploitation. Parsky is the daughter of high-flying investment banker Gerald Parsky, the California state chairman of the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign who was once considered a candidate for Treasury secretary. • David Nahmias: Hired for the DOJ by Chertoff, he became a deputy assistant attorney general under Chertoff’s successor, Christopher Wray. He’s now U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta. • Eric Jaso: A former Latham associate under Chertoff in New Jersey, he worked as a lawyer in Chertoff’s office at the DOJ. Jaso is now an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey and is rumored to be in line for an appointment to the federal bench. • Matthew Martens: Another former Latham associate who followed Chertoff to Washington, he is now a federal prosecutor in Charlotte, N.C., and remains close to Chertoff, having dined with him in Charlotte last summer. • Scott Weber: A former partner at Latham, he is now a lawyer in Chertoff’s office at the DHS. • Sigal Mandelker: Though she turned down a summer associate offer from Latham (she chose Covington & Burling), Mandelker made her way into Chertoff’s inner circle at Justice through the DOJ’s honors program and is now a lawyer in Chertoff’s DHS office.


Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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