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It is one of those Code Orange summer days in Washington, D.C., when a small pool of perspiration easily forms at the base of your spine and seems to relentlessly expand throughout the afternoon. But Mike Chertoff isn’t sweating. Even amid the straining, failing air conditioning in the Depression-era fortress that is the Justice Department headquarters, even with his aides wiping their foreheads, he doesn’t betray a bead. Chertoff is in the early days of his new job, taking over the Justice Department’s Criminal Division under Republican Attorney General John Ashcroft. And his calm demeanor, his precise movements, his refusal to surrender to the stifling heat all suggest he might be something more than human. You hear that kind of talk often about Michael Chertoff, even from those who have reason to dislike him. His laser-beam intensity. His exhaustive preparation. His almost photographic memory. His rhythmic courtroom style: tight, compact, focused. Almost mechanical. “He’s in a different league,” says William Gormley, a Republican New Jersey state senator. “He has a gift.” Indeed, it just seems all too perfect. He’s a Harvard Law graduate (magna cum laude, editor of the law review) turned Mafia-buster, and was one of the youngest lawyers ever to head a major U.S. Attorney’s Office. Now, at 47, married with two children, Chertoff has left behind a million-dollar criminal defense practice at one of the nation’s largest law firms to come to Washington, to become, again, a government lawyer — shaky air conditioning and all. “I have a love for public service,” Chertoff says. “I like to contribute to an organization.” He means it. And his dark eyes seem to say: Don’t doubt me. “He’s walking away from a very lucrative practice that most lawyers would be reluctant to give up,” says Robert Mintz, who once worked with Chertoff at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, N.J. “But he’s motivated by different considerations.” THE UNTOUCHABLE Back before being a Mafia boss in northern New Jersey was fashionable fodder for HBO, Chertoff was hunting mob figures down and putting them away. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1978 and clerking for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, Chertoff joined Rudolph Giuliani’s federal prosecutor shop in New York. It wasn’t long before he was making headlines. He became a modern Tom Dewey, talking tough to reporters and going face-to-face with the biggest organized crime kingpins of the day. He put several members of the so-called Mafia Commission, which controlled the cement industry in New York City, behind bars: Genovese crime boss Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, Luccese family boss Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo, and Colombo family boss Carmine “Junior” Persico. “We have the hope of making organized crime a historic relic rather than something that preys on people in the community year in and year out,” Chertoff said at the time. In 1987, Chertoff’s organized crime record led to a promotion. He crossed the Hudson River and joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark as first assistant. He was 33. In Newark, Chertoff continued to pursue Mafia figures. He won an 80-year sentence for Mob enforcer Louis “Bobby” Manna for attempting to assassinate rival mob boss John Gotti. In 1990, things began to get political. Chertoff was appointed to take over the Newark office on an interim basis while then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh pushed to make him the permanent U.S. attorney. But some within the New Jersey Republican party disagreed, wanting a candidate with a more defined partisan stance. Chertoff had only recently registered as a Republican, in 1989, after years as an independent. In the end, Chertoff’s credentials won out over other, less-experienced candidates. He began to put his stamp on the Newark office with a string of high-octane cases. “There was a run of cases under Mike’s leadership that really propelled the New Jersey office to the upper echelons of U.S. attorney’s offices all over the country,” Mintz says. Chertoff’s office prosecuted the kidnappers and murderers of Exxon executive Sidney Reso. He sent New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler to jail for the harassment and attempted extortion of his ex-lover. And he obtained the racketeering conviction of ubiquitous consumer electronics retailer “Crazy Eddie” Antar. Chertoff pursued tax cheats and savings and loan profiteers. He made public corruption cases a high priority and, in one instance, tried a politically sensitive fraud and tax evasion case against the mayor of Jersey City, N.J., himself. But Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was elected president in 1992, and Chertoff left public life, joining Latham & Watkins as a partner in its Newark office. POLITICAL PRESSURE If some carried doubts about Chertoff’s Republican credentials prior to his taking the U.S. attorney’s job in Newark, those doubts soon would be dispelled. After leaving his federal post, Chertoff, lauded in New Jersey for his professional, nonpolitical approach, landed in the middle of the thoroughly partisan Whitewater investigation. He joined the Senate Whitewater Committee, headed by former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., as chief counsel. In that role, he questioned a series of White House aides about Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s involvement in the Arkansas land deal that prompted the investigation. He delved into the suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster. He chased missing billing records concerning Hillary Clinton’s legal work. But, unlike the abrasive and openly hostile D’Amato, Chertoff won praise for his comportment — even from those against whom he was pitted, and against whom he may battle again in his new role. “I came to respect Chertoff,” says David Kendall, the Williams & Connolly partner who served as President Clinton’s private lawyer. “We locked horns a lot, but he was representing his client-the committee. He was extremely aggressive, very thorough, but honorable.” Richard Ben-Veniste, a D.C. partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges who acted as counsel to the Democrats on the committee, says Chertoff was “very energetic and very capable.” “The fact that Mike pursued these allegations very vigorously were reflective of the intentions of his clients,” he says. Ben-Veniste recalls a day in April 1996 when Chertoff and the Republican majority on the committee decided that both he and Chertoff would testify before the committee, offering their views of the evidence in investigation. But Ben-Veniste would have no part of placing himself at the mercy of Senate Republicans. “I told Mike that he was nuts if he thought I was going to go down there,” he says. So Chertoff testified alone, suggesting that Hillary Clinton had played a role in keeping her law firm billing records from the committee and fending off attacks from Senate Democrats. The Whitewater investigation made a clear impression on Chertoff. So much so that he actively campaigned on behalf of Bob Dole’s presidential bid in 1996. Addressing a crowd in Lyndhurst, N.J., in October 1996 and holding aloft a Dole campaign sign, Chertoff said, “Why does the White House spend more time hiding its files from subpoenas than pursuing drug dealers? President Clinton wants to build a bridge to an anything-goes future where you can get away with it as long as you can talk your way out of it.” Hillary Clinton never forgot Chertoff’s role in the Whitewater investigation. When Chertoff’s nomination as Criminal Division chief came to the Senate floor in May, she was the sole senator to vote against him. But Chertoff’s partisan activities apparently never slashed too deep a swath. During his confirmation process, he was introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee by Sen. Jon Corzine — a Democrat from New Jersey. Back in New Jersey after the 1996 election, Chertoff began to build a powerhouse white collar defense practice at Latham & Watkins, one that provided him with a different perspective on the criminal justice system. One case, in particular, made for a vivid illustration of how an indictment can tear apart one person’s life. Michael Francis, a Fairfield, N.J., businessman and strong supporter of then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, was indicted in 1996 for allegedly using his state position as head of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to benefit his private business. The case made the front pages of newspapers across the state. Under fire, Francis reached out to Chertoff based on a friend’s recommendation. When the case finally went to trial in early 2000, Chertoff obtained a full acquittal from the state trial judge midway through the case. The state was even forced to pay Francis’ legal bills. Chertoff says Francis’ case helped him understand the potential for prosecutorial abuse — a lesson he says he has kept with him as he takes over the federal prosecutorial machinery in the Justice Department. “I understand what it feels like, the complexities that prosecutors don’t always see,” Chertoff says. “There are some prosecutors who view defense attorneys as, per se, the enemy. I didn’t. I respect defense attorneys who put on a vigorous defense.” Says Francis: “Cases like mine give you a perspective that you can never get just being Rudy Giuliani, who has been a world class prosecutor and, to him, everyone’s a criminal. “Everyone is not a criminal.” INTO THE BREACH Throughout his private practice. Chertoff couldn’t stay away from the lure of the public and political storm. Last year, he signed on as pro bono counsel to a New Jersey legislative probe of racial profiling by state police. He would go on to donate more than 1,000 hours of legal work. Eventually, he made a case for removing state Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero from the bench, for his alleged role in hiding profiling data from the Justice Department when he was New Jersey’s attorney general. At one point in the probe, Chertoff kept Verniero on the witness stand for more than 10 hours, pounding him with questions. Despite Chertoff’s efforts, Verniero stayed on the bench. Mintz, Chertoff’s former colleague in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, was Verniero’s lawyer. “Mike is a very tough adversary,” he says. “He is absolutely single-minded in his approach once he becomes fully engaged.” Racial profiling has been identified as a priority for the Ashcroft Justice Department, and Chertoff is expected to devote his energy to the issue as well as help implement the AG’s other announced initiatives on gun prosecutions and drug trafficking. He will also be overseeing the fastest-growing aspect of the division’s work: combating international crime and global terrorism. Despite his years as a high-powered defense lawyer, Chertoff still says the day he was sworn in as a federal prosecutor was “the best moment of my life.” He’s back where he belongs. “I’m with the best law firm in the country,” he says.

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