Gonzo’s Replacement: The Hillary Factor

Here, via the Washington Post's campaign blog, is Hillary Clinton's response to Alberto Gonzales' resignation as Attorney General and the rumors that Michael Chertoff is in line to replace him:

Without naming him, Clinton also took a swipe at Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, who is rumored as a possible choice to lead the department.

"The second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is one more reminder that the President must appoint someone to lead the Department of Justice with the leadership and competence necessary to defend the Constitution," she wrote.

Clinton's potential opposition to Chertoff is noteworthy because it could provide her a unique opportunity to tend to personal and political imperatives simultaneously.

Recall that the former First Lady has a history with Chertoff, who served as the lead G.O.P. Counsel to the Senate committee that investigated Whitewater in the mid-1990s — and perhaps nothing makes Hillary Clinton more irate than the memory of that probe. Indeed, she (Ed. note: woops) cast the lone Senate vote against Chertoff's nomination to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003, citing his Whitewater conduct as her rationale.

If President Bush does nominate Chertoff for Attorney General, Hillary will have plenty of ammunition to go after him, as her Katrina comment today demonstrated. And in going after him, she would undoubtedly score points with the Democratic base (especially if she took a leading role in any nomination fight), thereby burnishing her primary season credentials. At the same time, of course, she'd also be getting even with her old nemesis, especially her effort resulted in the death of his nomination.

It's also worth wondering what effect Clinton's opposition would have on the other Democratic Senators in the presidential race. With Clinton connecting Chertoff to Katrina, wouldn't Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd be obligated to oppose his nomination as well? Perhaps this is why the White House, which seemed initially to be telling reporters that Chertoff was the choice, is now putting out the word that no decisions have been made and other contenders — Ted Olson, Larry Thompson — are in the mix.