Skip to comments.Kerik's Position Was Untenable, Bush Aide Says
Posted on 12/11/2004 1:40:41 PM PST by wagglebee
WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 - President Bush readily accepted Bernard B. Kerik's decision to withdraw his nomination as homeland security secretary after the White House quickly concluded on Friday evening that it would be impossible for him to win confirmation for a post that supervises enforcement of the nation's immigration laws if he had had immigration problems in his own household, White House officials said on Saturday.
Only hours earlier on Friday, Mr. Kerik informed the administration that, contrary to assurances he had given the White House counsel's office before the president nominated him on Dec. 3, a nanny he had employed appeared to have been in the country illegally and that he had failed to pay taxes on her behalf. He told President Bush in a brief phone call about 8:30 p.m. Friday of his decision to withdraw, said a White House official.
White House officials were clearly annoyed at Mr. Kerik for not determining the nanny's immigration status prior to this week, but said they had no evidence he had sought to mislead them. "It was Kerik's screw up, it was that simple," the official said. "But it's a mistake you can't tolerate with someone who has oversight for immigration."
The nanny Mr. Kerik had employed, who has not yet been identified, left the country about two weeks ago, just prior to the announcement of his nomination, a former New York City official said on Saturday, adding that her departure had been planned for at least two months.
At a news conference today, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor and now a business associate of Mr. Kerik's, called the discovery "an embarrassment to me and to Bernie and to those of us that supported him because we should have disclosed this, we should have found out earlier." But he said he thought that the issue of the status of any domestic help was "the second or third question" that White House officials asked Mr. Kerik in the preliminary vetting they do of all potential nominees, "and he said he didn't believe he had a problem here."
Mr. Kerik's withdrawal was the first major blunder in the administration's process of assembling its second-term cabinet, but not a new experience for Mr. Bush's team. Four years ago, when Mr. Bush nominated Linda Chavez as labor secretary, it was discovered after the initial vetting process that she had given shelter to, and employed, an illegal immigrant. At the time, Mr. Bush's aides were outraged and promised to change their methods for reviewing potential nominees, but on Saturday several officials said that because Mr. Bush wanted to make his decisions speedily their initial review had been quick.
Mr. Kerik's housekeeper situation was only the latest question to be revealed about the nominee. A series of critical news reports about questionable actions had begun to surface about Mr. Kerik, threatening to turn his Senate confirmation into a lengthy embarrassment for the administration. The reports looked at Mr. Kerik's use of city personnel while in office, potential conflicts between his business life and the role of the homeland security department, and events growing out of his personal financial difficulties several years ago.
One Democratic Senate staff member, who had been following the nomination process closely and asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of the matter, said he was convinced that the nanny question was not the sole reason that Mr. Kerik had dropped out. "Multiple media organizations were pursuing multiple stories," that would be potentially damaging to Mr. Kerik, he said. Because many of these questions had not yet been answered by the administration, the staff member said, "fundamentally, he was a bad pick."
The staff member added: "The process worked here."
Another Senate staff member, who works for a Democrat on the Government Affairs Committee, which oversees the homeland security secretary nomination process, said that from the start, there was a sense that the White House had not properly examined Mr. Kerik's background.
"They rushed this nomination and did not look as closely as they should have," he said.
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican and the chairwoman of the Government Affairs Committee, said that among the possible candidates to succeed Mr. Kerik, at least in her mind, would be Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, or Asa Hutchinson, the assistant secretary at homeland security. Other names mentioned on Saturday included Frances Fragos Townsend, the domestic security adviser; Joe Allbaugh, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who now runs his own Washington-based consulting firm; and Michael O. Leavitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Those options had apparently also been considered before Mr. Kerik was nominated.
"I am confident that President Bush will move swiftly to find a replacement for Bernie Kerik," Senator Collins said in a statement on Saturday.
On Saturday morning, Mr. Kerik emerged from his two-story yellow house in Franklin Lakes, N.J., and spoke to reporters in his driveway, flanked by two security guards. He said he believed he could have made it through the confirmation process, but decided the process would be a burden to the administration.
"It would have been messy, ugly and an embarrassment to President Bush, so I withdrew my name," he said. He added, "I think when you're in a position like this, the press, the media and all your enemies try to find things that a person has done wrong. But I don't think that there would have been problem with the nomination."
He refused to disclose the name or nationality of the nanny, and would not say how long she had worked for him or provide any other details about her.
"Out of respect for her privacy, I'm not going to go into details except to say that she is a good woman," Mr. Kerik said.
A former city official who asked not to be identified said Mr. Kerik had acknowledged that he had said "no" when the White House originally asked if he had a nanny problem. According to the former official, Mr. Kerik now says that he did not pay enough attention to the details of the nanny's hiring and that he did not realize until the last few days that she had been in the country illegally.
Mr. Giuliani, who had spoken on Mr. Kerik's behalf to the White House, said he felt partly responsible for what had happened.
"I wish for everybody's sake, including mine, that this had been focused on earlier," said Mr. Giuliani, who brought Mr. Kerik to prominence as his commissioner of both corrections and police. "Then you would never have gotten to this position. I take my share of responsibility for that."
Mr. Giuliani said he never gave the White House any broad assurances that Mr. Kerik's background was entirely clean, saying that the president's staff was going through its normal process of evaluating a cabinet nominee.
"I never had a conversation in which I vouched for him or was asked about this issue or any other issue," Mr. Giuliani said. "Obviously, everyone would have preferred if this was discovered earlier," he said
Both Mr. Giuliani and the White House official said the administration had reviewed any potential nanny problems as part of a full vetting process of Mr. Kerik prior to the confirmation hearings.
"We went through a full vetting process that includes everything that could be of issue," the official said. "I believe it was only when he started going through the specific compliance process that the problem became a little more acute and that's when he brought it to us."
Asked if the White House felt it had been misled by Mr. Kerik, the official said, "I wouldn't characterize it in that way."
The official bristled when asked whether the White House regretted listening to Mr. Giuliani.
"There's a misperception out there," the official said. "Giuliani was obviously a strong supporter of Bernie Kerik, but we don't make decisions based on recommendations or the faith of other people's word. We do our own independent vetting and selection process."
Many people, the official added, had made recommendations on behalf of Mr. Kerik. "But the president had his own independent relationship with Kerik that had formed over the last several years and he made his own decision," the official said.
Mr. Giuliani said the White House had not expressed any anger to him or to Mr. Kerik.
Mr. Kerik, who said he had first uncovered the problem as he and his lawyers went through the paperwork required for Senate confirmation of his job on Friday, had been in contact earlier in the day with the White House counsel's office. He later called Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, and the phone call with Mr. Bush was arranged.
"We are disappointed because President Bush believes he was the right person for the challenges our country faces," the White House official said. "He also respects his decision. Unfortunately, these things happen during a confirmation process."
The withdrawal of Mr. Kerik was a disappointment not only for the former police commissioner and the former mayor, but also for elected officials from New York who thought Mr. Kerik would be attuned to the needs of the city.
"I am disappointed that Bernie Kerik will not be homeland security secretary," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat from New York. "Few have better understood the needs of New York and of our nation when it comes to doing more to keep us safe from terrorism here at home. I hope the president will nominate someone who exhibits Bernie's deep commitment to keeping New York - and America - safer from terrorism."
In the three years since Mr. Kerik left city government, he has made millions of dollars in the private sector, much of it working for companies that do business with the Department of Homeland Security, and which are seeking to expand their sales. His single biggest source of income was Taser International, an Arizona-based manufacturer of stun guns that added Mr. Kerik to its board and gave him stock options that Mr. Kerik has since sold, earning $6.2 million in pre-tax profits.
Most of Taser's sales come from local and state police departments, but it has also been trying to sell its shock guns to Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Kerik also has served on the board of CamelBak, a company based in Petaluma, Calif., that sells water supply backpacks to the United States military and law enforcement branches, including the border patrol.
Mr. Giuliani said he was convinced that these and other business ties to homeland security companies were not a factor in Mr. Kerik's decision to back out. Mr. Giuliani said that the effort to collect a past due debt on a condominium he owned in East Rutherford, N.J. - including, apparently, an arrest warrant that was issued for Mr. Kerik in 1998, based on the outstanding condominium fees - also did not play a role.
"That was a civil proceeding that was resolved. That fits into the category of something that you can easily explain," he said. The arrest warrant was first reported by Newsweek.
"Whenever this happens, there is always the idea that it must be something else, it must be something else," Mr. Giuliani said. "But that is when there is not a good reason. This is a good reason. Who would actually think he could go forward with this issue?"
He added that Mr. Kerik, who spent about half an hour on Saturday outside his house putting up Christmas decorations, including miniature Santas and wire reindeer of white lights, would do "great things" in the future.
"This is a sad day for him and his family," he said. "But we all have complex lives. Sometimes it trips you up."
White House officials said that in their initial review of nominees, they run down a list of questions involving potentially embarrassing problems: legal difficulties, the status of household workers, past divorces or relationships and tax problems, among other issues. "We try to go through public records," said one senior official. "But without guidance from the nominee, there is only so much you can do."
Mr. Kerik's nomination had not even been formally presented to the Senate; it had not planned to hold hearings on Mr. Kerik until late January or perhaps early February. So the formal vetting process, particular for the Senate, had only just begun.
no better way to get your name out into the public
If the above is true, the guy lied. Better to find that out now, rather than later, that the guy has a character flaw (he's a liar) that renders him unfit to serve.
"You know, I'm going to start thanking
the woman who cleans the restroom in
the building I work in. I'm going to start
thinking of her as a human being"
and it's not like this hasn't happened enough times before. It's not the crime of the century, but you know it's an issue for every nominee, you know whether or not you have an illegal and whether or not you've been paying her taxes, and you know you're going to be asked about it. What was he thinking?
The entire thing really p***** me off. Wouldn't you think someone with his connections could have made sure that he HIRED a legal person in the first place,DHS appointment or not.
I could have done a better job hiribg someone than he did and we're better off without him.
So long,Bernie,it's been just terrific!
"...a character flaw (he's a liar) that renders him unfit to serve."
That small point renders 93.78462534768% of the US Congress unfit to do anything, except dig ditches and flip burgers.
A lot of government officials have had "nanny problems" in recent years. Maybe the real problem is that we pay our public servants too much damn money. I never had a nanny problem because I can't afford one!
Of course the $7 million or so he made by being on the board of Taser didn't hurt.
She just came here to derail a Bush nomination that an American couldn't derail.
This says it all. It means he knew about it and tried to cover it up by having the Nanny leave just before he accepted the nomination. I don't for one minute believe his Nanny had planned to leave even before he knew of the nomination.
Isn't this the tortured path that led to Janet Reno being AG?
"We'll fix it in the second term." LOL
If current noms aren't vetted by the FBI, that's W's fault, not Clinton's. Geez.....
Shouldn't the W/H had an FBI SPIN done on Kerik before his nomination was announced? Or was that something that just fell by the wayside durring the reign of The Arkansas Love Machine?
I cannot traduce the Bush administration too much for assuming that Kerik would not flat out lie to them. Who could have imagined that he would be that stupid and character flawed?
The nanny thing was the tip of the iceberg...there were a lot of other things for the Democrats
to make hay with...a New York street cop cannot come out of that urban swamp squeaky clean.
"It's not the crime of the century, but you know it's an issue for every nominee, you know whether or not you have an illegal and whether or not you've been paying her taxes..."
Exactamundo. We (and by we I mean they) are so two-faced on the whole subject of illegal workers. See, Kerik and others, do NOT pay remit taxes for these workers, so, of course they are cheaper to hire. Because they, and their employers are BREAKING THE LAW. Criminal activity is very often a route to obtaining things on the cheap. What galls me is that these criminal employers are at the highest level in our society, there aren't too many middle and working class folks with live-in nannys, gardeners, or chauffers.
It's not the crime of the century, of course you are right, but it is not a victimless crime either. The victims are American workers who don't have a shot at getting these jobs legally, since that would cost too much.
I'm amazed that Kerik's nanny actually LEFT the country, I can only wonder when she'll be back.
" a nanny he had employed.... been in the country illegally and that he had failed to pay taxes on her behalf "
This seems to be a pattern. There were several nominees (different admin.)
The rich get richer by hiring illegals for a song....
the confirmation process, and the inability of our party to want to fight, means that only squeaky clean empty suits can hold positions in Republican administrations. In the meantime, the Dems can stand up to anything - Ron Brown as Commerce Sec'y, Janet Reno is AG during WACO, no pressure to ask her to resign, does anyone think anything will happen to Sandy Berger in the stolen documents incident?
But Kerik doesn't pay taxes on a nanny (unless there is more to the story), and he goes down.
"You know, I'm going to start thanking
the woman who cleans the restroom in
the building I work in. I'm going to start
thinking of her as a human being"