Homeland Security chief nominee, Bernard Kerik officially claimed he was withdrawing his name after he learned that he had employed an undocumented worker as a nanny and that he refused to pay income taxes. But an array of other charges and questions about Kerik’s controversial past dominated news headlines over the weekend. [includes rush transcript]
The White House is in search of a new homeland security director following Friday’s surprise announcement from former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik that he was withdrawing his name. Kerik officially claimed he was not seeking the post after he learned that he had employed an undocumented worker as a nanny and that he refused to pay income taxes.
But an array of other charges and questions about Kerik’s controversial past have dominated news headlines over the weekend.
Newsweek uncovered that an arrest warrant was issued for Kerik as recently as six years ago over a dispute involving unpaid bills. The 1998 warrant was issued as part of a series of lawsuits relating to unpaid bills on his condominium in New Jersey.
The New York Daily News reports that Kerik had illegally accepted thousands of dollars in cash and gifts while a public official. A Daily News probe revealed that for many years, one of Kerik’s main benefactors was Lawrence Ray. Ray was later indicted on unrelated federal charges tied to what the Daily News called a "$40 million, mob-run, pump-and-dump stock swindle."
The Washington Post reports that nine employees of the hospital Kerik worked at providing security in Saudi Arabia accused him of using his policing powers to pursue the personal agenda of his immediate boss.
Questions have also been raised about Kerik’s misuse of police power while the head of the New York police department. In one example, he was fined for using the services of three police officers to help research his autobiography "The Lost Son." He was also accused of sending homicide police officers to question Fox News journalists after the book’s publisher, Judith Regan, lost a mobile phone after an interview at the Fox studios. It turned out to have just been misplaced.
Kerik has also coming under close scrutiny for his windfall profit from stock options in stun-gun manufacturer, Taser International. He netted over $5.5 million on the options, without ever having invested any of his own money.
Questions have also raised about his failure in Iraq to train a new Iraqi police force. Kerik went to Iraq for a six month tour of duty to help rebuild the Iraqi police force but he abruptly left after just three months.
On Thursday, the day before he withdrew his name from contention, Kerik was forced to testify in a civil lawsuit about an alleged affair with a subordinate.
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a close friend of Kerik who reportedly pressed hard for his nomination, apologized to the President Bush Sunday for the problems with his nomination.
- Ellis Henican, a columnist for Newsday in New York. His recent piece on Bernard Kerik is called "I hate to say I told you so ... but I told you so."
AMY GOODMAN: Ellis Hennican is on the line with us now, a columnist for Newsday in New York. His recent piece on Bernard Kerik is called, "I Hate to Say I Told You So… But I Told You So." Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ellis.
ELLIS HENICAN: Good morning, Amy. That’s an exhausting list of scandals and bad judgments and questionable scenarios, isn’t it?
AMY GOODMAN: You were asking the questions when we had you on last week at a time when there were no democrats in Washington, no democratic senators certainly, saying that they were going to oppose this nomination. Is it because all of this just came out over the weekend?
ELLIS HENICAN: No. No, no, no, no. This stuff has floated around for a long time. I tell you what I think it was primarily, especially among the New Yorkers and the other East Coast people. They looked at Bernie Kerik, I’m talking here about Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer and others you might think would ask tough questions of a Bush nominee, I think they were so excited about the idea that New York and some of the other big cities were going to get more money from Homeland Security. They thought he would be a more receptive secretary than Tom Ridge had been. They didn’t want to ask any questions at all.
AMY GOODMAN: Why not?
ELLIS HENICAN: Well, because I think they wanted to have him in there, and if he were in there, they thought they would do better in the budget battles than they had been doing. You have seen these comparisons, right, where states like Wyoming and Montana and Alaska are getting four and five times per capita the amount of Homeland Security money that New York and Washington and Los Angeles and San Francisco and big cities where you have to guess would have to be at a somewhat greater risk than the prairies of the middle part of the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Bernard Kerik has been in public life for quite a while. I mean, he went to train the Iraqi police force, and then with these series of bombings of the U.N., the Jordanian Embassy and other places, he suddenly was gone, of course, as police commissioner and before, and yet this hasn’t come out, although there have been smaller investigations asking questions.
ELLIS HENICAN: You don’t have the — the media coverage is, I think, quite fascinating, and I would exclude you and a couple of others from this, but in the first few days after his name was announced as the president’s choice, pretty much what we got in the media were stories about a 9/11 hero, who had stood beside Rudy as the towers tumbled, and recollections of his own rise from a tough childhood. Now, I love that story. I mean, I love the story of the hooker’s son who comes and rises into law enforcement. I mean, it’s a nice story. But nobody, or very few people, were writing the tough stories that were out there so easily to be written. Ten days ago I did a column in Newsday, that said Bernie Kerik is a ticking time bomb that the Bushies will learn to regret. And I said don’t say I didn’t warn you, guys. The piece that you cited yesterday was my allowing myself, I guess, a small amount of gloating, which might be bad manners, but I think is justified in this case. Very few of us were out there early. By this weekend, there was a huge pile-on and there were stories everywhere, all kind of people saying, oh, we knew this would never fly.
AMY GOODMAN: There was a report in the New York Times. There was an editor’s note at the top, the story was reported Friday evening before Bernard Kerik for personal reasons withdrew his name as the nominee.
ELLIS HENICAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: But it’s about a business partner of Bernard Kerik and Rudolph Giuliani’s saying that Kerik’s role as on advisor to the Department of Homeland Security gave them insight into where the government was investing its resources, which was helpful in choosing potential business ventures. This was Newsday. Newsday also learned Friday that Kerik, who withdrew his nomination, has resigned from the board of a second company, Camelback Products, which has sold at least $16 million worth of equipment to the government, including the border patrol squads overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, that kind of container of water with a straw.
ELLIS HENICAN: A napsack that carries water, basically, camelback. I mean, listen, Amy, it’s all indicative of the business that he has been in with Rudy Giuliani in the last couple of years. They sell their knowledge and expertise of the way government operates, and they’re selling essentially, you know, a self-confidence in dealing with the big bad world out there. It’s turned out to be a very successful and lucrative business, but it creates these relationships that get a little dicey, if you then want to go back into public service.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ellis Henican, who writes for Newsday, a columnist for Newsday. We’re going to come back with him in just a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, the war and peace report. I’m Amy Goodman. Well, when it rains it pours. There is not a day that the paper is not filled with exposes on Bernard Kerik, the latest in The Daily News today that as police commissioner, Bernard Kerik had conducted two affairs simultaneously using a secret Battery Park city apartment for his liaisons. Ellis Henican on the line with us, Newsday columnist. Last night, Mayor Giuliani had dinner, or had a meal with President Bush. What does this mean for Mayor Giuliani, having revealed — rather, having at least twice intervened personally to get Bernard Kerik nominated to be security chief, or head of the Department of Homeland Security?
ELLIS HENICAN: Boy, what an interesting question. It’s obviously not good. If it were not for Rudy, Bernie would not have been in the mix at all. No one would have even thought about him. Every job, big job, that Kerik got in the last, I guess, ten years of his life was really the work in large measure of Rudy Giuliani. The Bushies feel burned. I mean, the people that we’re talking to are expressing irritation and frustration and disappointment about it. It’s probably an overstatement, though, to say that it wrecks Giuliani’s relationship with the White House or something like that. Remember, he was a terrifically valuable campaigner to the president. He was — worked very hard for Bush’s re-election. He remains a popular figure out across America, probably more popular, I think, than he is in New York these days. And you know, that’s very valuable to the Bush administration. So, somehow or another, they will find a way, even if there’s a certain lack of trust or certain skepticism there, they’ll find a way to work together, I’m sure.
AMY GOODMAN: Ellis Henican, I want to thank you very much for being with us, columnist with New York Newsday, well, Newsday in general.