Bernard Kerik: “Political Criticism is Our Enemy’s Best Friend”

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We take a look at Bernard Kerik, the man President Bush nominated to replace Tom Ridge as Homeland Security chief: From overseeing security for the Saudi royal family to Giuliani Partners consultant to New York police commissioner to Homeland Security Chief. [includes rush transcript]

President Bush nominated former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik last week to become the nation’s new Homeland Security director replacing Tom Ridge. Kerik was serving as commissioner at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks. More recently he has spent time in Iraq helping to rebuild Iraq’s police force and he has worked as a consultant for former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s firm Giuliani Partners. Prior to becoming a New York police officer, he spent four years in Saudi Arabia overseeing security for the royal family. In one of his first moves after learning of his new job, Kerik had to sell off $5 million worth of stock in Taser, the stun gun manufacturer.

After President Bush’s announcement last week, Kerik accepted the nomination.

  • Bernard Kerik, accepting his nomination as Homeland Security chief, December 3, 2004.

Kerik will oversee the massive department that includes 22 former agencies and offices. We are going to take a look at Kerik’s record from overseeing security for the Saudi royal family to New York police commissioner to Homeland Security Chief.

  • Fred Kaplan, writes the “War Stories” column for online magazine His latest piece is called “Questions for Kerik.” He is the author of “The Wizards of Armageddon” and a former staff reporter for the Boston Globe, having been its military correspondent, Moscow bureau chief, and New York bureau chief.
  • Ellis Henican, a columnist for Newsday in New York. His recent piece on Bernard Kerik is called Kerik Nomination is “A Ticking Time Bomb.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: After President Bush’s announcement last week, Kerik accepted the nomination:

BERNARD KERIK: There isn’t a day that has passed since the morning of September 11th that I haven’t thought of the sacrifices of those heroes and the losses we all suffered. I promise you, Mr. President, that both the memory of those courageous souls and the horrors I saw inflicted upon our proud nation will serve as permanent reminders of the awesome responsibility you place in my charge. I pledge to work tirelessly to honor them and your trust in me.

AMY GOODMAN: Bernard Kerik, accepting the nomination of Homeland Security Chief on Friday. He’ll oversee the massive department that includes twenty-two former agencies and offices. We’re going to take a look at Kerik’s record, from overseeing security for the Saudi royal family, to New York Police Commissioner, to Homeland Security Chief. We’ll begin with Ellis Henican, a columnist for Newsday in New York. His recent piece on Bernard Kerik is called “Kerik Nomination is a Ticking Time Bomb.” Ellis Henican, welcome to Democracy Now!

ELLIS HENICAN: Good morning, Amy. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: Very good. You raise a number of questions. What are some of them?

ELLIS HENICAN: Well, you know, we’re right at a time where there’s been just a — just a chorus of hosannas about Bernard Kerik and, you know, as a guy who has covered him for — for a bunch of years in New York, it just seemed to me that the picture needed to be fleshed out a little bit. I mean in his — his time as corrections commissioner here, that organization really became pretty much of a political patronage mill. His era at the police department was — included a whole series of bad civil rights questions and hostile relations with the professionals inside the department. The Giuliani Partner client list is — is certainly something that any decent investigative reporter could spend the next six months poking through and come up with a bunch of interesting stuff, I suspect.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and then we’ll return with Ellis Henican of Newsday who wrote the piece “Kerik Nomination a Ticking Time Bomb” and we’ll also be joined by Fred Kaplan who had some more questions of his own. This is Democracy Now!, Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: Built to Spill, “Strange” here on Democracy Now!,, “The War and Peace Report,” as we look at the record of Bernard Kerik, who’s been nominated to be the new Homeland Security Chief by President Bush, a member of Giuliani Partners, the former Mayor Giuliani’s consulting firm, also former Saudi security chief, former New York City Police Commissioner during 9/11. Our guests are Ellis Henican of Newsday as well as Fred Kaplan, who writes the “War Stories” column for the on-line magazine His latest piece called “Questions for Kerik.” What are some of your questions, Fred Kaplan?

FRED KAPLAN: I guess I share some of the same questions as Ellis. But in addition, you know, he was appointed in May of 2003 to go over to Iraq, not merely to head up their police force, but to become the interim Interior Minister in charge of border security, as well as police — everything an interior minister would do. He said when he went over there, I think he told Newsday that he would stay at least six months — “as long as it would take.” And he announced that he was coming back home in mid-August, that’s three months. In the meantime, he spent 1.2 billion dollars of government money to train several thousand new Iraqi police in Jordan and bought a lot of small arms from Jordan, small arms the sorts of which he could have picked up off the street in Iraq or could have gotten for free from the disbanded Iraqi army. He left with no fanfare. The job obviously wasn’t done. The job is still not done with the Iraqi police force. And so, a good question is: Why did he come back so soon? I’ve — from what I’ve heard, he was pretty much a zero at this job. Now, some people could say: 'Well, it's a hard thing. I mean, I don’t know who could have run the Iraqi security force,’ and that’s probably right. But this is an example of a huge managerial responsibility involving something with which he’d had no prior experience. I think it’s worth asking: What happened over there? A kind of a day by day, week by week, of Bernard Kerik as Iraqi Security Minister — I mean Interior Minister.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting also, Joshua — Josh Marshall, of Talking Points Memo, raises that issue of the leaving of Bernard Kerik and quotes Robert C. Orr, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel_, the Pentagon had just sent as part of a fact-finding mission to Iraq, who said, “the former New York Police Commissioner, Bernard Kerik, is training an Iraqi police force, but his work won’t be completed for at least,” he said, “_eighteen months.” And then those series of attacks on August 7, a Jordanian embassy in Baghdad was bombed, the first high-profile terrorist act since the war, then on August 19, a truck bomb destroyed the U.N. compound in the Iraqi capital, killing seventeen, including the head of the U.N. mission, Sergio de Mello.

FRED KAPLAN: Sorry. He basically left just as the insurgency was getting underway. That — that’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: Hmm. Ellis Henican, can you give us more on his background, particularly just before this nomination, he dumped, what was it, $6 million in stock in Taser?

ELLIS HENICAN: That’s right. A company that makes those electroshock devices that Amnesty International and others have focused such attention on. Amy, to understand Bernard Kerik’s rise, you have to understand his relationship with Rudy Giuliani. If it weren’t for Rudy, none of us ever would have heard of Bernie. When the two guys met, Kerik was a driver and bodyguard to Giuliani in his mayoral campaign. And literally every good thing that has happened to Kerik since has been a direct result of that relationship. Becoming the corrections commissioner, becoming the police commissioner. This is a guy who had not achieved many notable successes in any of those fields until — until he met Rudy and now Giuliani endorsement and support of the Bush administration, I think, has played a big role in delivering him to this latest position.

FRED KAPLAN: You know, an interesting thing there, Amy: Let’s assume that both gentlemen, Kerik and Giuliani, are as honest as the day is long, as they say in Casablanca. The — that still raises questions. Giuliani just took over a financial investment branch of Ernst & Young. Let’s say that they might be investing in some companies that do business with Homeland Security. Giuliani has his chief acolyte, as Ellis said, his former bodyguard and driver, the man who was made by Giuliani, now sitting at the helm of Homeland Security, knowing when the alerts are going up, knowing when the contracts are going up, maybe determining who gets these contracts. There is some real conflict of interest questions to be raised.

ELLIS HENICAN: It — it’s good to have friends, isn’t it?

FRED KAPLAN: Yes, very good friends.

ELLIS HENICAN: That was in a movie, too, I forget which one.

AMY GOODMAN: Bernard Kerik is quoted in your paper, Ellis Henican, in Newsday on October 20, 2003, saying: Political criticism is our enemy’s best friend.”

ELLIS HENICAN: Yeah. That’s a little chilling, isn’t it, now that he’s coming into this new position? Listen, he’s no different from the Giuliani record on civil rights. These are people who, you know, don’t consider that a real high priority. There’s nothing in the record that would suggest that any of those views have changed.

FRED KAPLAN: You know, I will say one thing on — on Kerik’s behalf, although I think that it still is a — in the ’let’s wait and see’ category. This is a guy who — who has a background as a big city cop. He was a street cop, He was an undercover cop. He was also on the receiving end of very bad, indifferent communications from the F.B.I, you know? He was one of the last people to find out about the anthrax threat in New York City. He was one of the last people to know about, excuse me, the August 6 presidential intelligence brief [coughs], sorry, which listed New York City as a big terrorist threat target. He does have a big city cop perspective and maybe that’s something worth bringing to — to that position, as someone who can — who has a special sensitivity to those kinds of questions. The real question is whether that will overwhelm his — his rise to power as a — well (not to put too fine point on it) a political lackey, and then who he’s going to owe his allegiance to.

ELLIS HENICAN: It — it’s part of the equation of the politics of this though, I think. So far, we’ve had very supportive noises from — from the senators in New York, from Schumer and from Hillary Clinton; and I think part of that has to do with them and other big-city politicians wanting to make sure that we get a bigger piece of the pie this time. And so there is a reluctance to come out critically against the man who’s probably going to be confirmed to run that agency, just as it — in places like New York, where I think the threats really are largest, we’re going to be fighting for money that we didn’t think we got as much of what we deserved from the last Homeland Security Secretary.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Fred Kaplan, Ellis Henican, there were several questions raised about his use of the police for private purposes. One of them — both of them have to do with his best-selling book The Lost Son, which is about — well it’s his biography, but it also — autobiography — tells about how his mother was a prostitute who had died and in the process of the investigation, the use of New York City police to find out about his mother and then also to deal with — with his publisher, Judith Regan Books of Harper Collins. Can you address this?

ELLIS HENICAN: Well, both — both pieces that were broken by my colleague Len Levitt at Newsday. Yeah, there’s a tendency to use the department to perform personal duties. It’s — You know, no one was ever charged. There’s no actual official case on those thing; but it does raise questions when you have people in the department doing — doing research for your book.

FRED KAPLAN: Well, actually, Kerik was fined $25,000 by the conflict of interest board for using police employees to do research on his book.

ELLIS HENICAN: You’re absolutely right about that, I’m sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: That was to do with the photographs taken by detectives at the World Trade Center site. He agreed to pay $2500 to settle the —

FRED KAPLAN: Twenty-five hundred, I’m sorry, you’re right.

AMY GOODMAN: Conflict of interest board finding that he’d improperly used three city cops to travel to Ohio to learn details about his mother for the book. But the reason I raise the issue also of the publisher and what happened when she lost her cell phone and some jewelry — this was also raised in the current Vanity Fair issue profile of her — is, as head of Homeland Security, he’s dealing with issues of, well, security here at home involving very much people’s privacy. Can you address that? What actually happened?

ELLIS HENICAN: Well, the story essentially is that Ms. Regan, who is his publisher, lost a cell phone one day at Fox; and the story goes that he sent out some New York Police detectives to go into the homes in the evening of the hair and make-up people at the Fox news channel to investigate the disappearance of that cell phone.

FRED KAPLAN: Didn’t he have them fingerprinted, Ellis? Do you remember that?

ELLIS HENICAN: You know, I forget that detail. But I know that it was an extraordinary police effort to — to hunt down a missing cell phone.


ELLIS HENICAN: I’ve lost a couple and I don’t remember —

AMY GOODMAN: Rousting people.

ELLIS HENICAN: Any similar investigative efforts —

FRED KAPLAN: At least one of them was a homicide cop.

ELLIS HENICAN: I think that’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Rousting some of the employees of the publishing house —

ELLIS HENICAN: These were actually they were Fox News Channel employees.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh. Fox. Uh-huh.

ELLIS HENICAN: Yeah. Because the cell phone had apparently disappeared while she was — while she was accompanying him for an interview at the Fox News Channel.

AMY GOODMAN: And, finally, the issue of his foundation, Bernard Kerik’s foundation when he was head of the New York — when he was — Was it head of New York Police, or when he was Corrections Commissioner?

ELLIS HENICAN: Now we’re talking about the foundation in the tobacco money?


ELLIS HENICAN: For years, the tobacco companies sold cigarettes to the corrections department who then sold them to the inmates, and as part of that business arrangement, “rebates” is the word they use in that industry, rebates were given and put not into the general fund of the city or the Correction Department’s funds, but into a nonprofit corporation that Mr. Kerik was the president of. And that allowed that money to be spent outside of the normal public expenditure rules in New York, and for the longest time, and I believe even until this day, we have never gotten a very clear accounting of where that money went. When — when the — that fund was revealed, they have since changed that policy. But I think what you see, Amy, is a series of things of a guy who takes a very creative view about how the traditional rules don’t necessarily have to apply in each of these instances.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question, and that has to do with why it was so important to the former mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, for Bernard Kerik to get this appointment. Reports are he intervened twice appealing to President Bush on Bernard Kerik’s behalf. Is this some kind of positioning of Rudolph Giuliani to run for President in 2008?

FRED KAPLAN: I don’t think that’s true. If it is, it would be pretty risky. I mean, running the Department of Homeland Security is a very difficult thing to do for anybody. Some call it a recipe for, you know, a prescription for failure. I — I don’t think that Giuliani could make a run by saying: 'See, Bernie, this was my guy. See what I can do for the rest of you.' I think it has to do more with either personal or professional loyalty. I think Rudy wants to do good for the people who have been loyal to him. I don’t think it goes much farther than that. I suppose one could impute financial motives as well. But I mean, I think Rudy Giuliani does have presidential ambitions. I don’t think there’s any question about that. And, look, he — he campaigned very vigorously for George W. Bush in this last election. I think he’s probably responsible for getting him a fair number of votes in Florida and other states. He’s not eager to join the government at this time and this was — this was the chip he was cashing in.

ELLIS HENICAN: Well, I’ll have to battle Fred’s analysis on that. I’m not good on guessing people’s motives, but I think — I would hope that before we get a vote on this thing, that some staff people in — in the Senate go and pick up on some of these threads, and let’s have a full airing of some of the issues. It could certainly be an interesting conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ellis Henican and Fred Kaplan, I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Ellis Henican of Newsday, Fred Kaplan of This is Democracy Now!

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