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Some are quietly expressing criticism or a lack of surety about the recent nomination of former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security (DHS—see December 3, 2004). The New York Times questions Kerik’s qualifications for the post and what it calls “some troubling parts of his record.” The Times says, “A homeland security secretary should be above politics and respectful of civil liberties,” and that Kerik is neither, as he campaigned for the reelection of President George W. Bush, and suggested that criticism of the Iraq War was tantamount to aiding the enemy, and that the election of Kerry would result in a terrorist attack. It is also unclear why Kerik abruptly left Iraq in the summer of 2003, just when he should have been settling into his new job of training security forces (see May 2003 - July 2003). The Times says the public should know more about Kerik’s duties at Giuliani-Kerik LLC, a consulting firm Kerik operates with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and raises questions about potential conflicts of interest: “Mr. Kerik should offer assurances that former clients and colleagues will not get preferential treatment. He has had difficulty with ethical lines in the past. In 2002, he paid a fine for using a police sergeant and two detectives to research his autobiography.” The Times also notes Kerik’s “enormously profitable” stint as a board member of Taser International, the stun-gun manufacturer, saying this deserves scrutiny. [New York Times, 12/9/2004] Kerik will be doing business with some of the firms that made him wealthy, Times reporter Eric Lipton observes, particularly Taser International, even though he has promised to resign from that firm’s board of directors and sell his remaining stock if he is confirmed as DHS secretary. The price of Taser stock has risen sharply in recent months, largely because Kerik has done an excellent job of pitching the company’s product to police departments around the country. Kerik has also led the push to bring federal business to Taser, including contracts offered by DHS. Taser president Thomas Smith says: “Anyone in a federal law enforcement position is a potential customer. And we are going to continue to go after that business.” Kerik refuses to discuss his position with Taser with the press. Bush administration spokesman Brian Besanceney promises Kerik will adhere to “the highest ethical standards” and ensure there are no conflicts of interest. “In order to avoid even an appearance of a conflict, he will comply with all ethics laws and rules to avoid acts that might affect former clients or organizations where he served as a director,” Besanceney says. Under Kerik, the New York Police Department became one of the first departments in the country to purchase large amounts of Taser stun guns. [New York Times, 12/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Bernard Kerik, Brian Besanceney, New York Times, Thomas Smith, Eric Lipton, US Department of Homeland Security, Taser International

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, withdraws his name from consideration to become the nation’s next head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS—see December 3, 2004). Kerik says he found information showing that a woman he had hired as a housekeeper and nanny was an illegal immigrant; DHS oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Kerik says that the discovery prompted him to withdraw his name from consideration. In a letter to President Bush, Kerik writes that although it is “the honor of a lifetime” to be nominated to head the department, “I am convinced that, for personal reasons, moving forward would not be in the best interests of your administration, the Department of Homeland Security, or the American people.… I uncovered information that now leads me to question the immigration status of a person who had been in my employ as a housekeeper and nanny. It has also been brought to my attention that for a period of time during such employment required tax payments and related filings had not been made.” He says that he cannot allow personal matters to “distract from the focus and progress of the Department of Homeland Security and its crucial endeavors.”
Questionable Stock Transactions May Be behind Kerik's Withdrawal - Some Democrats believe that the real reason for Kerik’s withdrawal may be questions about his involvement with Taser International, a stun gun company that does business with DHS; Kerik recently made $6.2 million by exercising stock options in that firm (see December 9-10, 2004). Kerik’s close friend and business colleague, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, says of Kerik’s choice: “I’m disappointed that this had to happen, but I think it’s the right decision, the only decision given the kind of issue that’s involved here. I don’t think this would be as major an issue if it were a different department of government.… When an issue like this emerges, it makes it impossible to go forward.” Kerik’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, says Kerik is the one who decided to withdraw his name. “It was Bernie Kerik who uncovered this [the information about the nanny] on his own. He brought it to the White House,” says Tacopina. “He wanted to put the country first. He didn’t want to distract the president and distract the important mission that Homeland Security has.” As he withdraws his name from consideration, Kerik has still not completed his ethics filings, which will disclose his sources of income and financial liabilities, and the FBI has not yet completed its background investigation of him. [Associated Press, 12/13/2004; New York Times`, 12/13/2004] A Democratic Senate staff member says he is unsure whether the nanny issue is the only reason why Kerik withdrew his name from consideration. “Multiple media organizations were pursuing multiple stories” that would be potentially damaging to Kerik, the staffer says. Because many of these questions had not yet been answered by the administration, “fundamentally, he was a bad pick.… The process worked here.” [New York Times, 12/12/2004] The press has begun looking into other aspects of Kerik’s financial life, including the possibility that Kerik, while serving as police commissioner, helped a close friend, Frank DiTommaso, with suspected ties to the Gambino crime family get a construction license from the city in return for over $7,000 in cash and gifts. DiTommaso denies having any ties to organized crime, but city regulators later denied the license, citing their suspicions of just such ties. The White House denies knowing about any such connections between Kerik and DiTommaso. [New York Times, 12/13/2004] Other ethical, financial, and perhaps criminal questions surround Kerik’s withdrawal, though they will not surface until months or years later. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 245-246]
Kerik Unqualified for Position? - The New York Press’s editorial staff writes that Kerik was never qualified for the job, and that his candidacy is built upon what the editorial staff calls “the myth of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11.… The Rudy-9/11 myth is crucial to Kerik’s nomination, because without this myth there is no Rudy the National Player, and without Rudy the National Player there is no nomination of brusque outsider Bernie Kerik to a major cabinet post in Washington.” Kerik himself, the Press notes, is a senior vice president at Giuliani Partners LLC, where his reputation and manner help sell security-related products: “Because Kerik was acting chief of police when the planes slammed into the towers, and because Kerik embodies the Rudy myth by association, he is a golden moustache on the terror-business circuit, where he tells corporations and government agencies that another attack is on the way—especially if Democrats are in power—and that Nextel (or whoever) is the company to help them prepare for it.” Nothing in Kerik’s career, the Press observes, has prepared him to lead a sprawling federal bureaucracy, nor does he have any grounding in the world of international intelligence, “a critical field of knowledge for the incoming secretary.” The Press writes: “Homeland Security is meant to act as the ‘fusion center’ for all US intelligence operations. Whatever Kerik knows about this stuff, he likely gleaned from [action novelist] Tom Clancy.” [New York Press, 12/14/2004]
Media Did Its Job in Exposing Kerik's Flaws - In 2008, Scott McClellan, the current White House press secretary, will write: “After Bush nominated Kerik for secretary of Homeland Security… revelations about his behavior began flying. This was one episode in which the media illustrated the vital role the press can play in uncovering genuine malfeasance by public officials. Frankly, the media did a better job of vetting Bernard Kerik than the Bush administration did. Kerik was left with no choice but to resign.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 245-246]

Entity Tags: Giuliani Partners, George W. Bush, Bernard Kerik, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, US Department of Homeland Security, Frank DiTommaso, Scott McClellan, New York Press, Taser International, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Joseph Tacopina

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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