Kerik Pulls Out as Bush Nominee for Homeland Security Job
WASHINGTON -- Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, abruptly withdrew his name from consideration to be President Bush's secretary of homeland security late Friday night, citing questions related to the immigration status of a former household employee.
Mr. Kerik's swift fall - he was nominated only a week ago by President Bush to succeed Tom Ridge - came in a letter in which he called the offer "the honor of a lifetime" but said that "moving forward would not be in the best interest of your administration, the Department of Homeland Security or the American people."
In reviewing his personal finances this week as he prepared for confirmation hearings, Mr. Kerik said in a statement issued late Friday, he determined that a housekeeper and nanny he had once employed was not clearly a legal immigrant and that he had not properly paid taxes on her behalf.
"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," Mr. Kerik said. "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."
His lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, said that Mr. Kerik called the president at 8:30 p.m. to inform him of the decision. The White House had not pressured him to withdraw, Mr. Tacopina said, but he decided he had to do so because as homeland security secretary, he would be in charge of supervising the nation's immigration laws.
Within two days after the issue surfaced, it became apparent to all involved that Mr. Kerik had no choice but to withdraw his name, said former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had urged Mr. Bush to nominate Mr. Kerik. The hiring of an illegal immigrant or failure to pay taxes had forced the withdrawal of other cabinet nominees, including Kimba M. Wood, Zoe Baird and Linda Chavez.
"When an issue like this emerges, it makes it impossible to go forward," Mr. Giuliani said on Friday night.
A former New York City official who knows the circumstances of the withdrawal said that the housekeeper, who had worked for the Kerik family for about a year, left for her home country two weeks ago. Her name and nationality were not disclosed. Mr. Kerik lives in Franklin Lakes, N.J., with his wife, Hala, and their two small children. Mr. Kerik has two older children, one from a previous marriage and one whom he fathered while serving in the military in Korea.
From the moment Mr. Kerik's nomination was announced by President Bush, news organizations have been digging into Mr. Kerik's background, from his time as a security chief at a hospital in Saudi Arabia in the early 1980's to his work during the last three years in the private sector for companies doing business with the Department of Homeland Security. The stream of stories - which raised questions about how he used his position of authority or whether his work in the private sector might present a conflict of interest when he returned to the government - had begun to produce questions about the status of his nomination.
Democrats on Capitol Hill, where the Senate was preparing to take up his nomination, had also begun to investigate reports of his conduct as a New York City official, and several said privately that they were beginning to have doubts about Mr. Kerik's fitness for the job.
In just the last three years, Mr. Kerik, 49, made millions of dollars, mainly through his partnership in a security consulting firm headed by Mr. Giuliani and by serving on the board of a stun-gun manufacturer that has been seeking to do business with Homeland Security. Most recently, Mr. Kerik sold $5.8 million of stock in the stun-gun company.
But as recently as Friday afternoon, White House officials were standing behind Mr. Kerik, saying that his nomination was on track.
"We've looked into all these issues," the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, said on Friday afternoon. "And obviously he'll be talking about some of these matters during his confirmation hearing. But the president appointed Commissioner Kerik because he knows he is someone who is firmly committed to helping us win the war on terrorism and make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect the homeland."
And Senate staff aides had predicted that he would be able to overcome any conflict-of-interest obstacles to his confirmation and be confirmed to the job, which entails buying $7 billion of homeland security goods and security services annually.
Mr. Tacopina said the decision to step down was not made because of any outside information gathered by news organizations or federal background checks, but rather by Mr. Kerik himself as he filled out application papers, after he discovered information that he thought would cause a problem in his confirmation.
"He wanted to put the country first," Mr. Tacopina said. "He didn't want to distract the president and distract the important mission that Homeland Security has."
Mr. McClellan said the White House would "move as quickly as we can to name someone else to fill this nomination."
Mr. Giuliani expressed particular disappointment on Friday night at the turn of events, as he had promoted Mr. Kerik from a position as deputy commissioner at the Department of Correction in the late 1990's ultimately to the top job at the New York Police Department. After the attack on Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Kerik, like Mr. Giuliani, gained a much greater national profile, with talk of Mr. Kerik even running for elective office in New Jersey before he was nominated by Mr. Bush to the Homeland Security post.
"He made a mistake," Mr. Giuliani said. "I believe he would have been confirmed if it weren't for this."
The cabinet nomination had appeared to be the capstone on an unusual career for a high school dropout, following his rapid rise from a third-grade detective, who joined the Police Department in 1986 after serving as the warden of the Passaic County jail. He served as Mr. Giuliani's chauffeur and bodyguard during the 1993 mayoral campaign, and when Mr. Giuliani took office, he named Mr. Kerik director of investigations of the Correction Department in 1994. He became first deputy commissioner there in 1995.
Mr. Giuliani named him correction commissioner in late 1997, and Mr. Kerik won praise heading the city's jail system by reducing violence. Mr. Giuliani chose him as his third police commissioner in 1999.
Mr. Kerik, who took over the Police Department without a college degree, had credibility with street cops and a rough-hewn charm he used to ingratiate himself with many New Yorkers. But critics contend he was prone to lapses of judgment, pointing to the use of an elite homicide task force to question several people who his book publisher, Judith Regan, believed had stolen her cellphone, and the use of other detectives to research his book, an action for which he was fined by the city's Conflict of Interest Board.