Scott fields the inevitable questions on <$NoAd$> Kerik ...
Q: Scott, there are reports that the White House was surprised by the revelations about Bernard Kerik's past. Did the White House have no idea about any of these details until he picked up the phone and called on Friday and said, I've got to --
McCLELLAN: You mean regarding the nanny? Q: Yes.
McCLELLAN: No, he -- I mean, he, himself, said he should have brought it to our attention sooner, and I think Mayor Giuliani and Commissioner Kerik pointed out that this was a mistake. But, no.
Q: You knew nothing?
McCLELLAN: Not before it was -- in terms of the issues related to the nanny, no, not before it was brought to --
Q: But you knew other things?
McCLELLAN: -- not before it was brought to our attention, as we indicated.
Q: Scott, what about other issues? I mean, there's a story in The New York Times that they're looking into the possibility he had a relationship with a New Jersey construction company, that New York authorities had some sort of connection with the mob, or some sort of illegal activities. Is that something that the White House had any heads-up on? And, secondly, does it matter at all just how egregious perhaps some of these -- the misinformation or lack of information is at this point, considering the President wants to move on?
McCLELLAN: First of all, Commissioner Kerik informed us Friday that he had made a decision to withdraw, for personal reasons, his name from consideration. The President, as I indicated Friday, respects his decision and wishes him well. In terms -- I'm not going to -- I think out of respect for individuals involved in the vetting process, I'm not going to go into any specific issues relating to nominations. But there -- we have a thorough vetting process that candidates go through before the President makes an announcement that he intends to nominate someone. That vetting process continues after the announcement is made that the President intends to nominate an individual.
There are some -- there's a clearance process, more detailed clearance forms that have to be filled out, financial disclosure forms, security clearances, and things of that nature. But our vetting process looks at all the issues related to a potential nominee's personal, professional, and financial background. And we did so in this instance, as well. Q: Is there going to be any forum in which the White House or the administration will make that information public? McCLELLAN: Which information -- Q: The -- McCLELLAN: The vetting? No, we don't. No, like I said, I'm not going to get into specific details regarding individual nominees in the vetting process. I think that's just out of respect for those involved in the process, that's the best way to proceed. But I'll be glad to talk to you about the overall vetting process, because it is a thorough vetting process -- and it was in this instance, as well. And as I indicated Friday, when some of the questions were asked about financial issues -- I think Taser -- I said those were all issues that we looked at. Q: And you're confident that your vetting process is not improvable? Because I raised questions with you last week, and you insisted then he'd been thoroughly vetted. McCLELLAN: And he had. Now, when you go through the vetting process -- let me just walk you through it for a little bit. There's the -- when a person is a candidate to be a nominee for a particular position, we do a thorough review of that candidate's personal, professional and financial background. We do independent -- we go to independent sources. We look at the public records that are available. Lawyers in our Counsel's Office also spend time visiting with the potential candidate, and going through questions with that particular candidate. And in that process, we rely, to some degree, on that candidate to provide us with all the information we need to complete that part of the -- that phase of the vetting process. And then when the decision is made to move forward with announcing the intent to nominate, that individual will fill out more detailed security and financial clearance forms. And then when that's complete, the full FBI field investigation can begin. Then that individual also has to enter into an agreement with -- well, we work with them -- Q: So -- McCLELLAN: -- let me walk you through -- we work with them -- hang on, because I want you to have all this, an accurate picture of how this vetting process works. We work with that individual to make sure that they divest themselves from any potential conflicts of interest. And they sign an agreement with the Office of Government Ethics. That agreement, as well as the financial disclosure forms, are available for public scrutiny. And it's only then that that nomination is sent to the Senate for the final step, which is the Senate confirmation hearing. Q: So the only way there can be a problem is if you get misinformation from the individual. McCLELLAN: I'm not saying the only way, no. We can uncover things through our own, independent research. Q: But post-nomination, the only way it gets to a nomination with something like this in a person's background is if you get misinformation from the individual. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I would necessarily characterize it that way, Wendell. I think it depends on individual circumstances. In this instance, as Commissioner Kerik indicated, he felt bad about it; it was a mistake. That's what he indicated, himself. And we certainly have no reason to believe otherwise. And it was as he was going through these clearance forms that this information, as he pointed out, came to his attention, and he brought it to our attention. Q: It's an obvious question for the lawyers to have asked him well before the President announced the nomination, if you'd gotten -- McCLELLAN: We do get into questions of that nature during the vetting process. And Mayor Giuliani indicated that that was probably the second or third question asked of Commissioner Kerik. Q: Scott, can you say that nothing came up in the vetting process, other than this, that gave you cause for concern? McCLELLAN: We were proceeding forward with the nomination. That's why the President announced his intent to nominate Commissioner Kerik. And the reason he withdrew his name is for the reason he stated Friday. Q: So none of this other stuff involving interstate or gifts that may have been received as police commissioner -- none of that raised a red flag during the vetting process? The Taser -- McCLELLAN: John, I think Mayor Giuliani pointed out, himself, that -- well, first of all, that the reason the President announced his intention to nominate him is because he is someone who has done a very outstanding job at the head of the Riker Corrections facility, as the head of the New York Police Department, and someone who is strongly committed to helping us win the war on terrorism and protect the American people here at home. He was the -- one of the first ones on the scene at Ground Zero and he was overseeing the response and recovery efforts. And I think Mayor Giuliani pointed out some of this. He enjoyed strong support from Senator Clinton, Senator Schumer, and Mayor Giuliani, people who knew him best. Q: Right. But -- McCLELLAN: No, we look at -- that's why I said, the vetting process is a thorough one; we look at all the issues related to a potential nominee's background. That includes the financial aspects, the professional aspects and the personal aspects. And the decision to withdraw was his decision. Q: Right. But you're saying that during the vetting process, there was nothing that came to your attention before -- McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not going to get into specific details of any individual nominee's vetting process. I think that's out of respect for the process. But we were moving forward with the nomination, and this information was brought to our attention and he made a decision to withdraw his name. And that's where it stands. Now we will move forward quickly to name a new nominee. Q: In the vetting process that you've described, at what point does the President meet with the nominee and offer the job? McCLELLAN: When that -- well, first of all, you have to go through that initial part of the vetting process before you get to that stage. And the President offered him the position, I think it was a day or two, just a couple days before he came to Washington for the announcement. They met earlier that week. I believe it was a Friday, if I recall, and it was -- so it was Wednesday, I think, when the President sat down with him and offered him the position. But there had been -- he had gone through all of that initial part of the vetting process prior to that. Q: Does the President think less of Rudy Giuliani because of this? McCLELLAN: Absolutely not. They, in fact, they are very good friends. The President had a very good conversation with the Mayor last night. The Mayor and his wife, Judith, rode in the limousine with the President and Mrs. Bush back from the "Christmas in Washington" event to the White House, where they were attending a friendâs holiday dinner with the President and Mrs. Bush. Q: But the Mayor strongly recommended Bernie Kerik and, as you said, was -- McCLELLAN: Well, the decision to announce the intention to nominate him was based on some of the reasons I mentioned with John earlier in the gaggle. Q: Right. He doesn't feel that the Mayor misled him in any way by recommending him so strongly? McCLELLAN: No. And, again, the Mayor indicated that he had offered an apology to the President last night. I don't think the President felt that one was necessary. Q: How soon do you think, Scott -- how soon do you think you'll have a new nominee for this position? McCLELLAN: I'm not going to -- as always, I'm not going to speculate on the timing. But we will move quickly to name someone to fill this position, or fill this nomination. Q: Just, without getting into timing, has this knocked you back to square one in that assessment, or are you now vetting another individual? McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? Q: Are you now vetting another nominee or is it back to square one? McCLELLAN: Well, I think, generally speaking, with any nomination, you're going to be -- particularly one of this significance, you're going to be looking at more than one individual when you go through that initial process. And we are already moving forward on finding a replacement. And the President will have more to say on that once he's made a decision. Q: Scott, Mr., Kerik said that when he was finally filling out some of those detailed forms, that's when it dawned on him that he might have a problem. McCLELLAN: That's right. Q: Would it be better, in the vetting process, to have that filled out beforehand, before he is nominated? McCLELLAN: Well, I pointed out that they go through an awful -- they go through a pretty thorough vetting process in the initial phase. He did, and this -- I would point out to you that if you look at the nominations we have made, which I think are well over a thousand, less than -- well less than 1 percent have had to withdraw their nomination. I know Linda Chavez during the transition into the first term did, and then you have Commissioner Kerik. And I think that's -- it's a pretty solid record. The fact is that the vetting process, as I mentioned, continues after the intent to nominate is made. And it was through that vetting process that this was discovered and brought to our attention. And so there are safeguards built in throughout the vetting process, and this was before the nomination went to the Senate. Q: But I guess my question is, why wouldn't that stuff that caused the discovery be -- McCLELLAN: Well, as I pointed out in the initial phase of the vetting process -- I mean, before a nomination goes to the Senate you have to fill out more detailed confirmation or clearance forms. But as I pointed out in that -- in the vetting process, to some degree you have to rely on that candidate to provide you with all the information you need. And we make that clear up front that it's important that we are provided with all that information, and an accurate accounting of information. Q: One follow-up. As a result of this episode, will there be changes in the White House vetting process for future nominees? McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, we have a pretty thorough vetting process. And I think all you have to do is look at the record to see our confidence in that vetting process -- I mean, more than -- well more than a thousand nominees, as I pointed out, Roger. I can't think of -- I can't recall any nomination that has gone to the Senate and that has been withdrawn for clearance reasons. There may have been other reasons, but not for those reasons. Q: So you don't think there will be any changes then?
McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, if -- there are always ways to improve it, we will always -- we always look at that. But we have a very thorough vetting process in place. We remain confident in that vetting process. And it is the vetting process that actually brought this to the forefront. Q: Scott, has this thrown any kind of a chill in the process? You know, in picking his next nominee for Homeland Security, might the President go with somebody who is a little safer, as opposed to the bold pick Kerik was? McCLELLAN: He will go for the person who he believes is the best person for the job.
Pretty thorough ...