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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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 friend’s 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 ...

'Da luv shack ...

A couple days ago we noted the odd story, reported by Newsweek, of how glamorous celebrity book publisher Judith Regan had to hire a bodyguard to protect her from Kerik after their relationship "soured."

Now, Newsweek said that the two were "occasional workout partners." But clearly I'm way behind the times on the latest euphemisms. Because these weren't the sort of workouts you do at the gym, or, I should say, at least not in the public areas. The Daily News reports today that not only was Kerik carrying on an affair with Regan but also, at the same time, with city Correction Officer Jeanette Pinero. Pinero, you'll remember from yesterday evening's post, is the woman at the center of the civil suit in which Kerik had to testify just a couple days ago. The plaintiff in that case former deputy warden Eric DeRavin III says Kerik kept him from getting promoted because he had reprimanded Pinero. (The Daily News reports that the city has already ready settled one case related to the Kerik-Pinero relationship.)

And since Kerik was married while all this was going, he had a secret love den set up down in Battery Park City where he'd meet Regan and Pinero for their workouts.

And that, it seems, was how he eventually came to grief. According to the Daily News, after one workout Regan left a "romantic note" for Kerik. But, as so often seems to happen in these cases, it was found by, you guessed it, Mrs. Pinero (yes, she's married too).

Pinero and Regan chatted on the phone; and presumably things were never quite the same.

The Battery Park love shack saga would also seem to throw a little light on one question left dangling from yesterday's story in the Daily News.

In that piece, Lawrence Ray, Kerik's financial benefactor with all the mob connections, said that "Kerik always complained about surviving on his civil servant salary." That, notwithstanding the fact that a December 1997 piece in the Times reported that Kerik's starting salary as Corrections chief was $136,990 a year.

But now the story comes into clearer focus because not only was Kerik paying for the place on E. 79th street where he and his wife lived. He was also paying through the nose for the love den down in Battery Park which the Daily News estimates cost between $3,150 to $6,200 in monthly rent.

With those sorts of expenses, no wonder he had to rely on Ray to pay off some of his bills.

Late Update: A reader notes that the owner of the apartment complex where the love den was located is Milstein Properties, a big player in New York City commercial and residential real estate. The Daily News estimates that the love den, a snazzy furnished apartment, could have cost as much as six grand a month. Even if that had been Kerik's only New York pad, that would be a stretch on his salary. So who was paying that rent? Or was it even being charged?

Very, very interesting.

From the Cash-n-Kerik-Catch-Up front, in the Monday Times piece by David Sanger, White House officials, including Scott McClellan seem to make quite clear that they were aware of all the issues now being discussed about Bernard Kerik's background. And that it was only the alleged nanny problem, which they had no way of discovering absent Kerik's volunteering the information, that came as a surprise. And that it was that alone that sank his nomination.

Now, clearly the White House is trying to walk back the quickly congealing sense that they were sloppy and impulsive in selecting someone to run the department that covers the issue that President Bush has made the defining issue of his presidency.

But look what that means.

They seem to be stipulating to their knowing about and being untroubled by a) Kerik's long-standing ties to an allegedly mobbed-up Jersey construction company (see yesterday's piece in the Daily News and tomorrow's in the Times), sub-a) that Kerik received numerous unreported cash gifts from Lawrence Ray, an executive at said Jersey construction company (Ray was later indicted along with Edward Garafola, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano's brother-in-law, and Daniel Persico, nephew of Colombo Family Godfather Carmine "The Snake" Persico and others on unrelated federal charges tied to what the Daily News called a "$40 million, mob-run, pump-and-dump stock swindle." b) that Riker's Island prison became a hotbed of political corruption and cronyism on his watch, c) that he is accused by nine employees of the hospital he worked at providing security in Saudi Arabia of using his policing powers to pursue the personal agenda of his immediate boss, d) that a warrant for his arrest (albeit in a civil case) was issued in New Jersey as recently as six years ago, e) that as recently as last week he was forced to testify in a civil suit in a case covering the period in which he was New York City correction commissioner, in which the plaintiff, "former deputy warden Eric DeRavin III contends Kerik kept him from getting promoted because he had reprimanded the woman [Kerik was allegedly having an affair with], Correction Officer Jeanette Pinero," or f) his rapid and unexplained departure from Baghdad.

None of this stuff gave the White House or Al Gonzales second thoughts?

As Regis would say, is that your final answer?

Oh boy ... we may have a TPM T-Shirt winner before the night is out.

You'll note that just earlier this evening we promised a bounty of a free TPM T-Shirt "for the first reader to send in a clip of Rudy saying how he really never knew Kerik all that well."

And one of our sharp-eyed TPM readers just sent in this line from the Times' new article out tonight (the Times is on Cash-n-Kerik-Catch-Up duty) in which the authors write that in his interview with the Times "Mr. Giuliani indicated that he should have known about Mr. Kerik's legal problems because he had named him police commissioner and then had gone into business with him."

Now, I'm going to reserve judgment for the moment because the night is still young and there are probably plenty more shivs Rudy to stick into Kerik's back to salvage his post-9/11 rep and political future. But if the Times has faithfully captured Rudy's meaning, he's already edging toward saying "he really never knew Kerik all that well."

Don't fret, however. TPM reader RB definitely has the inside track now for the TPM T-Shirt. But a choicer quote may still be out there in tomorrow's papers or later this week, perhaps even in an impromptu Rudy interview on the cable nets. So keep scanning those stories. Victory can still be yours.

Will Bernie K. become Rudy's Ken Lay?

A TPM T-shirt for the first reader to send in a clip of Rudy saying how he really never knew Kerik all that well.

[ed.note: A special thanks to TPM reader GB.]

As long we're on the story, pretty bang-up job vetting Kerik by Al Gonzales, right?

Contrary to expectations based on the torture memos, as overseer of the FBI, Gonzales may actually have been a boon to civil libertarians since it doesn't seem he's thorough enough to endanger anyone's privacy or civil liberties.

Another thought. Why is the Times getting beaten like a dirty rug on the Kerik story by Newsday and the Daily News, not to mention Newsweek?

To date, as near as I can tell, all their coverage has focused on the increasingly threadbare excuse of the nanny problem. And they've made only one passing reference to Newsweek's scoop about the 1998 arrest warrant.

(Here Kevin Drum perceptively notes how the 'nanny problem' is becoming Washington's turbo-charged version of 'wanting to spend more time with the family.')

The Times has the big Washington bureau. And presumably they have some presence in New York City. So they should be all over this one rather than reporting it from White House-approved off-the-record comments.

Maybe they can get some leads on the story by picking up the tabs ...

[ed. note: In fairness, the Times OpEd page, which operates separately from news, was ahead of the game editorializing on the problems with Kerik's nomination.]

In case you haven't noticed, the White House wants us to believe that the fact that Bernard Kerik didn't pay taxes for his nanny -- who, by the way, no one seems to have heard any facts or details about -- just wouldn't do for the Secretary of DHS.

But that fact that one of Kerik's long-time financial "benefactors" during his late-1990s rise through the New York police and corrections bureaucracy, Lawrence Ray, was later indicted in a "a $40 million, mob-run, pump-and-dump stock swindle."

You can find the rest of the details on that little part of the story in the Daily News.

Meanwhile, Newsweek brings us some news on the rapid departure from Baghdad ...

But Kerik didn't seem to show much interest in Iraqis, said a senior U.S. official who worked with him. He appeared to enjoy going on night raids against "bad guys" with some South African mercenaries who were serving as bodyguards to U.S. officials. On his screen saver, Kerik had a photo of a big house he had just bought in New Jersey that he said was across the street from former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms's. Kerik told his colleagues he planned to be in Baghdad for three months while the house was undergoing renovations. "So," the official says he told Kerik, "you're here because you needed a place to go while they're doing renovations on your house." Kerik grinned and cocked a finger as if to say, "You got it."


Of all the sources I thought to contact <$Ad$>on that story, it never dawned on me that Jersey contractors or upholsterers would have been the place to go for the inside scoop. But I'm never very imaginative.

Then there's the story that celebrity book publisher Judith Regan had to hire a personal bodyguard when Kerik started 'hounding' her after their relationship went sour.

Newsweek also adds another detail on why this whole debacle didn't come out of nowhere. Earlier today I was exchanging emails with a friend and told him that I didn't think it was Rudy alone who did or could have gotten Kerik this job.

Rudy may have chits (or I guess we should make that had chits). But he didn't have nearly enough to give this job to someone with so many red flags on him he might as well have been a Moscow May Day parade circa 1950.

Something else was at work. And Newsweek helps here too: "[S]ome administration officials acknowledge that the president's predilections work against a careful review. Bush hates leaks and enjoys popping surprise announcements on the press. He liked the idea of Kerik—the self-made tough guy—and he dismissed as gossip or press carping newspaper stories about Kerik's bending the rules."

So let's see. The president liked the image of Kerik. And once he got fixed on the idea that it was a crackerjack idea to put him at DHS, he dismissed all the stories about Kerik's recklessness and scofflawry as just so much whinning from the nattering nabobs of negativism.

(Remind you of anything?)

The emphasis on secrecy also seemed to help keep the prez from getting any disquieting information. And Al Gonzales, who ran the vetting process on Kerik, was either too sloppy or too much of a yes-man to bring any of this stuff to the president's attention.

I must say that after Tim Johnson defeated John Thune in 2002, I always thought Daschle would pull out a win over Thune in 2004. I underestimated the effects of the years of Daschle-bashing from the right. Daschle could certainly go toe to toe with the Republicans and knew how to throw an elbow. But I remember a Daschle aide once telling me, in a half-resigned, half-admiring frustration, of a staff meeting in which there was some discussion of playing hardball with some opponent -- I can't remember what they were suggesting or even what the context was. And Daschle's response, seemingly without irony or any double-meaning, was "It's not the Daschle way." And that was that. Perhaps a bit of stiff rectitude, but more a basic decency, one that may not always have served him well in the shiv-play that is now Washington. But I'll let others be the judge of that. Today the Post and the Times both run tributes and sum-ups of the departing Minority Leader. Take particular note of the accomplishments noted in the piece in the Post.

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