Indictment Suggests White House Discussed Kerik Mob Ties before He Withdrew Nomination

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November 14, 2007 3:15 p.m.
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Finally, evidence suggesting that the White House knew that Bernie Kerik had much more than a nanny problem.

It took only a week for President Bush’s nomination of Kerik to replace Tom Ridge as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to fall apart. And its abruptness — and the reason given — has always been cause for suspicion.

On December 2, 2004, President Bush announced that his pick to replace Tom Ridge as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security was Bernard Kerik. On December 10th, a Friday, at 8:30 p.m., Kerik suddenly withdrew his nomination, explaining in a statement that he’d discovered that his former housekeeper and nanny might not be a legal immigrant and that he hadn’t paid taxes on her. It was the sole reason given for his withdrawal, both in his statement and in subsequent comments by White House officials.

But Kerik’s indictment last Thursday indicates that the White House was dealing with bigger problems: Kerik’s ties to the mob.The centerpiece of the indictment was Kerik’s acceptance, from 1999 through 2000, of $255,000 worth of apartment renovations (including a marble rotunda) from executives with Interstate Industrial Corporation, a company with ties to the Gambino crime family. The feds say that Kerik, who was NYC corrections commissioner and then police commissioner during the time in question, worked on Interstate’s behalf in return for the money, work that included attempting to convince city investigators that the company was free of mob ties so that it could get city contracts.

Unfortunately for Kerik, the secret of his ties to Interstate began to unravel just about the time of his nomination. On December 2nd, the same day that Bush announced Kerik was his pick, The New York Daily News, which had been digging for six weeks on Kerik’s ties to Interstate, sent him a list of questions about those ties.

On December 5th, the indictment alleges, Kerik “made various false and misleading statements about his relationship with [Interstate and it’s top executives]” in an email to a White House official (who remains unnamed). It was one of several allegedly false and misleading statements that Keik is charged in the indictment with making to White House officials. However, unlike the other false statements, which appear from the indictment to involves sins of omission — like failure to disclose — the language of the indictment suggests that the December 5th email was an affirmative misrepresentation. In other words, in the thick of the vetting process, the White House was asking Kerik about his ties to Interstate.

Five days later, he announced that he’d uncovered his nanny problem. Two days after that, on December 12th, the Daily News first reported that Kerik’s brother and best friend had been hired by Interstate — on Kerik’s recommendation. Kerik had never responded to the list of questions, the paper reported.

Of course, Kerik’s ties to Interstate were just one of a number of transgressions that were eventually uncovered (Interstate’s $255,000 in payments for his apartment weren’t uncovered until much later), though nothing else has proven as serious. At the time, however, anonymous White House officials told The New York Times that the nanny problem had clinched his need to withdraw, that “it would be impossible for him to win confirmation for a post that supervises enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws if he had had immigration problems in his own household.” At a White House press briefing, then-spokesman Scott McClellan would only say “It was a decision he came to. And as far as we’re concerned, we respect his decision, and this matter has been now put to rest.”

Kerik’s attorney made the issue even clearer, telling the Times that “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.”

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