'No Skeletons in My Closet!'

Oh yeah? How Michael Mukasey and Bernie Kerik are haunting Rudy's run.

At the confirmation hearing, Mukasey made it clear that there's one kind of case that could impact the election that he would not recuse himself from—that favorite GOP and Giuliani bugaboo, voter fraud.

A New York Times editorial observed that Mukasey "seemed unduly focused" during the confirmation hearing "on the nonexistent problem of voter fraud and not focused enough on the real problem of eligible voters being prevented from casting ballots." In fact, Mukasey assured Republican Pete Sessions that he would prosecute vote-fraud cases, and he corrected Democrat Ben Cardin, who tried to stress the importance of protecting and extending the franchise. One timely voter-fraud case in New Mexico next year might tilt a state usually too close to call, and could decide a closely contested presidential campaign. Voter-fraud cases factored prominently in the recent scandal over Gonzales's dismissal of U.S. Attorneys and have long been a Giuliani preoccupation, making the issue a predictable controversy confronting Mukasey. Giuliani blamed his 1989 mayoral loss on illegal minority voters in Harlem and Washington Heights and pushed unsuccessfully for investigations. When Giuliani won his narrow 1993 mayoral victory, he was aided by a massive voter- suppression campaign targeting black and Latino voters, with Dominicans warned that immigration officials were at the polls. Democrats are likely to be asking Justice in 2008 to guard against similar suppression tactics, which have become a GOP staple in key states.

Is it too soon, however, to make judgments about Mukasey's ability to separate politics from probity? Maybe not. In 1993, Mukasey served as a secret adviser to Giuliani's mayoral campaign while he was on the federal bench in Manhattan, according to sources who were involved at the time. Mukasey was one of the close Giuliani friends who gathered at a house that the mayoral candidate rented for the summer in Oyster Bay, Long Island. That's what two people present at the house for these weekend sessions in the middle of the '93 campaign vividly recall. Asked about Mukasey's attendance at these sessions and any advisory role he might have played in other Giuliani campaigns, White House press aide Tony Fratto limited his response to the summer get-togethers. "Judge Mukasey has never attended any campaign-strategy meetings for Mayor Giuliani in Oyster Bay," he said.

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, left, and former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in 2002.
photo: Richard B. Levine
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, left, and former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in 2002.

But the people who were at the gatherings say they were not "meetings" per se. Giuliani and then wife Donna Hanover hosted the sessions, usually on weekends, with their key friends and "kitchen cabinet." The talk was often about the campaign, and Mukasey was there, according to these sources. The group was a mix of old friends and top campaign staff, like Richard Schwartz, who was policy director for the campaign and had only recently come to know Giuliani. Mukasey did not participate in large group discussions, but was seen with Giuliani in a three-person "cluster," as one participant put it, or in one-on-ones with Giuliani. Mukasey's stepson Marc Saroff (he has since changed his name to Mukasey) is listed on the 1989 campaign filings as a "staff assistant," and Mukasey's wife Susan also worked at the campaign headquarters in 1989 and 1993. The judge himself was seen around the headquarters in 1993, and joined Giuliani in his election-night suite in 1989, swapping stories with him about Al D'Amato, the then U.S. senator who was viewed with great hostility by Giuliani partisans.

Mukasey's role with Giuliani became more formal in 2007, after his retirement from the bench in 2006. He and his son were named to the Giuliani campaign's judicial advisory committee. The family contributed at least $10,000 to the presidential campaign. In his Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, Mukasey was asked if he had "ever played a role in a political campaign," and he listed only the current Giuliani presidential campaign and his activities as part of the New York Jewish Coalition for Reagan/Bush in 1984, both of which occurred when he was not a federal judge. But his involvement in the Giuliani's 1993 race, and even his appearance at the 1989 victory party, appear inconsistent with the judicial rules of conduct, which bar a judge from "engaging in any partisan political activity" or "attending any political gatherings." While Mukasey's role as a casual campaign adviser, and his appearance at a campaign event like a victory party, may seem benign, they are troubling signs of political involvement that take on larger dimensions only because of the great power to influence an election that he will soon enjoy. And if he went beyond the strict interpretation of the guidelines as a judge, might he not do the same as attorney general?


Even the Democratic senator guiding Mukasey's nomination though the Senate, Chuck Schumer, has his own Giuliani connections. As associate attorney general in 1983, Giuliani rebuffed Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Ray Dearie, who had recommended Schumer's indictment based on allegations involving his initial election to Congress in 1980. Schumer's wife, Iris Weinshall, held several top posts in the Giuliani administration, and was ultimately his transportation commissioner. Mayor Bloomberg has said that Giuliani asked him to retain only two of his top aides when he left City Hall, and one was Weinshall. Before Weinshall took over the transportation job, she was a deputy commissioner under Giuliani at another agency, where she oversaw the construction of the bunker at 7 World Trade Center.

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