'No Skeletons in My Closet!'

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

Schumer pushed the White House to nominate Mukasey, just as he did with Paul Crotty. He was impressed, no doubt, by Mukasey's intellect and judicial service. But Schumer has not only championed Giuliani associates like the well-regarded Crotty and Mukasey; he also rushed to endorse Kerik when Bush nominated him for the homeland-security position, praising Kerik's "strong law-enforcement background" and predicting that he would do "an excellent job" at the giant agency. Schumer and the other committee Democrats did interrogate Mukasey about his views on detention, interrogation, torture, and related terror issues and found that they are largely indistinguishable from the views of President Bush. The committee is now awaiting Mukasey's more expansive answers to written questions, and some members are saying that their votes are in doubt, though Schumer was publicly predicting a unanimous vote for Mukasey after the first day's hearing.

If Mukasey is in agreement with his potential boss in the White House, he also appears to be on the same page as Giuliani, who has come out in favor of "enhanced" and "aggressive" interrogation techniques. Like Mukasey, Giuliani has also refused to rule out waterboarding. Asked recently if the aggressive technique was torture, Giuliani invoked Mukasey: "I don't believe the attorney general designate was in any way unclear about torture." Reminded that Mukasey said he didn't know whether waterboarding was torture, Giuliani replied: "Well, I'm not sure it is either. . . . It depends on how it's done. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on who does it." Similarly, Mukasey's suggestion that the president could violate a federal statute if he deems it necessary to defend the country is in sync with Giuliani, who repeatedly ridiculed Mitt Romney for indicating that he might talk to lawyers before going to war with Iran.

Mukasey tried to distinguish himself from Gonzales by declaring that he would sharply restrict the number of Justice officials who could discuss cases with "elected officials or their representatives"—a limitation, of course, that would still leave the door wide open to the unelected Giuliani. He also refused to commit to reinstituting the "red book," which required prosecutors to "refrain" from announcing cases that might affect an election, mandating that they "await the end" of the election cycle.

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.

Details

Additional research provided by Adrienne Gaffney, Samuel Rubenfeld, and Danielle Schiffman

If Mukasey's sudden rise to prominence, and his placement at Justice, is something of a boon to Candidate Rudy, another of his old cronies is likely to have the opposite effect. The badly timed implosion of Bernie Kerik may remind the public of all the unsavory characters that Giuliani, as mayor, drew like a magnet.

A onetime white-knight prosecutor who scorned unethical insiders, Giuliani is now surrounded by them, and has as long a history of attracting sleaze as he once did for prosecuting it. The revelations last week that two Mafia godfathers voted to have him killed in 1986 recall a Giuliani who doesn't exist anymore, a former self at his ethical apex that is a fading memory now that Giuliani's former trusted top cop is about to be indicted for his dealings with a mob-tied contractor.

The question for Giuliani regarding Kerik is how he spent years ignoring alarms about the man he placed in one top law-enforcement job and then tried to install at the helm of our national defense. While some elements of what Giuliani knew about Kerik have come out in previous news accounts, what follows is an untold chronology that could haunt the presidential candidate, particularly if Kerik goes to trial before Election Day.

Giuliani was momentarily down and out when he met Kerik, a third-grade NYPD detective, at a New Jersey gathering of a small police organization in early 1990. He'd lost to David Dinkins a few months earlier and, already a kind of mayor in exile, was busily plotting a career-salvaging second run in 1993. Kerik was starstruck: "As someone who is constantly told that people want to follow me," he later wrote in his autobiography, "I think I understood what people meant the minute I met Giuliani." By 1991, Kerik was Giuliani's volunteer driver and bodyguard, accompanying him everywhere during the two-year prelude to the election and even putting together an unofficial detail of other off-duty cops to protect him.

A few months into Giuliani's first term, the mayor summoned Kerik to Gracie Mansion and, over a bottle of red wine that was a gift from Nelson Mandela, asked him to become the first deputy commissioner of the city's vast correction department. Once Kerik, who had virtually no city correction experience, agreed, Giuliani opened the door to his private library and welcomed the members of his cabinet. "In this dark sitting room, one by one," Kerik recalled, "the mayor's closest staff members came forward and kissed me. They all knew. I know the mayor is as big a fan of The Godfather as I am, and I wonder if he noticed how much becoming part of his team resembled becoming part of a Mafia family. I was being made. I was now a part of the Giuliani family, getting the endorsement of the other family members, the other capos."


Of course, that was just the beginning for Kerik, whose personal relationship with Giuliani ultimately put him at the helm of the world's largest police department, even though he'd only been a cop for eight years, never passed a promotional exam, and was 24 credits shy of the college degree required of mere lieutenants. Giuliani likened his selection of Kerik—over Joe Dunne, a widely respected 31-year veteran who was the department's highest-ranking uniformed officer—a moment of personal inspiration, almost a mystical revelation. "It all of a sudden occurred to me that this was the right person," he proclaimed. The only person he told about his final choice was his then newly disclosed girlfriend, Judi Nathan—on a Saturday night at 11 p.m., at the cigar bar where they'd first met, just minutes before he phoned Kerik. In Giuliani's memoir, Leadership, he ascribes the selection of Kerik in August 2000 to "factors of chemistry and feel," saying that it helped to "have someone who feels that their loyalty is not just to the department, but also to the mayor and the citizens of New York."

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