'No Skeletons in My Closet!'

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

And finally, the Daily News was on the verge of breaking the story of Kerik's relationship with the mob-tied company, and its reporter left messages detailing the gist of the allegations with Giuliani Partners press secretary Sunny Mindel two days before Kerik was nominated as homeland-security secretary. Everything Ed Kuriansky had whispered years earlier to Giuliani and Young was about to explode.

Knowing all of that, Giuliani went ahead with his support for Kerik's nomination. Neither he nor Kerik could resist the prominence—and presumably the business—that would come with this ascent to the highest levels of the Bush administration, where Kerik would oversee billions in contracts for just the kind of clients attracted to Giuliani Partners. It was a brazen decision rooted in the same rationale as Giuliani's presidential campaign, namely that Kerik's 9/11 hero image would transcend the messy sideshow of his actual life. Of course, Giuliani knew that even Kerik's 9/11 heroism was a hoax. A study by McKinsey & Company, which was completed in 2002 at the behest of the Bloomberg administration, had taken apart Kerik's 9/11 performance without naming him. McKinsey found a "perceived lack of a strong operational leader commanding the NYPD response" that day, the "absence of a clear command structure and direction on 9/11 and days after, leading to inadequate control of the NYPD response," and "no central point of information regarding the incident, with leaders acting largely on personal observations."

By Kerik's own admission, his No. 1 job that day was to protect the mayor, and he literally wrapped himself around Giuliani, reverting to the bodyguard role of 1993. But Giuliani obviously believed, as he does in his own campaign, that the visuals of Kerik on 9/11 were so etched in the American mind that they would trump the facts. Even Kerik's disastrous stint in Iraq—he was dispatched by Bush in 2003 to train the Iraqi police, only to return three scandalously ineffective months later—wasn't seen as an obstacle to his appointment. Giuliani apparently believed that Gonzales's vetting of Kerik could be fixed, just as Kuriansky's had been. But while Kuriansky could waive the voluminous questionnaire usually filled out by high-level appointees, the White House couldn't. In 2000, Kuriansky and Giuliani wanted no paper trail and left none. Gonzales couldn't do that.

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.


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

Still, Kerik was nominated, meaning he managed to get past Gonzales, and he would have become homeland-security secretary but for a deluge of news stories. The not-so-secret life of Bernie Kerik suddenly burst onto the national scene, and the stream of headlines went beyond his bumbling advocacy for the sleazy contractor. His love shack overlooking Ground Zero—in an apartment ostensibly designated for the use of exhausted firefighters—was so busy that one mistress found a love letter from another there. That story, more than any other, sealed his fate. The revelations were so sudden and damaging that it remains the most peculiar paradox of a very paradoxical presidential campaign that the Republican front-runner, whose calling card is counterterrorism, wanted the security of the country turned over to a friend and partner whose career literally exploded before our eyes, and Giuliani, miraculously, has suffered almost no collateral damage.

Kerik is the prime example of how circumscribed Giuliani's circle of trust became over time. His first police commissioner, Bill Bratton, was a top-flight professional, just like Giuliani's first emergency-management director, Jerry Hauer. But Bratton eventually morphed into Kerik and Hauer into Richie Sheirer, a former dispatcher who helped deliver the dispatchers' union to Giuliani in the 1993 mayoral election. Giuliani's inner circle, by the end of his mayoralty, consisted almost entirely of what's become known as the "Yes, Rudies," or the "Musketeers," people whose careers were the consequence, by and large, of their ties to him. It wasn't so much the Bush pattern of loyalty displacing competence as the primary measure of an adviser or aide. In the end, Giuliani's table of organization had an upside-down quality to it—the less competent someone was, the more dependably loyal they were perceived, and the surer they were to rise to the top or get invited to join Giuliani Partners. In such a circus, it's hardly surprising that the clowns around Giuliani were also making darkly serious mischief.

The presidential front-runner has been living on the edge in his personal, political, and corporate relationships for years, even conducting a semi-public affair with Judi Nathan as he prepared to run for the Senate in 1999 and 2000—his first, but perhaps not last, head-to-head match-up with Hillary Clinton. What few understand is that these bold and tawdry ties haven't been some incidental subplot to Rudy Giuliani's life. They are part of the main narrative, and, as Kerik proves, they provide a revealing look on the character and judgment that he would bring to the White House.

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