As Bernie ventures through the doors of perception, the White House freaks out
You can call Bernie Kerik‘s sudden withdrawal Friday night from the Homeland Security job another instance of Nannygate. But the reason Kerik and the White House are bawling their eyes out may have more to do with intrepid reporters like Newsday‘s Leonard Levitt, whose One Police Plaza column in the paper’s New York City edition has kept a close eye on Kerik and other such schnooks.
The initial word from the White House late Friday and early today was that Kerik was no longer suitable as the nation’s chief security guard because of his domestic situation. Kerik said he hadn’t paid employment taxes on his nanny’s behalf and—oops!—she wasn’t even in the U.S. legally.
Then it was revealed that she left the U.S. about two weeks ago, just before his nomination was announced; a “former New York City official” told the New York Times that her departure had been planned “for at least two months,” the paper’s Elisabeth Bumiller and Eric Lipton wrote.
The Times story noted up high:
White House officials were clearly annoyed at Mr. Kerik for not determining the nanny’s immigration status prior to this week, but said they had no evidence he had sought to mislead them. “It was Kerik’s screw-up, it was that simple,” the official said. “But it’s a mistake you can’t tolerate with someone who has oversight for immigration.”
Bullshit that it was that simple.
Way down low in the Times story is something that’s probably closer to the truth:
Mr. Kerik’s housekeeper situation was only the latest question to be revealed about the nominee. A series of critical news reports about questionable actions had begun to surface about Mr. Kerik, threatening to turn his Senate confirmation into a lengthy embarrassment for the administration. The reports looked at Mr. Kerik’s use of city personnel while in office, potential conflicts between his business life and the role of the Homeland Security department, and events growing out of his personal financial difficulties several years ago.
One Democratic Senate staff member, who had been following the nomination process closely and asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of the matter, said he was convinced that the nanny question was not the sole reason that Mr. Kerik had dropped out. “Multiple media organizations were pursuing multiple stories,” that would be potentially damaging to Mr. Kerik, he said. Because many of these questions had not yet been answered by the administration, the staff member said, “fundamentally, he was a bad pick.”
The staff member added: “The process worked here.”
No, it’s veteran scribe Leonard Levitt who works. Many of those “critical news reports about questionable actions” were written long ago by Levitt, and you can bet your ass that Google-eyed reporters all over the world (plus the high rollers who travel by Lexis) have been downloading him at a machine-gun rate. He’s one of the best cop-shop columnists, because instead of swallowing the propaganda from pols and police officials, he’s rough on top dogs and sympathetic to underdogs such as most street-level cops and the public. The dogged columnist’s Friday piece, “Why Back So Soon, Kerik?,” zeroed in on Bernie’s mysteriously brief 2003 stint in Iraq, where he ostensibly trained Iraqi police and security troops.
Levitt points out that Kerik, in his own words, vowed to be in Iraq “at least six months—until the job is done.” Yet he left barely halfway through that short stint. Why? Read Levitt’s column for the details, but here’s a passage that may help you understand:
[Kerik] has never explained his premature departure from Iraq. Had he junked his training of the Iraqi police, said to be among the least prepared of that nation’s law enforcement agencies? Did he fear for his safety, as many in law enforcement believe?
Kerik was concerned enough that whenever he traveled he cleared a two-block radius.
On Wednesday [December 8], Kerik’s attorney, Joe Tacopina, said he would ask Kerik for an explanation. Yesterday [December 9], Tacopina did not return calls.
In the same column, Levitt revisits some highlights of Kerik’s tenure as NYPD commissioner:
During his two years as commissioner, [Ray] Kelly has not hesitated to belittle Kerik, his predecessor. One of Kelly’s first actions was to move a statue commemorating September 11 with a quote from Kerik against a wall in the lobby of One Police Plaza so Kerik’s words could not be seen.
Last summer, Kelly spokesman Paul Browne questioned Kerik’s having ordered four high-tech $50,000 security doors for police headquarters while commissioner, and announced the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau was investigating. That announcement followed the Department of Investigation’s arrest of Alan Risi, whose company supplied the doors, for allegedly overcharging the city $50,000 to service similar doors on other city buildings.
DOI shared its findings with the Police Department, which found no impropriety but noted that a proper engineering study was not conducted. Internal Affairs Chief Charles Campisi said he would not discuss department business.
Lots of administrators and flaks have reason not to want to talk to Levitt. All the more reason to read Levitt’s column, because lots and lots of insiders do talk to him, even if they have to do it on the q.t.
I’ll bet the White House started reading Levitt’s million or so columns on Kerik and envisioned a winter scene of the little Napoleon tumbling down a snowy hill, gathering slush and dirt and picking up speed, going faster and faster and getting bigger and bigger—until he smacked right into George W. Bush‘s legacy and knocked it on its ass.
Don’t let those big, expensive doors hit you on the ass on your way out, Bernie.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 11, 2004