The Democrats who questioned attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey at his recent Senate confirmation hearing outdid one another in a frustrating effort to get the former judge to assert his independence from the Bush White House. With his predecessor, Bush pal Alberto Gonzales, finally forced from office, the senators were hoping for a nominee with fewer complicating relationships.
Fat chance. The question for Mukasey is not what he’ll do at Justice for the soon-to-be- departing Republican president, but what he’ll do for the putative next one, his lifelong friend Rudy Giuliani. Mukasey and Giuliani were young federal prosecutors together in the early 1970s and then practiced at the same Manhattan law firm, Patterson Belknap, where Mukasey returned in 2006 when he retired after 18 years on the federal bench in New York. Giuliani chose Mukasey to swear him in at his inaugurals in 1994 and 1998.
The question of Mukasey’s strong ties to Giuliani got the light touch from Senator Pat Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman who opened the two-day proceeding by saying that he assumed Mukasey would “totally recuse” himself from “any involvement with Mr. Giuliani or any other candidate for president.” Mukasey laughed at the question, as if the answer was obvious, and quickly agreed. But that chuckle rings a little hollow when you look at who had come with him to the hearing: his wife Susan, who volunteered almost daily in the Giuliani mayoral campaigns; his stepson Marc, who was a staff assistant in one campaign and currently is a partner at the Texas-based law firm that Giuliani recently joined, Bracewell & Giuliani; and Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who recently endorsed Giuliani and worked closely with him as a federal prosecutor. Marc Mukasey is currently representing Giuliani Partners in the federal probe of Bernard Kerik, a onetime member of the consulting firm. Freeh’s appearance, sitting beside the family, was a stark indication of just how unconsciously political Mukasey’s key relationships are. (For Democrats on the committee, the sight of Freeh, who led multiple probes of both Clintons, might have been an indication of Mukasey’s partisanship. In Freeh’s recent autobiography, he concluded that “the presidency hit an all-time low” under Bill Clinton—who named him to head the FBI, only to wind up as the target of multiple Freeh probes—adding that if he were Clinton, “I might never show my face in public again.”)
Mukasey has so far indicated that he will recuse himself in the ongoing probe of Kerik, the ex–police commissioner and onetime Giuliani-backed nominee for homeland security secretary, who has already pleaded guilty in a state case and is facing a mountain of federal charges. But Mukasey’s recusal shouldn’t really be a problem. The Justice Department agreed months ago to extend the statute of limitations on the case against Kerik to November 17, when his expected indictment may suddenly emerge as a national story haunting the Giuliani campaign. The case is so layered in conflict that Alberto Gonzales is a likely witness. It was Gonzales who vetted Kerik for the homeland-security post in 2004 and was swamped by false claims about him emanating from the fax machines and computers at Giuliani Partners’ Times Square headquarters. The Washington Post reported in April that Kerik was “likely” to be indicted for “bald-faced lies” during the White House clearance process, including possible misstatements on forms filled out with the assistance of Giuliani’s firm.
The Daily News has more recently reported that Kerik may also be indicted on bribery charges connected to a 1999 meeting in a Tribeca bar with Giuliani’s cousin, Ray Casey, who ran the city’s trade-waste commission. Kerik was pressuring Casey on behalf of an allegedly mob-tied contractor, which was then seeking a license from the commission to develop a waste-transfer station. The company was already involved in the extensive renovations of Kerik’s apartment.
But Kerik is just one of the possible Giuliani-tied cases that Mukasey might be faced with as the new head of Justice. The list of Giuliani connections could also include the California proportional-representation ballot initiative financed by vulture-fund billionaire Paul Singer, which is designed to split up California’s 55 electoral votes—the single largest state total—which are routinely won by Democratic candidates. Singer assumed a formal title in the Giuliani campaign-finance committee and became his biggest early fundraiser, with Giuliani embracing him despite worldwide condemnations of his dunning of debt-ridden third-world countries. Giuliani has even been flying around the country on Singer’s corporate jet, yet his campaign insists that it played no role in the California initiative, which appears designed to benefit Giuliani, the only Republican who polls well in the state. If Giuliani’s campaign was involved, the scheme would violate federal campaign laws. That’s why a complaint has already been filed with the Federal Election Commission and why the campaign is currently trying to distance itself from Singer, even as a second effort to place the initiative on the state ballot—this one headed by Anne Dunsmore, a former Giuliani finance-committee staffer—is getting underway.
Mukasey might also have to deal with a Justice investigation of Ken Caruso, a Giuliani and Mukasey friend who was allegedly involved in the bilking of a prominent Texas Republican donor of millions, according to a recent story by Politico.com. Caruso, who apparently refused to cooperate with a U.S. Senate investigation of the banking scam, is a partner with Marc Mukasey at Bracewell & Giuliani. Both were hired by Giuliani, who set up the firm’s Manhattan office in 2005. Caruso is represented by Patterson Belknap, Michael Mukasey’s current and Giuliani’s former firm.
In addition, one of Giuliani’s closest allies in New York politics, State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, is under federal investigation, and the chairman of Giuliani’s South Carolina campaign, Thomas Ravenel, is awaiting sentencing on federal charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The government will have to make a sentencing recommendation late this year in the Ravenel case, and the Justice Department would have to approve any Bruno indictment. Bruno announced his endorsement of Giuliani in May, and Giuliani recently made comments strongly supporting Bruno in his ongoing battle with Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer.
The client list at Giuliani Partners is just as inviting a target as Giuliani’s friends and political associates, with his consulting role for Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, already provoking public questions. A Justice Department prosecutor told reporters this spring that Purdue hired Giuliani to block a probe that she was conducting with other investigators into Purdue’s aggressive advertising of the morphine-like painkiller. Giuliani arranged meetings with the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, ultimately negotiating a favorable deal. Remarkably, Giuliani Partners was simultaneously retained by Justice on a million-dollar contract to advise it on how to improve the Drug Enforcement Task Force, which was investigating, among other things, OxyContin abuse. In other words, at the same time that Giuliani’s firm was a paid consultant for Purdue, it was also a consultant for the DEA on how to deal with issues that concerned Purdue. The settlement that Giuliani worked out permitted the company’s top brass to plead to misdemeanors and pay a $640 million fine to compensate for the lives ruined by the aggressively promoted drug. The DEA also decided not to limit the right to prescribe OxyContin to doctors who specialized in pain management, a proposal that Purdue had fiercely opposed.
Even the recent ruckus about Verizon and its cooperation with the National Security Agency’s domestic-surveillance program may put Mukasey in a Giuliani-connected bind. The company has admitted that it turned over 94,000 customer records to federal and state authorities—including hundreds without any court order—since January 2005, and a Justice Department inspector general’s report in 2006 found that similar potentially improper record transfers occurred for years before that. Verizon is a prime client of Bracewell & Giuliani. In addition, Paul Crotty, the respected federal judge who joined Mukasey on the Manhattan bench in late 2005, was the regional president of Verizon, which is based in New York. Crotty was Giuliani’s corporation counsel and contributed $5,500 to his federal campaign committees before he became a judge—$1,000 more than the legal limit (the excess was returned). When Crotty left, a Verizon press release stated that he was “responsible for government relations and regulatory affairs for Verizon’s largest telephone operations company,” but a company spokeswoman declined to answer questions about his possible involvement in the surveillance decisions, and Crotty did not return telephone calls from the Voice. Justice has already filed lawsuits in an attempt to protect Verizon from the subpoenas served on it by several states, and Mukasey will clearly be faced with a multiplicity of issues arising from the surveillance program.
Mukasey told the Senate that he believed the president may have acted appropriately in ordering the warrantless wiretapping.
Even Mukasey’s current clients at Patterson have connections to both Giuliani and the Justice Department that raise disturbing questions. He represents the Renco Group, the private holding company that owns 40 percent of the joint venture that manufactures Humvees and has seen its profits soar in Iraq. Renco chairman Ira Rennert and his wife have maxed out their donations to the Giuliani campaign at $4,600 apiece. The Justice Department is suing a Renco affiliate for a magnesium plant that has polluted the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and federal prosecutors have been described in news accounts as “determined” to make Rennert “personally pay for the way his companies conduct business.” Rennert recently refused to meet with a religious delegation from Peru, led by the Catholic archbishop, which was pressing the company to clean up its metals smelter in La Oroya, where 97 percent of the children have lead poisoning. A smelter near St. Louis has provoked lawsuits and similar protests.
Mukasey also represents Linda Lay, the widow of convicted Enron CEO Ken Lay. (Since Ken Lay’s primary law firm was always Bracewell, Mukasey’s representation may have come on a Bracewell referral.) When Ken Lay died last year while his conviction was on appeal, a Texas judge dismissed the case against him, despite a Justice Department warning that the dismissal could lead to the “disgorgement of fraud proceeds” in the tens of millions. The Justice Department is now involved in efforts to obtain restitution for Enron’s victims; meanwhile, Mukasey mediated an estate dispute between Linda Lay and Goldman Sachs. Mukasey’s other clients include Winston & Strawn, the Chicago-based law firm whose managing partner, Dan Webb, is also on Giuliani’s judicial advisory committee. The firm’s partners have given at least $18,950 to the Giuliani campaign.
There’s no way to know, given the secrecy that grips Justice, how many cases directly or indirectly involving Mukasey clients or Giuliani interests might wind up before Mukasey. Would he distance himself from such matters, especially those regarding Rudy? He didn’t as a judge. While he stepped aside on several matters involving the Giuliani administration, he did uphold the mayor’s policy of seizing the cars of drunk drivers and was reversed on appeal. In any event, recusals are an imperfect way for an attorney general to separate himself from such probes, law-enforcement officials acknowledge, because the prosecutors who work for Mukasey may see his withdrawal on a case as a signal of the preferences at the top of the department.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
We have since learned that Ed Kuriansky, the city’s investigations commissioner, warned Giuliani, during the selection process, about Kerik’s disturbing connections to a mob-tied contractor who employed Kerik’s brother and best man. Giuliani said as much during his artfully forgetful testimony before the state grand jury that indicted Kerik on charges of accepting gifts from the contractor, who was then seeking city work. Kuriansky had known Giuliani since their days together as young prosecutors in the 1970s, and he went to his death early this year with whatever he told Giuliani, rejecting reporters and investigators even as he battled cancer. He was never questioned by the DA’s office, either in front of a grand jury or in an interview at home, according to a source close to Kuriansky, who says he was “too sick” to be put through any difficult interrogation.
Kuriansky’s appointment diaries, first unearthed by WNBC TV’s Jonathan Dienst, showed that in the days preceding Kerik’s appointment, the commissioner met repeatedly with Giuliani and Denny Young, Giuliani’s counsel, who moved with him to Giuliani Partners. A Voice reading of the diaries and interviews with the people identified in them leaves little doubt that Kuriansky briefed City Hall about Kerik’s troubling relationships. The logs refer to three Kuriansky meetings with Giuliani, Young, or Young’s deputy regarding Kerik’s background investigation. The diaries also refer several times to Larry Ray, the best man at Kerik’s 1998 wedding, who had been indicted in a stock case involving a Gambino crime-family figure just weeks earlier. Ray was placed on the payroll of the mob-connected contractor on Kerik’s recommendation, and the company and Kerik appear in some of the same meeting entries as Ray’s name.
What is perhaps most surprising about the logs is that Kuriansky also participated on the screening panel of top Giuliani aides that interviewed Kerik and Dunne and made a recommendation to the mayor—a role inconsistent with the independence that most mayors, including Mike Bloomberg, expect of their investigation commissioners. One participant in these high-level internal discussions says Kuriansky never mentioned Kerik’s ties to the company or Ray, which suggests that even as Giuliani and Young were briefed, the mayor did not want the larger group of deputy mayors told about Kerik’s dark side.
Giuliani testified that, in the end, Kuriansky didn’t regard whatever he had on Kerik as disqualifying information. But on the other hand, Kuriansky also allowed Kerik to avoid filling out a detailed questionnaire required of major appointees. Giuliani’s first meeting with Kuriansky about the background probe preceded that decision.
As clear as it is that Giuliani was on notice about the questions surrounding Kerik when he made him police commissioner, he had even better reasons not to recommend him for the homeland-security post four years later. Giuliani says now: “I think I should have done a better job of investigating him, vetting him, however you want to describe that. It’s my responsibility, and I’ve learned from it. I’ll make sure that I do a much better job of checking into people in the future.” All Giuliani had to do by December 2004, however, was read the newspapers about his own partner to see that Kerik was carrying too much baggage for a cabinet-level job.
The city’s Conflict of Interests Board, consisting mostly of Giuliani appointees, had already fined Kerik $2,500 for using three police detectives to do research for his lucrative autobiography. One of Kerik’s top aides at the correction department was indicted in 2003 for running political campaigns out of his office at Rikers Island and for using department workers to renovate his home. Kerik was also accused of covering up an assault charge against his chief of staff, John Picciano, who allegedly attacked a female correction officer he was having an affair with and threatened her with a gun. A 2003 Daily News story quoted a top correction official who detailed how Kerik had personally tried to keep the incident quiet. (Picciano, who had also taken 99 exemptions on his tax returns but avoided prosecution when many other correction department employees were penalized for similar conduct, was working at Giuliani Partners when the stories about him ran.)
A federal judge ordered Kerik in 2004 to help repay $142,733 that was embezzled from a correction-department charity that Kerik chaired. Fred Patrick, the treasurer of the foundation, which received a million dollars in department revenue diverted by Kerik, pleaded guilty to looting it to cover the cost of the kinky collect-call phone conversations he was having with jail inmates. Kerik was required to jointly repay the money because he appointed Patrick to the post and was supposed to oversee the finances of the nonprofit. William Fraser, who was Kerik’s top deputy at the correction department and was elevated at Kerik’s behest, resigned in the early years of the Bloomberg administration when it was revealed that department workers had renovated the pool at his home. Kerik was also a defendant in a lawsuit accusing him of retaliating against a correction official who disciplined a female prison guard with whom Kerik was having an affair, and was scheduled to testify in a deposition around the time of his nomination.
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.
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.