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A Bi-Partisan Pass

The "Vetting" of Bernard Kerik and the Culture of Corruption

by MICHAEL DONNELLY

I blew it. I recently wrote a CounterPunch piece on Hypocrisy and how it seems to have permeated every aspect of American life here in what Alexander Cockburn calls, "a very interesting time in the life of the Empire."

I noted the strange "Ethics Refresher Course" that some 3000 White House employees were recently put through. I noted that White House ethics layer Richard Painter was in charge of the curriculum. All good, so far.

But, I was dead wrong in also claiming that it was Painter who "vetted Bernard Kerik" to succeed Tom Ridge at the Cabinet-level top position in the Department of Homeland Security. In actuality, the Kerik fiasco came about before Painter took the job. After being tipped off to my error by an astute reader (and after kicking myself for getting it wrong), I asked CP co-editor Jeffery St. Clair to take down the article from the website (which he did) and informed him that I would like to do this correction. (If not, the irony of my own hypocrisy would be more than I could take.)

Who Done It?

Of course, I also went back over the issue and have tried mightily to find out just who DID vet Kerik. I honestly cannot figure it out. It wasn’t Painter’s predecessor Nanette Everson and it doesn’t seem to have been then-White House counsel and current Attorney General Roberto Gonzales.

I’ll continue to dig; but at this time, it appears to me that no one vetted Kerik. It seems that George W. Bush just took Rudolph (Rudy) Giuliani’s word on the former New York Police Commissioner and then-CEO of Giuliani-Kerik LLC and it went forward from there, complete with Bush’s usual gushing endorsement to the press: "I’m proud to announce my nomination of Commissioner Bernard Kerik as the Secretary of Homeland Security. In every position, he has demonstrated a deep commitment to justice, a heart for the innocent and a record of great success."

James Hamilton, who vetted nominees for Clinton when he was first elected, said about Kerik’s failed nomination; "In any good vet, tax matters, marital matters, business matters are explored in great detail." However, I can see how this could occur: "Hey, he’s a tough cop. He was indispensable on 9/11. He’s a loyal Republican"

Naturally, the Democrats were in collusion. Both of New York’s two Democratic senators, Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton issued statements praising Kerik after the nomination was announced. Even after it blew up, Schumer defended his Big Apple-centric position, "I thought the No. 1 issue was to be a fighter for New York. Period. That’s why I supported him."

Clinton bleated out her now customary excuse about being misled.


A Culture of Corruption

Of course, Kerik’s (and by extension, Giuliani’s) woes are far from over. Potential tax problems regarding his Mexican nanny were the justification for his withdrawal from the nomination for the Homeland Security position. But, as I noted, that was the least of his problems which include an outstanding arrest warrant at the time of nomination; charges of insider trading (in which he pocketed $6.2 million on his sale of Taser stock which he received for merely serving on the Taser board); extramarital shenanigans; violations of ethics rules covering gifts; etc.

Now, it has come out that Kerik has been accused by New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement of accepting over $200,000 in renovations from a contracting company with alleged mob ties. The contractor, Interstate Industrial Corporation also gave Kerik’s brother, Donald, an $85,000 per year job at the same time that Bernard Kerik was using his influence on behalf of Interstate. During the New Jersey agency’s investigation, Kerik took the Fifth eight times and refused to answer questions or to produce documents related to his ties with Interstate.

Both the Bronx district attorney and New York’s Department of Investigation are examining Kerik’s connections to the contractor. First item of business? Find out if Giuliani knew any of this, which took place when Kerik was Correction Commissioner in the 1990′s, at the time Giuliani appointed Kerik as Police Commissioner in 2000.

The Security "Watchdog"

As to Kerik these days; for the past six months he’s been serving as security consultant to the Jordanian government. Yep. The guy Giuliani praised as "one of the most capable law enforcement experts in the country" not only was New York’s top cop when 9/11 went down; it was also on his watch that the Jordanian capital Amman was bombed November 9, 2005.

With a Homeland Security "record of great success" like this, no wonder no one’s fingerprints show up on any ethics investigation into Bush’s proud nomination.

MICHAEL DONNELLY regrets having placed Richard Painter in the midst of this debacle and wishes Painter success in countering the "culture of corruption" that permeates DC. He will still — very carefully — record examples of Hypocrisy. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com