Kerik-Gate Deepens

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As more questions emerge about the man President Bush chose to head the Homeland Security Department, there's also growing concern about the process the administration is using to vet its nominees for high-level positions.

On Sunday, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani offered apologies for the scuttled nomination of close associate Bernard Kerik, Giuliani's onetime police commissioner and more recently a business associate.

Giuliani spokeswoman Sunny Mindel said in New York that the apology came at a White House dinner that had been planned several weeks ago. "The president was very gracious," she said. "They remain good friends."

Kerik withdrew his name from consideration for the Homeland Security post on Friday, citing his failure to pay all required taxes for a family nanny who may have been in the country illegally.

But other troubling incidents from Kerik's past have surfaced, suggesting that his decision may have involved more than just unpaid taxes.

The New York Daily News cited questions about thousands of dollars in cash and gifts the paper says Kerik didn't disclose when he was New York City Police and Corrections commissioner.

Newsweek revealed it faxed the White House with questions about an arrest warrant issued in a 1998 lawsuit relating to Kerik's New Jersey condo.

And the day before the nomination unraveled, New York Newsday reported Kerik was forced to testify in a lawsuit relating to an affair he allegedly had with a subordinate while he was Corrections commissioner.

Democrats also focused on potential conflict of interest issues because of Kerik's recent $6.2 million windfall from exercising stock options in a stun gun company that does business with the federal department.

As controversy escalates around the ex-nominee, so does concern about how thoroughly the Bush administration has been checking out its nominees.

"There were just a lot of red flags on his candidacy that should have alerted the White House that he was going to be trouble," Newsweek's Evan Thomas told CBS News' The Early Show.

The White House defended itself against charges it had been sloppy with the Kerik nomination.

"There's a standard vetting process that we go through with all nominees and certainly we did that" with Kerik, White House spokesman Clare Buchan said. She said it was solely Kerik's decision to withdraw late Friday.

Kerik's sudden withdrawal took the White House very much by surprise and U.S. officials are privately saying he embarrassed both himself and the president, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante.

"I owe the president ... a great apology that this may have caused him and his administration a big distraction," Kerik said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Saturday.

Speculation quickly turned to possible replacements for the nomination.

Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who heads the Senate committee that will take up the nomination, said two "terrific choices" would be Asa Hutchinson, the department's undersecretary for border and transportation security, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.

Among the names that had been circulating for the post before Kerik's selection on Dec. 3 were Joe Allbaugh, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; Mike Leavitt, former Utah governor and now head of the Environmental Protection Agency; and White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend.

But it was still possible that the White House would break the search wide open again rather than return to the previous stable of top contenders, said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We will certainly work to name someone as quickly as possible," said Buchan.