This column from The Nation was written by Robert Scheer.
How revealing that the nomination of Bernard Kerik as Homeland Security chief should be derailed not by the former New York City police commissioner's alleged violations of conflict-of-interest laws, mob connections and post-9/11 security industry profiteering but rather by his rueful admission that he paid no taxes for his "illegal immigrant" baby-sitter.
Since harassing, detaining and deporting productive and otherwise law-abiding immigrants without proper residency papers has been the main task of the Homeland Security Department, the tough law-and-order booster of President Bush at the Republican National Convention could have claimed his nanny connection as research. Instead of admitting that this "lovely woman," entrusted for years with the care of his children, was part of that essential but exploited mass of "illegal aliens" whose drudgery permits the powerful to shirk family responsibilities and strut unencumbered on a larger stage, Kerik could have claimed he was merely infiltrating the ranks of the enemy.
Of course, labor law violations are to Big Business what the nickel-a-swear-word jar is to adult visitors to Grandma's house -- no big deal. But woe to the political aspirant who doesn't remember the ghosts of Nannygates Past: The law is the law -- as Kerik's chief backer, ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, observed in reluctantly agreeing that Kerik had to withdraw -- or at least it is once the media find out it has been broken.
So Kerik tried to save a few bucks by hiring an undocumented worker and has paid a certain cost. However, by bowing out now, he may have saved himself a passel of future trouble. NYC's media have been raising issues about potentially far more consequential legal transgressions by Kerik, which Giuliani should have known about before recommending his protege for the national security post.
This rough-around-the-edges high school dropout's profligate ways led to personal bankruptcy and, ultimately, some very dubious dealings with shady characters. Yet "America's Mayor" liked what he saw in the undercover cop with six diamond studs in his ear -- a young blood whose wild style earned him the name "Mayhem Magnet" -- and plucked him out to be the Big Apple's top cop.
Once his act went national, however, cracks in Kerik's facade started to look a lot worse. One of the most detailed exposes stressing Kerik's alleged ties to New York mobsters ran in the New York Daily News on Sunday. Why didn't those in the administration who vetted Kerik for this job know any of this?
Giuliani told Time magazine after Kerik's withdrawal that although he knew there were black marks on Kerik's record, "everything seemed pretty normal, at least by Washington or New York standards." Talk about your moral relativism! Or family values. On Monday, the NY Daily News reported that Kerik had juggled two extramarital affairs while police commissioner.
Bottom line: A smart guy like Giuliani should have suspected something in 1998, when his wife and his deputy mayor attended Kerik's lavish wedding, which was dotted with mob-connected characters. This was two years before he appointed Kerik to head the New York City Police Department.
To be fair, it would be only later that the Daily News reported the wedding was paid for with money from folks with city contracts and mob connections, some of whom were later indicted. But anyone knowledgeable about Kerik should have known that he could not afford his sumptuous lifestyle, given his bankruptcy and, according to Newsweek magazine, a contempt citation for failing to pay a debt in a business dealing.
Kerik soon learned to play the game with the big boys, though. After gaining celebrity for his prominent role during 9/11, he shot through that infamous government/private sector revolving door into a key position working for Giuliani's firm. Kerik also lent his prestige to stun-gun manufacturer Taser International, which -- surprise! -- has a contract with Homeland Security.
Never mind, though, as Kerik cleared out his Taser stock options last month with a $6.2-million windfall, ready to be flipped by kingmaker Giuliani right back onto the taxpayer payroll. Giuliani, of course, was trading his own crucial support for Bush's campaign to give Giuliani Partners what would have been some Halliburton-grade access to the White House.
Why wouldn't Giuliani push his onetime chauffeur and now a senior vice president in his firm to be Homeland Security czar, overseeing twenty-two federal agencies with a combined budget of $37.7 billion? The war on terror is a mother lode to be mined by those who are connected. Come to think of it, Kerik shouldn't have been rejected by the Bushies. If they were honest, they would celebrate him as the prototypical GOP operator, playing the people for a profit.
Robert Scheer, a Nation contributing editor, is also a contributing editor and columnist for the Los Angeles Times and the author, with Christopher Scheer and Lakshmi Chaudhry, of "The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq."
By Robert Scheer
Reprinted with permission from The Nation