- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

Bernard Kerik told President Bush yesterday he was sorry, saying the questionable tax filings and nanny that prompted him to withdraw as the nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security were “my mistake,” not the White House’s.

Mr. Bush has yet to name another nominee to replace outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, although numerous candidates were mentioned in congressional circles and news reports yesterday.

A White House spokeswoman said the administration “certainly will work to name somebody as quickly as possible.”

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said two “terrific choices” would be Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, or Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson.

Several other potential candidates include Republican Thomas H. Kean, September 11 commission chairman and former New Jersey governor; Frances Fargos Townsend, White House domestic security adviser; and Joe Allbaugh, former Federal Emergency Management Agency director.

Other Bush administration favorites, such as former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, were on a short list when the president named Mr. Kerik last week. But congressional aides and others said Mr. Kerik’s sudden withdrawal Friday night came as such a surprise that the field remained wide open yesterday.

Law enforcement authorities have said Mr. Hutchinson, a former congressman from Arkansas, was disappointed that he was not chosen the first time around.

“There are many strong potential candidates,” said Mrs. Collins, who cited Mr. Lieberman as a good choice for the Cabinet-level post, regardless of his status as one of the Senate’s top Democrats.

She added that she is confident Mr. Bush “will move swiftly,” and that her committee will review the choice “as soon as possible to move this individual through the confirmation process in the Senate.”

Mr. Ridge, 59, who was the first to lead the massive Department of Homeland Security created after the September 11 terrorist attacks, has said he will stay on until a successor is chosen.

With a budget of $40.2 billion, the department has a multitude of responsibilities, including terror investigations, U.S. border protection and enforcement of immigration laws.

Mr. Kerik, a tough-talking former New York City police commissioner, told reporters gathered outside his home yesterday that withdrawing his name “was the right thing to do.”

“Late Wednesday evening, I became aware of what I thought may be a problem in some tax filings on a housekeeper, a nanny, that I had working for us in my home, with my children,” he said.

“In addition to some of the tax issues that I thought I may have, there may have been a question with regard to her legal status in this country,” Mr. Kerik said.

“This was my responsibility,” he said. “It was my mistake.”

Mr. Giuliani, who employs Mr. Kerik at the Giuliani Partners consulting firm and personally recommended him for the homeland security job, said the illegal nanny issue could have posed problems during confirmation hearings.

As head of Homeland Security, he is “going to run the immigration service,” Mr. Giuliani said, adding that although he has “great confidence” in Mr. Kerik, the oversight was “a mistake you can’t deal with in a process like this.”

Similar so-called “nanny problems” led to the withdrawal of three Cabinet nominations during the Clinton administration.

Although Mr. Kerik’s comments and withdrawal letter to the White House cited the nanny problem as the central reason for his pullout, he has faced scrutiny in the past week over a host of other matters that could have erupted into scandals during the confirmation process.

Mr. Kerik, 49, who was nationally known when he led the New York City Police Department through the September 11 attacks, reportedly became an administration favorite after heading to Iraq to train police officers, despite leaving the post four months into a six-month contract.

But it was his financial dealings with an Arizona-based manufacturer of stun guns that made headlines last week. Democrats raised questions about Mr. Kerik’s involvement with Taser International when it was learned he earned $6.2 million by exercising stock options from the company, which did business with the Department of Homeland Security.

Six years ago, Mr. Kerik was involved in a civil dispute after he failed to pay maintenance fees on a New Jersey condominium he owned, according to a report in Newsweek, which reported that at one point, an arrest warrant was issued.

Mr. Kerik yesterday denied a warrant was ever issued, but said he was ordered to appear in court at a foreclosure hearing, although the matter was settled and the foreclosure never took place.

Other issues have drawn attention to his background as something of an international man of mystery. In 1984, he was ejected from Saudi Arabia after an apparent scandal at a hospital where he oversaw security investigations.

During the 1970s, he fathered a daughter with a South Korean woman while serving as a U.S. military policeman. The daughter was left behind when he returned to the United States in 1976.

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