Sunday, December 12, 2004

Some members of Congress yesterday blamed the White House vetting process for failing to reveal that Bernard Kerik, former nominee for homeland security secretary, once employed an illegal alien.

One lawmaker, however, suggested the former New York police commissioner misled the administration.

The White House asked all the right questions before choosing Mr. Kerik as the nominee, said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee with oversight of the Homeland Security Department.

“The White House vetting process is a thorough one, and I am positive that Mr. Kerik was asked about domestic employees, financial matters, legal disputes. And whether accidental or whether it was an intentional mistake, which I don’t think it was, he clearly was not as forthcoming as he should have been,” Miss Collins said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Asked Saturday whether Mr. Kerik could have been vetted more carefully, a White House spokeswoman said, “There’s a standard vetting process that we go through with all nominees. Certainly, we did that with Mr. Kerik.”

However, Sens. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, and Jon Corzine, New Jersey Democrat, blamed the White House process.

“I don’t know why he wasn’t better vetted,” Mr. Graham said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“Obviously, his resume is good. He has a lot of experience from 9/11. He’s been the top cop in New York. But these problems have surfaced. I don’t know why they weren’t known before.”

Mr. Corzine said it was “unfortunate” that the mistake cost Mr. Kerik the Cabinet post.

“There is a real vetting problem, that you can’t have the person in charge of immigration having problems with immigration or his employees, and that’s unfortunate,” Mr. Corzine said on Fox.

Mr. Kerik announced the withdrawal of his nomination late Friday after discovering that a woman who worked for him as a housekeeper and nanny was an illegal immigrant and that he had not paid her Social Security taxes.

The Homeland Security Department is responsible for enforcing immigration laws, and lawmakers called the revelation a deal breaker.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, said Mr. Kerik “did the right thing” in withdrawing his nomination.

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani called it an “embarrassment” but said the White House asked “the right questions” about domestic help.

Mr. Kerik “thought [the housekeeper] was legal, and he decided to check into it and he found out that could not be verified and she probably isn’t,” Mr. Giuliani said.

Mr. Kerik apologized to Mr. Bush for causing a “distraction” and said he owed “the president an enormous amount of gratitude for this consideration.”

Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat and ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said it is “important to move on” and recommended Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca, a Republican, for the post.

“It seems to me it might be a good idea to try to get someone from outside to come in who does resonate with first responders and does understand the critical issues that have not yet been addressed by the Homeland Security Department,” Mrs. Harman said on ABC.

• This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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