Ellis Henican: 'Kerik nomination is a ticking time bomb'
Friday, December 03 @ 10:28:03 EST
By Ellis Henican, Newsday
Campaign bodyguard to Rudy Giuliani.
Errand boy for the Saudi royal family.
Energetic exploiter of Sept. 11th tragedy.
Tough-talking publicity-hound vowing to bring law and order to Iraq - then hightailing it out of there after a disastrous 14 weeks, leaving the place far less safe than he found it.
Oh, the bullet points on Bernie Kerik's real-life resume just go on and on. But is this really the guy we want standing between us and the terrorists?
George W. Bush apparently thinks so.
White House sources were saying last night that Kerik, the scandal-scarred former commissioner of the New York Correction and Police departments, will be named today to take Tom Ridge's job as head of homeland security.
For now, let's give the Bush folks the benefit of the doubt: Maybe they've been wowed by Kerik's shameless swing-state Kerry-bashing in Bush's behalf. ("I fear another attack, and I fear that attack with ... Senator Kerry being in office responding to it.")
Maybe they've been bullied by Giuliani's bulldog lobbying for a loyal business buddy and after-hours pal. ("OK, Karl," you can almost hear Rudy say, "I won't be attorney general, but you gotta take Bernie at homeland security!")
Or maybe it's just that the FBI background check isn't back from the field.
Whatever the reason, the White House personnel office really ought to ask some probing questions around New York. You can bet they'll get an earful of heads-up about this hard-charging, thick-necked, shaved-head lightweight.
Let this be a warning from someone who's followed the man's ladder-climbing career: He's a personal and professional time bomb the Bushies will learn to regret. Don't say I didn't warn you, guys!
That's certainly the message that smart law-enforcement professionals in New York were exchanging yesterday, as they shook their heads in disbelief at Kerik's latest career goal.
"He couldn't run the Rikers commissary without getting greedy and making a mess, in a jam," one correction veteran said. "Now he's gonna be in charge of the Department of Homeland Security? Let's just hope the terrorists don't decide to come back."
This former subordinate was referring to just one of many petty scandals that have hung over Kerik's career. When he ran Correction, nearly $1 million of tobacco-company rebates were diverted into an obscure foundation Kerik was president of. This was for cigarettes bought with taxpayer money and then sold at inflated prices to jail inmates. But this rebate money - would kickbacks be a better word? - got spent entirely outside the normal rules for public funds.
No one was criminally charged. But a whole rash of IRS rules were seemingly violated. One board member quit in protest when the foundation treasurer refused to provide him with financial reports. And no one has ever explained where all the money went.
It was a typical Kerik deal. He behaved from start to finish like normal rules didn't apply to him.
It isn't possible in so little space to give an adequate tour of the man's rise from Jersey high-school dropout to prospective anti-terror boss.
As a public service, however, let me suggest a few ripe areas of personal inquiry that someone in Washington might like to pursue.
Along the way, don't lose sight of this: The homeland security chief stands between Osama bin Laden and our good-night sleep.
Why did he pull out of Iraq so suddenly? Does he think he did a pretty good job teaching the Baghdad police how to keep order and how to behave in "a free and democratic society," to use his words at the time?
Was Sept. 11th Commission member John Lehman on to something when he called Kerik's leadership after the terror attack "scandalous" and "not worthy of the Boy Scouts."
What exactly does he do at Giuliani Partners? How's that anti-crime campaign in Mexico City going? What companies and foreign governments are on his client list?
Why did Kerik send a New York City homicide detective to rouse TV hair and makeup artists in the middle of the night when his book publisher (and workout-partner) lost her cell phone?
What new job does he have in mind for John Picciano, his perennial chief of staff? Could Picciano really pass a federal background check? What about the complaint (later dropped) that he'd beaten up his correction-officer girlfriend and waved his gun around?
There are answers for all of it, I am sure. Answers to these few questions and many racier ones.
Over the weeks to come, Kerik will have a chance to answer all of them.
I, for one, am waiting.
So are a lot of people who've gotten to know the man in New York.
Reprinted from Newsday: