Burned by Bernie

From Holden:

The NYTimes won’t come right out and say that Little Scottie or Rudy G. are liars…

In June 2000, two months before Bernard B. Kerik was appointed police commissioner, New York City’s top investigative agency learned that he had a social relationship with the owner of a New Jersey construction company suspected of having business ties to organized crime figures, city documents show.

The city’s Department of Investigation took two days of testimony from Frank DiTommaso, the owner of the company, Interstate Industrial Corporation. It also formally interviewed Mr. Kerik himself. Though it is not clear what he told the investigators, there is no indication that Mr. Kerik did anything illegal or improper.

A spokesman for the Department of Investigation declined to comment yesterday when asked whether any of the information concerning Mr. Kerik and Interstate Industrial had been shared at the time with any other city officials.

But Rudolph W. Giuliani said in an interview yesterday that none of those facts were brought to his attention in August 2000 when, as mayor, he appointed Mr. Kerik as New York’s top police official. And there was no indication that the White House was aware of the findings before it nominated Mr. Kerik to take over the Department of Homeland Security on Dec. 3, a nomination that has now been withdrawn.


The White House said yesterday that its check into Mr. Kerik’s past had actually been more extensive than officials had indicated earlier. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said that the review had gone on for weeks before Mr. Bush nominated Mr. Kerik. On Sunday, a senior administration official said the review had taken only a week.

There were also indications that Mr. Kerik may have been under consideration for the job of homeland security secretary as early as the summer. A former city official said Mr. Kerik went to Washington twice in August to meet with White House officials about his views on domestic security. One of the officials was Frances Townsend, who is President Bush’s domestic security adviser and a longtime friend of Mr. Giuliani’s.

But comparing yesterday’s gaggle with the excerpts above one realizes that, at the very least, Scottie is hedging a bit.

Q Does the President, or do others think that Commissioner Kerik took the process of vetting his background too lightly?

MR. McCLELLAN: David, I think Commissioner Kerik has addressed this matter. Our focus now is on moving forward to name a new nominee as quickly as possible. That’s where the President is focused right now. We have a thorough vetting process in place. It’s a process that looks closely at a candidate’s professional, personal and financial background. And based on our solid record on nominations, we remain confident in that process.

Q Does the White House feel like it made any mistakes here at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: David, when you go through the vetting process you do a lot of independent research yourself. You also look to the candidate to provide you with the information you need to complete that vetting process. But we are moving forward now to name a new nominee. I would point out that this vetting process is something that continues once the intention to nominate is made. And it was through this vetting process that this issue came to the attention of Commissioner Kerik, and he brought it to our attention and he indicated that he should have brought it to our attention sooner.


Q Forgive me if this has been asked, but Tom Ridge told the President or had discussions with the President last summer that he was probably going to leave. So can you explain why the — Kerik’s nomination happened so — it took so long? I mean, you had a long process here for — to be working on a replacement.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I just indicated to you that we did go through a thorough vetting process, as we do with all nominees.

Q You said it would be weeks. Can you be more specific?

MR. McCLELLAN: I did indicate that. No, I’m not going to, because I want to be respectful of individuals involved in the process. I want to be respectful of the process. And I don’t think from this podium it’s helpful to get into all the specifics of that vetting process. But I can tell you broadly that we go through a pretty detailed questioning period with nominees; we do a lot of independent research and we look through all the public records, as well.

Q When did it begin? Can you give just a rough date, what month you began looking?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I indicated, I will leave it where I did, that it was weeks, not days. And I’ll leave it there. But Secretary Ridge did not submit his letter of resignation until more recently, and the offer was not made to Commissioner Kerik until just recently.