Rudy Giuliani is trying to keep his distance from Bernard Kerik, the former New York City mayor's police commissioner who could be facing new federal charges in a case built on a secret meeting of city officials eight years ago.
"Bernie was a mistake," the Republican presidential candidate told FOX News earlier this week when he admitted that he should not have recommended Kerik — whose closet later was found to have several skeletons in it — to be President Bush's homeland security secretary in 2004.
Kerik withdrew his nomination to replace Tom Ridge in December 2004 at the 180,000-employee department after revealing that he had just found out that his housekeeper/nanny was an illegal immigrant.
Several other accusations — both public and private — were made at the time, and a subsequent investigation led to Kerik's pleading guilty last year to two misdemeanor charges in connection with receiving payments from a company that also allegedly provided free renovations to Kerik's Bronx apartment.
"The mayor is the first one to admit that he made a mistake. His words speak for themselves," a Giuliani aide repeated to FOX News on Friday.
According to The New York Daily News, Kerik appears to be facing new federal charges, possibly including bribery, tax evasion and obstruction of justice. That's on top of tax-related charges that Kerik's lawyers are consulting with Justice Department officials about how to get reduced from criminal filings to civil fines. Last spring Kerik refused to take a plea deal in the case.
The Daily News reports that a grand jury is deposing witnesses on a 1999 meeting Kerik had with city officials investigating Interstate Industrial Corp., the company said to have performed the apartment renovations.
Raymond Casey, then Giuliani's head of the Trade Waste Commission, a city agency set up to keep the mob out of the carting industry, and Michael Caruso, former inspector general with the city Department of Investigation, supposedly are telling the grand jury that when Kerik was New York City's Correction Department commissioner, he tried to influence them in a probe of Interstate.
The investigation centered on whether Interstate, which wanted to run a waste transfer station in Staten Island, was tied to the Gambino crime family. Kerik's brother Donald and the best man at Kerik's wedding, Larry Ray, both were working for Interstate at the time.
"If I thought Interstate was mobbed up, do you think I'd let my brother work there?" Kerik allegedly told the investigators, said a source for the newspaper. Kerik also allegedly advised them to get their probe done quickly. Ultimately, Interstate was not recommended for the license.
With Kerik now in the doghouse, Giuliani's presidential ambitions could be weighed down by opponents seeking to tie the former friends together. Speaking at an editorial board meeting with FOX News earlier this week, Giuliani said his error in recommending Kerik to be homeland security secretary should not reflect his overall judgment.
"I've made a lot of right decisions in selecting people, and the end result is having had a considerable amount of success as mayor of New York City, having a considerable amount of success as U.S. attorney, in business. That doesn't mean I haven't made some mistakes. And Bernie was a mistake. I should have checked him out more carefully than I did," Giuliani said.
"On the other hand, Bernie Kerik was an outstanding police commissioner. Wasn't just a good police commissioner, was an outstanding police commissioner. He was an outstanding corrections commissioner. He got results that were enormously impressive," Giuliani added.
Giuliani said while Kerik "was a person of tremendous achievement," he "had some things in his background that we should have done a better job of figuring out and finding in our investigatory process, and we didn't."
"Maybe his remarkable success might have also had something to do with the fact that we didn't see the rest of this. You didn't go look for the rest of it; maybe you should have looked at it more carefully.
"If you have a guy that's struggling along, or you have a guy that isn't meeting his goals, if you have a guy or a woman who isn't achieving what they're supposed to achieve, maybe you take a better look at these things. But when somebody is outperforming every single expectation, you sort of go with them," Giuliani said.
He added that Kerik wasn't nominated solely upon Giuliani's recommendation. He had credentials from serving as an anti-terrorism adviser in Saudi Arabia and Iraq before joining Giuliani's business.
"He had my strong support, so I'm not trying to in any way get off the hook for it. It's my responsibility and I announced it at the time, and I told the president that, that I take full responsibility for it. But he also had developed, like, his own base of support for that job."