Friday, April 01, 2005

Kerik's Confessions

The New York Magazine managed to swing an interview with Bernie Kerik, and the resulting profile is sympathetic, but goes over the details of the scandal point by point. The article features big quotes from Kerik, which give you a sense of the guy's voice and personality. About the moment the problem with the nanny surfaced, Kerik says:
“Then somebody walked in,” Kerik says. “I don’t remember who. In fact I don’t remember much about that moment other than hearing these words: ‘We have a problem with the domestic. It appears the Social Security number is registered to somebody else.’ Suddenly I could hear my heart pounding in my head,” Kerik says, “and I wanted to take the fucking gun off the desk and shoot him.

“I said, ‘Somebody get Rudy. I gotta talk to Rudy.’”

Noir! I'm astonished 1) that Kerik works with a gun on his desk and 2) that he would admit to a journalist such a raw emotion. Kerik speaks pretty frankly in this article, which might indicate that he feels he has little to lose on the political front. He is, however, looking to mend some parts of his reputation: he spends quite a bit of time refuting the mafia connection story. His explanation seems decent to me, elevating his connection out of the illegal to the unsavory and stupid. And of course he isn't entirely candid all the time, despite his profanity:
“I dropped out for what I thought was the right reason,” he says. “I didn’t want it to be a huge distraction for the president. But, shit,” he says disgustedly, “I would not have dropped out over this other stuff, all of which is either untrue, exaggerated, taken out of context, or has an explanation.”

That last sentence sounds a bit massaged, don't you think?

The burning question so many people have had--why the hell did Kerik go ahead with the nomination process if he had so many skeletons in his closet?--gets a partial answer in two moments in the article.

In describing the nomination, Kerik says that after initially rejecting the offer, then reconsidering after a second personal call from the President's headhunter Dina Powell, he walked into a meeting with the President and was offered the job. Kerik says:
“He used an expression I’d never heard before,” Kerik says. “He told me he wanted someone to go in there and ‘break some china. [...]“There were no policy questions,” Kerik says. “His mind was obviously made up before I walked in.”

Moving right along without comment, the next moment when Kerik addresses this, we public's burning question, is contained in a throwaway line that the New York Magazine reporter (Craig Horowitz) probably could have made more of:
The one thing Kerik says he didn’t discuss with the White House is what he calls the “gossipy stuff,” his affairs with Jeanette Pinero, a Corrections officer, and with book publisher Judith Regan.

Later in the article, the reporter does mention that "people close to Regan" suggest that Regan herself was responsible for a lot of the nastier stories floating around about Kerik. (A recent profile of Judith Regan in--maybe--Vanity Fair makes her sound terrifying.)

What is fascinating about this line of Kerik's is his naive assumption that "gossipy stuff" wouldn't sink him on a national political stage (where was he in the 90s?), and, perhaps more importantly, that the White House didn't pressure him to disclose this sort of stuff. From everything I've heard about security clearances for CIA or State Department posts, romantic liaisons of any sort are cause for investigation and interrogation. And cabinet appointments, while usually rubberstamped, are often treated by the media with the same sanctimoniousness that senators and presidential candidates get. The politics of personal destruction is the phrase, and while I tend to think that this White House is trying really hard to move away from that political environment (often by fiat and obfuscation), the Republicans built a scandal-machine to bring Clinton down that hasn't stopped running.

Rudy Guiliani, of course, features prominently, with Kerik denying that it was by Guiliani's influence that he was considered (although he admits that Guiliani may have had some role), with Kerik talking about Guiliani as helping him through the political process (hence the "I gotta talk to Rudy" moment above), with Kerik talking about his plans to set up a private security company that would basically take the cases that Guiliani's firm considered beneath them. But for me, the most intriguing part of Kerik's reflections on his friendship with Guiliani was here:
Both Kerik and Giuliani claim to have seen The Godfather more than 50 times, and the movie provides a bizarre code of behavior for them (as it does for gangsters) in much the same way that The Art of War serves as some weird manual for ambitious corporate climbers. But even in The Godfather, loyalty has its limits.

I grabbed the stuff around the statistic because the idea of business execs' studying The Art of War is so terrifying and because it's true that Guiliani, like Michael Corleone, eventually cut some subordinates loose. The fact remains, though, that two men who have been widely bandied about as up-and-coming politicians on the federal level are fanatical followers of The Godfather. I like The Godfather; I've probably seen movies from the trilogy about 10 times. Maybe Kerik and Guiliani justified some of their viewings as research for their famous investigations into the mafia. But Kerik's statements about his personal loyalty to both Guiliani and Bush make the Godfather's code seems rather more personal. His comment on why his application was prioritized is telling:
Though the rumor has long been that Giuliani engineered Kerik’s Cabinet nomination, Kerik says it’s not true. “Rudy did make a call, but I don’t think it was necessary. I’d gone to Iraq for President Bush, I campaigned all across the country for him, and I was given a key speaking role in prime time at the Republican convention.”

In the (admittedly unfair) mafia analogy, Guiliani becomes the capo, with Bush the godfather; Kerik was working directly for the man, proving his personal loyalty, and while Guiliani, as the immediate supervisor, made a recommendation, Kerik had more than proved his devotion to the top guy.

My absolute favorite part of the article, though, is rather removed from politics, at least sorta. Kerik had had a mostly acquaintance-type relationship with Richard "Dick" Grasso, who recently came under intense media scrutiny for his exorbitant salary as (former) head of the NY Stock Exchange. But when the scandal-machine started up, Grasso contacted Kerik and gave him a crash course on surviving media scrutiny:
He told him to stop reading the papers and stop watching TV, and not even let any friends or family recount what they read or saw.

Grasso also helped Kerik to escape the media scrutiny by directing him to a country estate, where Kerik stayed, in isolation (with $3,000-worth of Grasso-provided food) for three days. I'm not quite sure why this part of the article resonates so strongly with me. I always like to see people coming together under adverse circumstances, of course, but I was appalled by the Grasso payout, and Kerik's various sins were also worthy of exposition--and, yes, there were also very entertaining. Still, I think that destroying people has become easier. I can understood the motives for launching such attacks at this time, and I understand the political history of such attacks. It remains interesting to me, however, that one target of attack should reach out to another target of a rather different attack. Yes, they're on similar sides; neither are reaching out to, say, Joseph Massad of Columbia University. But there is developing a common consensus and feeling about how to respond legally, politically, and emotionally to public attacks on one's personal life. This is interesting.

[This initial link via No More Mister Nice Blog.]


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