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Inside Politics

Homeland security nominee withdraws

Former NYC police commissioner cites employee problem


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Bernard Kerik speaks to reporters Saturday about his decision.
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Recent homeland security chief nominee Bernard Kerik drops out
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Department of Homeland Security

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One week after President Bush nominated him to be secretary of homeland security, former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik withdrew from consideration Friday night after discovering a former household employee had a questionable immigration status.

Kerik said in a news release the immigration problem with the former housekeeper and nanny was discovered while he was completing documents required for his Senate confirmation.

He said he also learned "that for a period of time during such employment, required tax payments and related filings had not been made."

In a letter to Bush, Kerik said that while serving in the Cabinet post would have been "the honor of a lifetime, I am convinced that, for personal reasons, moving forward would not be in the best interests of your administration, the Department of Homeland Security or the American people.

"Under the present circumstances ... I cannot permit matters personal to me to distract from the focus and progress of the Department of Homeland Security and its crucial endeavors." (Text of letter)

Kerik informed Bush of his decision in a phone call about 8:30 p.m.

The White House later issued a statement saying the president "respects his decision and wishes Commissioner Kerik and his wife, Hala, well."

Kerik, 49, led the New York City Police Department through the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and their aftermath. (Profile)

He is a senior vice president of Giuliani Partners, the consulting firm founded by Rudy Giuliani, who as mayor of New York appointed him police commissioner in 2000.

Bush announced his nomination of Kerik on December 3, saying his "broad practical hands-on experience makes [him] superbly qualified to lead the Department of Homeland Security." (Full story)

In 2003, Kerik went to Iraq at Bush's request to help train the new Iraqi police force and campaigned for Bush's re-election, making a speech at the Republican National Convention in August.

An administration official said that on at least two occasions Giuliani made a personal pitch to the White House that Kerik be named to succeed Tom Ridge, 59, who announced his resignation November 30. (Full story)

Ridge said he will remain in the post until February 1 unless a successor is confirmed sooner.

Earlier Friday, White House officials downplayed the possible impact on Kerik's nomination of questions about possible conflicts of interests.

Those included more than $6 million in stock options he collected as a board member of from Taser International, which supplies stun guns to law enforcement agencies.

As part of the confirmation process, Kerik planned to sever his ties with Taser International and Giuliani Partners, White House spokesman Brian Besanceney said.

Past immigration problems

The immigration status of household help employed by prospective high-level government officials has been an issue for the past decade, starting with Zoe Baird, President Bill Clinton's first pick for attorney general.

Baird was forced to withdraw in 1993 after admitting she employed two undocumented workers and did not pay required employee taxes for them.

Clinton's second nominee for the same post, Kimba Wood, withdrew when similar nanny problems came to light.

Bush's first nominee for labor secretary in 2001, Linda Chavez, withdrew her nomination after disclosing that an illegal immigrant had lived in her house in the 1990s and performed household chores.

Chavez maintained, however, that the woman was a friend she was trying to help and not a paid employee.

The Department of Homeland Security was created in January 2003 as 22 government agencies were blended into the new department with 180,000 personnel.

Ridge has been the only chief of the department, which oversees border security and immigration. It also responds to natural disasters and screening airline passengers.

The department was charged with developing and coordinating a national strategy to protect against terrorist threats.

CNN's Dana Bash and Elaine Quijano contributed to this report.


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