WASHINGTON -- Bernard Kerik, the miracle cop who was abandoned by his mother as a baby but rose to become New York police commissioner, suddenly withdrew his nomination as secretary of Homeland Security Friday night, saying he had employed a nanny who may have been in the country illegally.
"In the course of completing documents required for Senate confirmation, I uncovered information that now leads me to question the immigration status of a person who had been in my employ as a housekeeper and nanny," Kerik said in a statement.
"It has also been brought to my attention that for a period of time during such employment, required tax payments and related filings had not been made."
But there were numerous other controversies raging about Kerik in the week since he proudly stood with his family at the White House as the president announced his nomination. Stories in Newsday and elsewhere raised ethical questions about his service at the NYPD and the city Department of Correction, as well as his time as a security adviser to a Saudi hospital.
In an appearance on MSNBC Friday night, Kerik's attorney, Joe Tacopina, said recent reports about Kerik's background were inaccurate and unfair.
"To see the level of personal attacks that were so far removed from his qualifications, it's a little disturbing," Tacopina said.
Newsday was asking the White House questions about Kerik's employment by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's consulting firm and Kerik's service as a top official in Iraq when the nomination was withdrawn.
The dramatic reversal for Bush was the one sour note in an otherwise bland transition to his second term. All of his other nominations for cabinet posts seem likely to be approved, and indeed Kerik had not yet engendered opposition in the Senate.
Kerik phoned the president at 8:30 p.m. Friday to inform him of his withdrawal, according to White House assistant press secretary Pamela Stevens.
"It is with deep regret that I inform you that I cannot continue forward in the confirmation process for the position of secretary of the Department of Homeland Security," Kerik said in a letter to the president.
"While I will always consider your confidence in me to be 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 ... I personally apologize to you for not having focused on this earlier."
In New York Friday, outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge had defended Kerik from criticism in a New York Times story about his work for Taser International, which makes a stun gun used by police.
Ridge had said if there was a problem with Kerik's relationship with the company, it would be resolved before Kerik was confirmed.
"He will have to go through the same rigorous process filling out disclosure forms that everybody who seeks to serve their country is required to fill out," Ridge said at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "I firmly believe if there is a conflict of interest standing between my successor and his ability to serve this country, he will do his best to resolve it."
Since 2002, Kerik has served as a pitch man and board member for the Arizona-based manufacturer of stun guns. He earned millions of dollars in stock options while promoting the company's products to law enforcement officials, including Homeland Security.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said the news of Kerik's decision was disheartening.
"I'm very disappointed. Bernie would have been a great Homeland Security secretary and great for New York," said King, who earlier Friday night had defended Kerik's nomination on CNN.
King, along with New York's Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, had endorsed Kerik's nomination, saying it could yield more Homeland Security funding for the state. Kerik also garnered support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and was expected to be fairly easily nominated.
Staff writers Deborah S. Morris, Deborah Barfield Berry and Tom Brune contributed to this story.
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