washingtonpost.com  > Columns > Tina Brown

Giuliani's Warped Reflection

By Tina Brown
Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page C01

It turns out that all that Capitol Hill huffing and puffing for three weeks about how our mighty intelligence agencies should share information was irrelevant. They have no information to share, whether it's about Iran, Iraq -- or Bernie Kerik.

For New Yorkers the Kerik saga is a nice moment of one-upmanship at Washington's expense. To know that the former police commissioner and current partner in Rudy Giuliani's post-9/11 money machine was a disaster waiting to happen, you didn't need the bureaucratic talents of an army of FBI agents and White House lawyers. All you needed was to be a reader of the New York Post's Page Six. Over the years, Bernie has garnered more blind items than Paris Hilton. No one in this town believed for more than 10 minutes that Berniegate was just another nannygate.

What Giuliani and Bush didn't know about Bernard Kerik could end up hurting them. (Kevin Lamarque -- Reuters)

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The New York tabloids are better informed than the FBI and the CIA put together, but they're even less likely to share what they know -- in this case, for political reasons. The Post's contortions have been something to behold. If this had been a Democratic nomination fiasco, Rupert Murdoch's relentlessly Republican scandal sheet would have served it up grand. Instead the paper had to regurgitate the Kerik and Giuliani spin while simultaneously painting the administration as heroes of rigor for surfacing Bernie's "background issues" -- not an easy feat of juggling. Free of such inhibitions, Mort Zuckerman's New York Daily News has been whipping the Post's Aussie butt with a barrage of front-page screamers on love nests, financial finaglings, arrest warrants and more. One of the downsides of Bernie's booting the Homeland Security job is the media jollity we'd have been treated to when he first got caught taking a girlfriend out for a joyride on a Coast Guard cutter.

The problem for Kerik was that he could never rise above being Rudy's mini-me. The more Rudy channeled Churchill, the more Bernie channeled Tony Soprano.

Take his bizarre choice of lawyer: not Robert Fiske nor Lloyd Cutler nor some other well-oiled fixer in the corridors of power but none other than his old crony Joe Tacopina, a wiseguy defense attorney whose client list includes Peter Gotti's bagman Jerome Brancato. ("You wanna have a public fight? You wanna fight the whole defense team?" Tacopina yelled at another lawyer in a courtroom dispute during the Gotti-Brancato racketeering trial last year -- not exactly an Edward Bennett Williams moment.)

Who knows, maybe Bernie would have given the torpid Homeland Security behemoth a needed shot of testosterone. But Rudy Giuliani's protege and onetime driver zoomed up so fast he didn't realize that his rocket didn't have a third stage. Back at Mission Control, Rudy should have known the thing wouldn't fly.

That's why the real satisfaction of the flameout lies not in Kerik's fall but Rudy's chagrin. America's Mayor having to eat a little crow after three years of galloping hagiography is a classic case of karma coming due.

The city has become just a tad cranky about Rudy's naked branding of 9/11 for his own political and pecuniary ends. Increasingly, his speeches seem to turn New York's saddest day into shtick to dramatize his own heroism. It's been hard for some to feel the same about him since hearing him sell an invidious merging of al Qaeda with the war in Iraq right at the top of his Republican convention speech.

Add to that a growing uneasiness in many quarters about the gravy train of Giuliani Partners. Nobody minds Rudy making a comfortable living after courageously leading the city through its darkest hour, but there is something increasingly over-the-top about the way he's raking it in. It's disconcerting to see the man who so feelingly attended more than 200 funerals of dead heroes score 15 million bucks from Nextel's emergency communications system when during all his years in office the NYFD never replaced the faulty radios that failed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Judith Giuliani tempted fate last year with her appearance reclining on a loveseat in a scarlet Carolina Herrera ball gown and talking about her monogrammed silver napkin rings in a cover story for Manhattan's glossy giveaway Avenue magazine.

It seems that Rudy now considers himself so untouchable he saw no reason why he shouldn't get his protege rubber-stamped for the Cabinet, however preposterous the back-story. Why not? The Mayor of America was able to appear before the 9/11 commission and be treated with obeisance even though the staff report had been critical of the city's preparedness.

Perhaps Berniegate will prove the crossroads for Rudy, the moment when he sees he has to choose between his pursuit of political prestige and his pursuit of prodigious pelf. As Clark Clifford discovered, those two goals sometimes have a way of colliding.

At the very least, Rudy is getting a salutary taste of what might be in store for him if he runs in 2008.

©2004, Tina Brown

© 2004 The Washington Post Company