Former New York City police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik withdrew as President Bush's nominee for secretary of homeland security last night, saying he had not paid taxes for a domestic worker who may have been an illegal immigrant.
The White House made the announcement in a two-sentence e-mail at 10 p.m. but did not give any cause beyond saying that Kerik "is withdrawing his name for personal reasons."
Kerik, 49, elaborated in a written statement, saying that in filling out forms required for Senate confirmation he "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."
"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," he wrote.
"Nanny problems" have sunk several high-profile nominations in recent years. In 2001, Linda Chavez withdrew as Bush's first nominee for labor secretary after it was learned she had housed an illegal immigrant. The departures of Chavez, and now Kerik, recalled the nomination of Zoe Baird to be President Bill Clinton's attorney general. Baird withdrew after it became known that she had employed an illegal immigrant couple and failed to pay Social Security taxes.
Republican officials said the White House counsel's office had asked Kerik about the matter repeatedly in investigating his background before the nomination was announced last week. A Republican source said some White House officials found it highly suspicious that Kerik was not aware of a potential problem with a nanny who left the country very recently. Employers can face fines and other sanctions for hiring any of the 8 million to 10 million illegal immigrants who are estimated to live in this country, and it is also illegal not to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for domestic employees.
Because of the past incidents, nanny issues are among the first that administration officials explore, and among the ones they probe most aggressively. Administration officials said such concerns have sunk other potential nominees that Bush has considered over the years in addition to Chavez.
Even before the nanny issue arose, Democrats had targeted Kerik as the most vulnerable of Bush's second-term nominations. White House officials realized he was becoming a lightning rod, although they had thought he would survive.
Democrats were focusing on the quick riches Kerik had accumulated since resigning in 2002 as police commissioner, a post he held during the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Since leaving his city office, he had received $6.2 million by exercising stock options he received as a consultant and director for Taser International, a maker of stun guns that did business with the Department of Homeland Security.
Democrats had raised numerous questions about Kerik's records and qualifications, including his role in training Iraqi police as interim minister of interior and senior policy adviser for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
Kerik was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1984 after a power struggle with the head of a hospital complex where he helped command the security staff. Kerik was using surveillance and other techniques to investigate employees' private lives, which he said was necessary because of Saudi laws prohibiting drinking and mingling of the sexes in public.
With Kerik at his side, Bush said in announcing the nomination at the White House on Dec. 3 that his pick was "one of the most accomplished and effective leaders of law enforcement in America."
In his statement last night, Kerik said he had "initiated efforts to fulfill any outstanding reporting requirements and tax obligations related to this issue" but said he realized that disclosure of the issue would generate "intense scrutiny" that would distract from the missions of the Department of Homeland Security. Among them is enforcement of the nation's immigration laws.
The disclosure disrupts the swift and orderly schedule Bush had tried to impose for replacing nine of his 15 Cabinet secretaries after winning reelection last month.