Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had made Kerik commissioner of corrections and later police, had recommended him strongly to Bush. Giuliani said in a telephone interview that Kerik had employed the woman recently to take care of his two young children. Officials would not provide the woman's name or native country.
"Bernie told me that they really loved her and the kids loved her, but she had to go back to her country," Giuliani said. He said she returned voluntarily but would not say what country it was. He did not have the date but said it was "pretty recently," although he said he believes it was before the nomination.
"When he actually sat down and did the form, he realized there was a real problem here," the former mayor said. "He hadn't focused on it. There are personal reasons for it."
Giuliani called Kerik "uniquely qualified" and said he feels "badly for him and for the president."
The White House released a four-paragraph letter from Kerik to Bush that cited personal reasons without elaboration. "I cannot permit matters personal to me to distract from the focus and progress of the Department of Homeland Security and its crucial endeavors," the letter said. "I personally apologize to you for not having focused on this earlier."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said that at about 8:30 p.m., Kerik had a brief telephone conversation with Bush, who was at the White House for a holiday party. McClellan said that it was Kerik's decision to withdraw and that the president "will move as quickly as we can to name a new nominee."
Republican officials said last night that they were grateful the discovery came as quickly as it did, although they said it was still a huge embarrassment for Bush. "We took more on faith than we probably should have," said an official close to the White House. "It was a combination of biography and his close association with the mayor."
Staff writers Brooke A. Masters and John Mintz contributed to this report.