He was one of 11 high-profile figures to whom the president granted clemency Tuesday. Others included Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers who pleaded guilty in 2000 to failing to report a felony, and Michael Milken, the notorious “junk bond king” charged with insider trading in the 1980s.
“Bernard Kerik courageously led the New York Police Department’s heroic response to the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, as Commissioner of the New York Police Department,” the White House wrote in its statement Tuesday announcing Kerik’s clemency. “He embodied the strength, courage, compassion, and spirit of the people of New York and this great Nation as he served alongside first responders at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the attack.”
His leadership during one of the nation’s darkest hours resonated with many, including President George W. Bush, who in 2004 nominated Kerik to lead the Department of Homeland Security. But within days, amid media scrutiny, Kerik withdrew his acceptance of the nomination and confessed that he had not paid taxes for a nanny whose immigration status was in question.
The admission was followed by a cascade of allegations against the well-known commissioner: chief among them that he had not reported gifts he had received as a New York City official, including from a construction company suspected of involvement in organized crime. Kerik was indicted in 2007 after pleading guilty the year before to misdemeanors centered on the allegations.
In 2009, Kerik pleaded guilty to eight felonies, including two counts of tax fraud and lying to White House officials while being considered for the homeland security position, the Associated Press reported at the time. The judge in the case, Stephen C. Robinson, sentenced Kerik to four years in federal prison — exceeding federal sentencing guidelines, which recommended 27 to 33 months — asserting that Kerik had used the aftermath of 9/11 for personal gain and later made “a conscious decision to essentially lie to the President of the United States to get a cabinet position.”
Kerik apologized in court before his sentencing and asked the judge to consider his two daughters waiting for him at home. “I know I must be punished,” he added.
On Tuesday, the White House wrote that since his conviction, Kerik had become an advocate for criminal justice, with a focus on prisoner reentry reform. In a statement posted on Twitter on Tuesday, Kerik said there are “no words to express my appreciation and gratitude to President Trump.”
“With the exception of the birth of my children, today is one of the great days in my life,” he wrote. “Going to prison is like dying with your eyes open. Its aftermath of collateral consequences and the permanent loss of many of your civil and constitutional rights are personally devastating.”
Debartolo, Milken and Kerik were all denied pardons under President Barack Obama. Trump’s pardon, Kerik added, would finally restore the rights he had lost. He was released from prison in 2013 with about five months left in his sentence.
Known now as a frequent Mar-a-Lago guest and Fox News pundit, Kerik made an appearance on the network as recently as Monday night. A senior administration official told The Washington Post that a number of people lobbied the president on Kerik’s behalf, including Giuliani, now Trump’s personal attorney, and Newsmax Media chief executive Christopher Ruddy.
In an interview with Newsmax before Trump’s announcement went public, Kerik said Trump had called him just before noon Tuesday to deliver the “life-changing” news.
“To be made whole again as an American citizen — for somebody like me who’s fought for, and nearly died for, this country — it means a lot,” Kerik said.
Josh Dawsey, Colby Itkowitz and Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.