President Bush Nominates Bernard Kerik to be Homeland Security Secretary
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PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Bernie Kerik is one of the most accomplished and effective leaders of law enforcement in America.
TERENCE SMITH: President Bush has tapped a street-smart cop- turned-executive to be the nation’s second secretary of homeland security. The 49-year-old Bernard Kerik will replace former Governor Tom Ridge. Kerik rose to national prominence on Sept. 11, 2001.
The then-New York City police commissioner was at the World Trade Center site before the second plane hit and on the scene when both towers collapsed. One week after the attacks, he escorted President Bush to the scene, still a mass of rubble and debris.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Bernie Kerik understands the duties that came to America on Sept. 11. The resolve he felt that morning will guide him every day on his job. And every first responder defending our homeland will have a faithful ally in Bernie Kerik.
SPOKESPERSON: Raise your right hand.
TERENCE SMITH: But two and half years later, the 9/11 Commission investigating the attacks said Kerik’s department had failed to communicate effectively with rescue teams and people trapped in the rubble.
JOHN LEHMAN (May 2004): I think that the command and control and communications of this city’s public service is a scandal.
TERENCE SMITH: Kerik defended his force saying they were crippled by current technology.
BERNARD KERIK: When the Towers went down, the cell sites were lost. Show me one radio that they will guarantee you this radio will go through that metal, it will go through the debris, it will go through the dust, you will have 100 percent communications 100 percent of the time. There is none. There is none.
TERENCE SMITH: Kerik was raised in the tough streets of Paterson, New Jersey. He was abandoned at an early age by his mother, a prostitute and an alcoholic who was murdered when Kerik was still a boy. A high school dropout, he joined the Army and became a military policeman.
Later as a New York City cop, he served as a driver and bodyguard for Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He rose in the ranks to become head of the Department of Corrections and eventually commissioner of the city’s police force. Since 2001, Kerik has been a partner in Giuliani’s consulting firm, where he has earned millions of dollars. Over the years, Kerik has attracted controversy.
After his autobiography, “The Lost Son,” was published, New York City’s conflict of interest board fined him $2,500 for using police officers to conduct research. In 2003, Paul Bremer, then U.S. administrator in Iraq, tapped Kerik to be that country’s interim interior minister.
Among other duties, Kerik was charged with training Iraqi police to cope with a deepening insurgency. But Kerik’s efforts came under fire for failing to improve the security situation quickly enough. In an interview on the NewsHour soon after returning home last year, Kerik answered those criticisms.
BERNARD KERIK (Sept. 2003): I hear people on a daily basis criticize the president– “You’re not moving fast enough.” In four months, we brought back 40,000 police officers, 400 cars in Baghdad, 35 stations, communications all over the country, just about, to the police.
We’ve ordered equipment. We’ve put together a 2003 budget. We did it in four months. I couldn’t have done that in New York City as the police commissioner in five years. So I’m not really sure what the critics are talking about when they’re saying it’s taking too long.
TERENCE SMITH: In this year’s presidential election, Kerik campaigned for President Bush. He was a featured speaker at the GOP Convention in New York City, where he praised the administration’s war on terror.
BERNARD KERIK (August 2004): We didn’t ask for this war, but faced with an evil whose only mission was to destroy this country, we had to respond. We had to fight this war abroad, and we have to fight this war at home.
This president responded with the creation of the department of homeland security, with the Patriot Act, and he has tripled, tripled, the homeland security funding since 2001. (Applause)
TERENCE SMITH: At a ceremony at the White House today, Kerik said he understood the formidable task of protecting the nation’s security.
BERNARD KERIK: Mr. President, I understand, as you do, the tremendous challenge that faces America in securing our nation and its citizens from the threat of terrorism. And I know what is at stake. On Sept. 11, 2001, I witnessed firsthand the very worst of humanity and its very best. I saw hatred claim the lives of 2,400 innocent people, and I saw the bravest men and women I will ever know rescue more than 20,000 others.
There isn’t a day that has passed since the morning of Sept. 11 that I haven’t thought of the sacrifices of those heroes and the losses we all suffered. I pledge to work tirelessly to honor them and your trust in me.
TERENCE SMITH: Confirmation hearings for Bernard Kerik will likely be held when the new Congress convenes in January.