December 12, 2004 in Nation/World

Search to fill top security post on again

Donna De La Cruz Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The White House renewed its search for a homeland security chief Saturday as the candidate President Bush thought ideal apologized for an immigration problem involving a family housekeeper that forced him to withdraw.

“I owe the president … a great apology that this may have caused him and his administration a big distraction,” Bernard Kerik said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.

Speaking from his home in Franklin Lakes, N.J., the 49-year-old Kerik said he had discovered a few days ago that he did not pay all required taxes for a family nanny-housekeeper and that the woman may have been in the country illegally.

The surprise withdrawal by the former New York City police commissioner sent Bush back in search of a nominee to head the sprawling Homeland Security Department, which was created after Sept. 11, 2001, to improve coordination and protection against future terrorist attacks.

On Saturday, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has been mentioned as a possible choice, expressed no interest in the job. “I am not a candidate,” he told reporters.

Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who heads the Senate committee that will take up the nomination, said two “terrific choices” would be Asa Hutchinson, the department’s undersecretary for border and transportation security, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.

Among the names that had been circulating for the post before Kerik’s selection on Dec. 3 were Joe Allbaugh, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; Mike Leavitt, former Utah governor and now head of the Environmental Protection Agency; and White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend.

But it was still possible that the White House would break the search wide open again rather than return to the previous stable of top contenders, said a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, questions continued over how the White House review process could have missed the kind of “nanny problem” that scuttled high-level appointments in both the Clinton administration and the first Bush administration.

“There’s a standard vetting process that we go through with all nominees and certainly we did that” with Kerik, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said. She said it was solely Kerik’s decision to withdraw late Friday.

© Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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