They say he’s the only one who can beat the Democrats in ’08, the only one who’s tough enough to take on Hillary and keep the White House for the GOP, but the truth is quite the opposite. With at least two major scandals brewing under the surface, in addition to his other distinctively un-Republican peccadilloes, Rudy is the candidate with the biggest glass jaw of them all.
The slow-burning fuse of the controversy surrounding the lack of functioning radios for the New York City firemen who suffered such heavy losses on 9/11 has already been lit by the grieving and angry families of those who died. The firemen’s union is going to harry the Giuliani campaign until the whole, sordid story of how a no-bid contract with Motorola and that company’s cozy relationship with Giuliani led to the deaths of so many the very ones whom Giuliani invokes as key actors in his 9/11 narrative, whose heroism he bathes in as if it would rub off. The media isn’t covering it yet, but the firefighters aren’t going to let go of this one: hubris invites nemesis, as the ancient Greeks correctly believed, and in Giuliani’s case, it’s just a question of when his nemesis is going to appear before the Republican convention or after.
However, the trial of Bernie Kerik, a former Giuliani protégé charged with 16 counts of fraud, conspiracy, and lying on his federal disclosure forms, has a much shorter fuse and packs much more explosive potential. The indictment [.pdf] of Kerik, which I wrote about here, was long expected: the one surprise was a count of lying on his financial disclosure forms when he was being vetted for various positions with the federal government. Kerik failed to report a $250,000 "loan" from a mysterious Israeli billionaire, which had been laundered through a Brooklyn businessman. As the indictment puts it:
"On or about June 13, 2003, ‘John Doe #7,’ a Brooklyn businessman, made a personal loan of $250,000 to Bernard B. Kerik (‘the John Doe #7 loan’). As Kerik well knew, John Doe #7 obtained the funds with which to make the loan to Kerik by in turn taking a loan from ‘John Doe #8,’ a wealthy Israeli industrialist whose companies did business with the federal government."
It turns out that John Doe #8 is Eitan Wertheimer, the richest man in Israel, whose Iscar Metalworking Companies recently acquired by Warren Buffet for $4 billion makes precision metal-cutting tools. Iscar maintains a global network of metalworking facilities, from Tefen, Israel, to the U.S., Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, China, India, and Brazil. Wertheimer passed the money to one Shimon Cohen, "John Doe #7," a Brooklyn dealer in marble and stone, who then handed it off, in the form of a "loan," to Kerik.
Dan Janison, writing in Newsday‘s Spin Cycle blog, puts this train of circumstances into perspective:
"A lingering question: Why would Cohen, described as a pal of Kerik, front the loan for Wertheimer as opposed to a direct transaction? Another question: Where did Kerik, who investigators portray as chronically in search of cash, get the funds to pay back the loan? Wertheimer is described in the indictment as having done business with the federal government."
They knew they were doing something wrong. Why else try to launder the money through Cohen? Wertheimer, as the indictment says, "does business with the federal government": Iscar has government contracts with the Department of Defense. What’s interesting, however, is that at the time the "loan" was made, Kerik was being vetted by federal investigators because of his appointment to the post of chief trainer of the Iraqi police you know, the same police who turned out to be little more than Shi’ite death squads.
In the atmosphere of New York City politics, such "loans" are part of the political culture, i.e., the culture of corruption that flourished under the Giuliani administration. The same sort of shenanigans led to the deaths of all those firemen on 9/11: a sweetheart deal between the city of New York and Motorola, which left the firefighters without working radios on that fateful day.
In the case of Wertheimer’s attempted bribery, however, it doesn’t look like an ordinary case of venality and corruption .After all, what did Wertheimer think he was getting for his money? Wertheimer’s motive is murky, at best, but his politics are certainly in sync with Giuliani’s. He appeared on the same stage with Christian Zionist nut John Hagee at the last AIPAC policy conference, where he touted the success of Iscar as Israel’s success story. AIPAC, you’ll recall, is currently enmeshed in a messy spy scandal, with the trial of the group’s former head honcho, Steve Rosen, and his sidekick, Keith Weissman, scheduled for mid-January. The charge: filching U.S. secrets on Israel’s behalf.
And what about Janison’s fascinating final question: where did Kerik get the money to pay back the "loan" days after it was discovered by city investigators?
The Kerik-Giuliani-Wertheimer connection goes all the way back to 2001, when Wertheimer was appointed "honorary police commissioner" by Kerik. Among the other honorary appointees was Judith Regan, Kerik’s former lover and publisher. Regan is now alleging, in a $100 million lawsuit against her former employers in the Murdoch media conglomerate, that at least two Murdoch executives urged her to "lie and withhold information" from government investigators to "protect Giuliani’s presidential ambitions." Fox News, the jewel in the crown of the Murdoch media empire, has not exactly been shy about its partiality for Giuliani.
The Kerik case has all the ingredients of a real courtroom potboiler: money, illicit sex, political corruption, and, quite possibly, an attempt to unduly influence U.S. operations in Iraq on behalf of a foreign power. Perhaps our somnolent press corps will wake up long enough to ask Rudy if he can shed any light on these matters.
Kerik was and is Giuliani’s man, no matter how energetically he tries to paddle away from his former pal. The Mayor of 9/11 not only personally lobbied for his protégé’s appointment as head of the newly created Department of Homeland Security, he was the chief promoter of the cult of Bernie Kerik, the tough guy from the wrong side of the tracks who made it big. A movie was in the works, and as Kerik cashed that $250,000 check from Cohen, he was riding high. The irony is that his meteoric rise and fall may limn the arc of Giuliani’s political career.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I want to thank everyone who gave during this very difficult fundraising campaign and, yes, we’re almost there. But not quite. We’re still a few thousand short of our $70,000 goal, and, while I can’t threaten you with all sorts of dire consequences if we don’t make up the shortfall, I can say that it would be very good, and gratifying as all get-out, if you would pitch in for one final effort to put us over the top by making your contribution today.