Investigative journalists are having a field day with the seemingly never-ending list of revelations surfacing about the background of Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police...

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Investigative journalists are having a field day with the seemingly never-ending list of revelations surfacing about the background of Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner and close confidant of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

This month, Kerik withdrew his name from consideration as President Bush’s nominee to be the next head of the Homeland Security Department.

As fascinating as the continuing revelations about Kerik’s background appear, with the exception of one or two that impact the theme of this essay, we will leave discussions of the charges and allegations to those more interested in pursuing them.

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But below the radar screen are aspects of this situation I find more interesting — namely, the question of how or why this could happen and how this situation impacts the possible presidential ambitions of Giuliani. The primary impact is that this story may serve to level the playing field on the Republican side for the 2008 presidential run.

Giuliani’s efforts in campaigning for the re-election of President Bush were considered so significant by the Bush campaign that after winning re-election, President Bush offered Giuliani any job or position he might want. Giuliani said he “wanted nothing for himself” but recommended that Kerik be named as Homeland Security director.

Kerik had campaigned hard for the president and had already served the president by going to Iraq to head up the initial training of the Iraqi police and security forces. With no hesitation, the president acceded to Giuliani’s recommendation to name Kerik to the post.

Now that all of this is in the public domain, the one question I have is how Kerik allowed himself to threaten his good fortune and good luck by accepting the nomination for this high-profile post. He had dodged a bullet on all of these simmering allegations and alleged misdeeds. And he was Giuliani’s partner in their security-consulting business; thanks to Giuliani’s name and 9/11 credentials, the firm’s success was far exceeding even their own expectations.

If he had declined this high-profile nomination, a man who had lived on a civil servant’s salary for most of his life likely would have escaped the scrutiny and investigation that have put his entire future in jeopardy.

For Giuliani, having Bernie Kerik as head of Homeland Security would have been a perfect arrangement. Giuliani would not have to risk tarnishing his own image with controversy or fallout from future problems, attacks or mistakes that might plague the agency and its new director. Yet, Giuliani would still benefit from any positive activity of the agency as he would always know what was happening on the inside. And he would have a direct line to the top with his business and personal associate serving in the top spot.

Most significant, Giuliani would continually get indirect benefits from the fact that Kerik seemed determined to mention the former mayor in a laudatory manner in virtually every public statement Kerik issued.

First, I think the answer to how this could have slipped by lies partially in Giuliani’s role. No other Cabinet-level appointee came so highly recommended by such a high-profile sponsor as Giuliani. Second, staffers in the administration responsible for vetting the nomination may have, even subliminally, lowered the bar just a little in order to move the nomination along.

Bottom line, the American public (versus the citizens of New York) has been treated to its first example of a misstep by Giuliani, and it’s a question of judgment — the same question that Giuliani raised about John Kerry during the recent presidential campaign. The question of how much Giuliani knew and when he knew it will be asked by Giuliani’s opponents and by Democrats in 2008. Finally, it is clear that Giuliani’s own background, including his messy divorce and affair as well as business benefits he has received as a result of the national-hero status he gained from 9/11, will be an issue.

In many ways, Giuliani was at the head of my list in terms of strength going into the 2008 campaign season for Republicans. Now, while his potential has not been seriously harmed, one has to conclude that his image is one more closely resembling that of a mortal — and other Republican challengers likely will rejoice that the playing field may be a lot more level than it was just a month ago.

Carl Jeffers is a Seattle- and Los Angeles-based columnist and is KIRO-AM’s political analyst. He hosts a KIRO Seattle radio talk-show program and is a lecturer and national political commentator for TV and other major-market radio stations. E-mail: cjintel@juno.com