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Originally published December 10, 2004 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 10, 2004 at 10:46 PM

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Kerik withdraws nomination to head Homeland Security

Bernard Kerik, President Bush's choice to be secretary of the Homeland Security Department, has withdrawn his name from consideration, the White House announced late today.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, President Bush's choice to be homeland security secretary, has withdrawn his name from consideration, the White House announced late today.

Presidential press secretary Scott McClellan, in a conference call to news organizations, revealed that Kerik had withdrawn "for personal reasons."

"The president respects his decision and wishes the commissioner and his wife, Hala, well," McClellan said in a statement.

"Commissioner Kerik is withdrawing his name from director of homeland security," the spokesman said. "He informed the White House this evening that he was withdrawing for personal reasons from consideration to be secretary of homeland security."

McClellan said that Kerik telephoned the president at about 8:30 p.m. EST. Kerik also sent a letter to the White House in which he announced his wishes.

McClellan said the White House "will move as quickly as we can to name someone else to fill this nomination."

Bush's nomination of Kerik quickly proved controversial. News reports in recent days focused on revelations that Kerik had made millions of dollars from a stun gun company that sold weapons to the Homeland Security Department and which wants more business. The White House had said that Kerik would avoid any conflicts of interest.

Records filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission show Kerik made $6.2 million by exercising stock options he received from Taser International. He has been a consultant for the company and still serves on its board of directors, although the company and the White House said he planned to sever the relationship.

Kerik, 49, had been selected by Bush to succeed Tom Ridge in the Cabinet-level position, heading a huge federal agency that was founded in reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks against New York and Washington.

Kerik was anticipating hearings on his confirmation, and earlier today had held a private breakfast meeting in New Jersey, where Sen. Jon Corzine told him that New Jersey should receive more money from the federal agency, according to a spokesman for Corzine.

Corzine told Kerik the state's entire congressional delegation and acting Gov. Richard J. Codey were united in getting the agency to change the way it doles out funds, said Corzine spokesman Brad Woodhouse.

Woodhouse said the senator told Kerik during the meeting at an undisclosed site in New Jersey that he believes the funding formula should be based on the risk of a terror attack.

Just hours before Kerik withdrew his name, the White House defended him on questions about potential conflicts of interest.

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"We have full confidence in his integrity and we are confident that he will take the appropriate steps necessary to make sure that there are no conflicts there," McClellan had said at his midday briefing.

"We've looked into all these issues, and obviously, he'll be talking about some of these matters during his confirmation hearing," McClellan had said earlier. "But the president appointed Commissioner Kerik because he knows he is someone who is firmly committed to helping us win the war on terrorism and make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect the homeland."

Taser was one of many companies that received consulting advice from Kerik after he left his job as New York City police commissioner in 2001, when he was earning $150,500 a year.

In partnership with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani or operating independently, Kerik has had business arrangements with manufacturers of prescription drugs, computer software and bulletproof materials, as well as companies selling nuclear power, telephone service, insurance and security advice for Americans working abroad.

The man who led the New York Police Department on Sept. 11, 2001, has been praised effusively by Senate Republicans and Democrats for his management during and after the attacks. In Iraq in 2003, Kerik served as interior minister under the Coalition Provisional Authority, the Pentagon-run occupation authority.

Federal ethics rules say executive branch employees should avoid participating in decisions where their impartiality could be questioned, unless they receive approval from an agency ethics official.

Kerik's office said he was not available for comment for the story about his financial dealings. But a White House spokesman, Brian Besanceney, had said earlier that the nominee would avoid any possible conflict of interest.

"Commissioner Kerik is committed to the highest ethical standards and will divest all his holdings in Taser upon Senate confirmation to avoid a conflict of interest," Besanceney said. "In order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict, he will comply with all ethics laws and rules to avoid actions that affect former clients or organizations where he served as a director."

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