Center Blog

Learning from the Past: Lessons in Appointments Vetting

Lesson #2: The Truth (or Some Version of It) Always Comes Out


October 11, 2016

Robert Rizzi, Partner and Dianna Mullis, Associate, Steptoe & Johnson, LLP

This post is part of a series on lessons learned from past presidential appointments. We’re grateful for the expertise of Robert Rizzi & Dianna Mullis of Steptoe & Johnson, LLP in developing this series.



This post is part of a series on lessons learned from past presidential appointments. We’re grateful for the expertise of Robert Rizzi & Dianna Mullis of Steptoe & Johnson, LLP in developing this series. You can read Part 1 here.

Lesson #2: The Truth (or Some Version of It) Always Comes Out

Bernard Kerik’s nomination in 2004 to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security represents a classic case study of the failure on two sides of the vetting equation—the nominee and the White House counsel.

Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, abruptly withdrew his name from consideration a week after being nominated by President George W. Bush, citing questions related to the immigration status of a former household employee. But the nomination floundered because of a number of other critical vetting issues.

After his withdrawal, a long list of other potential problems surfaced. There were financial conflicts, including the ownership of restricted stock that he could not divest; purported ties to mob figures; hard-to-explain home improvements paid for by others; a bankruptcy or two; extramarital affairs; and unreported loans. Kerik made a grave misstep in failing to identify these problems to vetting officials at the White House when his nomination was hustled through the personnel vetting process in late 2004.

The Kerik case also highlights a failure on the part of the White House vetting team to use basic tools of research to identify potential problems. Many of the issues that were identified after the nomination became public were either widely known by reporters, especially in the New York City metropolitan area, or could be located by a search of public records or found on the internet.

The basic lesson of this case is that those with vetting responsibility must do their own due diligence and cannot rely upon the nominee to be the sole source of all information, and those doing the vetting must not rush through the nomination process.

For further discussion of precedents, authorities and case studies in the vetting process, see the Presidential Appointments Vetting Guide prepared by the Partnership’s Center for Presidential Transition in collaboration with Allen & Overy and Steptoe & Johnson.

Read Part 1Read Part 3Read Part 4Read Part 5Read Part 6

 


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