|Strain Is Seen in Giuliani
Ties With President
By ELISABETH BUMILLER and ERIC LIPTON
Published: December 13, 2004
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/13/national/13relations.html?th (must register to view original article)
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 - Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani had a Christmas dinner at the White House on Sunday night, and he attended with an important goal in mind: to apologize to his host for pushing Bernard B. Kerik as homeland security secretary and then watching as Mr. Kerik's nomination collapsed in legal problems and embarrassed the president of the United States.
That embarrassment has put a new strain on a mutually beneficial relationship that has always been more complicated than mere friendship.
"I feel very bad," Mr. Giuliani said in a telephone interview on Sunday afternoon, adding that he felt somewhat responsible for the nomination of Mr. Kerik, who withdrew his name on Friday because he had failed to pay taxes for a nanny who was in the country illegally.
"Even though there was never a conversation about it, I realize that one of the reasons they did it was because of my confidence in Bernie over the years," he said. "And I feel like maybe I should have involved myself more in it."
Mr. Giuliani added that he did not think the situation would hurt his relationship with President Bush or the White House. "It doesn't and shouldn't affect my feelings toward them, and I don't think it will affect their feelings toward me," he said. "We're friends."
The view at the White House is somewhat different. Although people close to the president say he likes and respects Mr. Giuliani, they say the president has long been leery of him as a man who could not be counted on for the loyalty demanded by Mr. Bush. And while the breakdown of Mr. Kerik's nomination is not lethal to Mr. Giuliani's relationship with the White House, the friends and officials say, it will hardly burnish his credentials with the president.
"It hurts him politically, so therefore by extension it's going to hurt him with the White House," said a Republican close to the administration who has worked for both Mr. Bush and Mr. Giuliani and who asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of the situation. "Nobody at the White House is saying to themselves, 'Damn that Rudy Giuliani.' It's more, 'Well, he got his licks.' "
In the interview, Mr. Giuliani indicated that he should have known about Mr. Kerik's legal problems because he had named him police commissioner and then had gone into business with him. The former mayor seemed to suggest as much in a phone call on Saturday morning to Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff.
"I said, 'Well, I wish I had figured it out earlier,' " Mr. Giuliani said. "That's what I was apologizing for, that we hadn't figured this out earlier. And Andy said something like, 'Well, Bernie just focused on it you know, this is a very difficult process.' They were very nice about it."
Suzy DeFrancis, a White House spokeswoman, said on Sunday: "I'm sure Rudy Giuliani is held in high respect at the White House and among the American people as well. He's a great supporter of the president."
The invitation to the Christmas dinner, in fact, came well before Mr. Kerik's nomination.
Mr. Giuliani and his wife were also overnight guests during the campaign at the president's 1,600-acre ranch in Texas, an invitation the president reserves for prime ministers, heads of state and his closest friends. The sleepover, Republicans said, was both a thank-you for Mr. Giuliani's tireless campaigning and a reflection of the president's political need to publicly associate himself with the man who rallied New York after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"If the war on terror is your campaign's number one issue, there's no better symbol of that than Rudy Giuliani," said a government official who knows Mr. Bush and Mr. Giuliani and who asked not to be identified because he did not want to be seen as denigrating the mayor's relationship with the president. "But you shouldn't confuse that with closeness."
Mr. Giuliani said in the interview that he could not recall when he met Mr. Bush, but said he first spent significant time with him on a trip to Austin, Tex., in the fall of 1999. Mr. Giuliani, then mayor, was close to running for the Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Mr. Bush, then governor, would soon be running in the Republican primaries against Senator John McCain of Arizona.
"I went to visit him because I was trying to decide who to support - John McCain, who I knew really well, who was a good friend, or Governor Bush, who I didn't know as well, but I thought had a better chance of winning," Mr. Giuliani said.
The mayor ended up endorsing the better bet, Mr. Bush. But during the Republican primary in New York the following March, he barely appeared in public at the side of Mr. Bush, who was fresh from his embrace of religious conservatives in the South Carolina primary. Instead, Mr. Giuliani lavished praise on the independent-minded Mr. McCain. Mr. Giuliani's advisers worried at the time that if the mayor made too many appearances with Mr. Bush, he would alienate the Democrats and swing voters he needed to defeat Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Bush's advisers brushed off the mayor's brush-off as a necessity of New York politics.
But Republicans say that Mr. Bush felt little affection for Mr. Giuliani, and that he was particularly perplexed as the mayor allowed his personal life to unravel publicly in the spring of 2000.
"There aren't a lot of people close to the president who have those kind of experiences," said the Republican close to the administration, referring to Mr. Giuliani's admissions of infidelity with the woman who became his third wife and to his bitter split from his second wife, Donna Hanover.
"It's an issue of not understanding it. I've had discussions with him where he's asked, 'What's this guy all about?' "
But on the morning that two commercial airliners flew into the World Trade Center, a new relationship between the two men was forged. People close to Mr. Bush say he considers the mayor a true hero for his actions on that day and developed a bond with him in the aftermath. Mr. Giuliani readily agreed.
"He gave us immediately all the things that we needed," Mr. Giuliani recalled. "We got all the resources of the federal government put at our disposal, mine and the governor's."
Mr. Giuliani added: "He just told them, 'Give him everything he wants and make sure they have all the support that they need and put all your people right there and let's break down all the barriers."'
Since then, Mr. Giuliani has been repeatedly mentioned as a possibility for a cabinet position, although rarely, if ever, by anyone in the inner circle at the White House. Although the White House has noticed that Mr. Giuliani is far less combative than he was during his days at City Hall, a top administration official once noted that the former mayor would be good for any job that didn't require him to get along with people.
Advisers to Mr. Bush add that as Mr. Giuliani contemplates a run for president in 2008, there is virtually no chance he will be named to a position in the administration because he would have, they say, his own agenda.
As for Mr. Giuliani, he said he expected to soon have Mr. Kerik back in the Times Square offices of Giuliani Partners, where they have worked together since leaving city government at the end of 2001. The partnership, which is staffed by many of Mr. Giuliani's top former City Hall aides, will emerge from this debacle largely unscathed, Mr. Giuliani insisted.
Ultimately, Mr. Giuliani said, the most damaging part for him about the turn of events over the last two weeks is not the political implications.
"It is a personal embarrassment," he said. "I don't like making mistakes. This is something that could have been avoided."