Andy Card told Kerik the president would support whatever decision he decided to make. In the early evening, Kerik called Card and told him he was withdrawing. Kerik asked what the procedure was and was told to draft a letter to the president (“nothing too specific; keep it general”) and fax it to the White House.
At 8:30, Kerik’s cell phone rang. “By now I’m a fucking mess,” he says. “I’m crying, I’m totally out of it, and it’s the president on the phone.” Kerik says they talked for about five minutes, and Bush told him he didn’t think he should’ve withdrawn but that he understood and respected his decision.
When Kerik hung up, he sent his letter. Card called again at about ten to give Kerik a heads-up that the White House was going to release the news in about ten minutes. He asked Kerik if he was ready. “Remember when I told you it would be really mean and nasty and aggressive if you went forward?” Card asked. “Well, it’s going to be really mean and nasty and aggressive now, too.”
Even though his phone and BlackBerry started buzzing relentlessly, Kerik didn’t think about Card’s warning. “Rudy came in before I went home,” Kerik recalls, “and he tried to console me. He said, ‘Shit happens. We’ll get through this.’ I wasn’t looking ahead. There was too much going on, and I guess I thought, Okay, I made a mistake, and now I have to pay for it by losing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I didn’t think there’d be much more to it than that.”
On Saturday morning, Kerik went outside to talk to the crowd of reporters camped in front of his house. On Sunday, he was the lead story in all the papers, and on Monday morning it was pretty clear it was going to get ugly. And then a strange thing happened. Dick Grasso, the former head of the New York Stock Exchange, called.
“We’ve been friends for years, not best friends, but friends,” Kerik says of Grasso, adding how much respect he has for him as a result of the extraordinary job he did getting the stock market up and running after 9/11. “He asked me how I was holding up. I told him it was frustrating but I was okay. He then gave me a kind of class in how to deal with what was going on.”
Grasso, who suffered through his own public flogging over the disclosure of his huge salary, gave Kerik some survival tips, one disgraced public figure to another. He told him to stop reading the papers and stop watching TV, and not even let any friends or family recount what they read or saw.
Then he told Kerik if he wanted to get away, he could help him with that. “I told him I couldn’t leave, and he pointed out that the press wasn’t going anywhere. They’ll be out there for days, he said. Still, leaving seemed crazy.” But on Tuesday, there were even more reporters outside, and by the afternoon, Kerik was starting to lose it. He called Grasso. “Tell me what to do. Help me.”
Grasso told Kerik to get his family together, pack some clothes for a few days, and drive out to the Long Island Expressway. “I asked where we were going, and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, just do it.’”
So Kerik loaded the family into the car and followed his instructions. When he reached the expressway, he called Grasso, who told him to get off at Exit 40. “I’ll be right on the side of the road in a black Suburban.” When they hooked up, Grasso got out of his SUV and told Kerik to follow him.
“An hour and a half later, we were still driving,” Kerik says. “Finally we end up in Bridgehampton, and we pull down this road and these gates open up and there’s a really nice house at the end of the driveway.”
Kerik says Grasso took them inside, turned on all the lights, started a fire, and said the house was theirs for as long as they wanted it. Before he left, he took Kerik out to the garage, and in the back of his car was several thousand dollars’ worth of food. “He’d gotten everything we could possibly need,” Kerik says. “I thought, What is this all about? It was a trip. We stayed for three nights. By then, all of the press were gone.”
But the story had remarkable legs. And the impact was spreading. Kerik was the primary target, but shrapnel was starting to hit Giuliani. Stories were popping up that blamed him for the Kerik debacle, that questioned his judgment, and that looked at the possible negative blowback he might suffer in any future run for office.
Initially, Giuliani was right there with Kerik, vigorously defending him. They were, after all, brothers in arms, part of their own insular tough-guy subculture that is the product of some strange alchemy of cop, jock, and mob ethos. There are tribal rules and rituals as clearly defined as those of any gang. These are demonstrative, physical men who hug and kiss one another with bravado. They cover for one another. They help one another. When one succeeds, they all succeed. And the one invaluable attribute is loyalty, not competence. And it is precisely this anti-intellectual, indecorous, testosterone-soaked behavior that seemed to make Kerik so irresistible to Bush.
Both Kerik and Giuliani claim to have seen The Godfather more than 50 times, and the movie provides a bizarre code of behavior for them (as it does for gangsters) in much the same way that The Art of War serves as some weird manual for ambitious corporate climbers. But even in The Godfather, loyalty has its limits. And so by the third week, cracks began to appear in Giuliani’s resolve. He was quoted talking about Kerik’s “big mistakes,” and saying that Kerik would have saved himself and others some trouble if he’d dealt with the problems earlier.
One person familiar with the inner workings of Giuliani Partners said that Giuliani sent someone to tell Kerik it was time to step down. Kerik steadfastly denies this is what happened. “On Monday and Tuesday of that week, I went into his office and offered to leave, and he kept telling me no,” Kerik says. “But the next day, I went in and handed him a letter and said, ‘I gotta go. It’s not gonna end as long as I’m here. They’ll attack you and attack the firm.’ It was very emotional. We cried together.”
Kerik dismisses the notion of a rift between the two of them. “Rudy is like a brother to me,” he says. “We’ve been through an enormous amount together, and he’s godfather to my two daughters. Something like this is not going to change our relationship.”
One thing is clear: Kerik will never work at Giuliani Partners again. He is shopping for space in midtown to house a new company he is putting together, the Kerik Group LLC. Its business, of course, will be security consulting. Kerik has resigned from the Taser board and several other boards, in anticipation of starting his company.
In an odd turn of events, the new business will make him a competitor of Giuliani Partners’. “He doesn’t want a lot of accounts,” Kerik says. “He’s really only interested in the very high end and working at very high margins. I’ll be smaller and able to do things for less. We may compete here and there.”
There is great disappointment among those closest to Kerik in how things turned out—and disappointment with him. “A bunch of us have really mixed feelings about what’s happened,” says one close friend. “On the one hand, we believe he would’ve been great in the job, and he got screwed. But on the other hand, he should’ve shown better judgment and not left himself so vulnerable. He obviously got hurt the worst, but he wasn’t the only one. He let a lot of people down.”
Kerik knows that, all too well. “I don’t want anyone else blamed for what I did,” he says. “I made the mistakes, and what’s happened, well, it’s the price you pay for the life you choose.”