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When U.S. President George W. Bush nominated Bernard Kerik as head of the Department of Homeland Security on Dec. 3, he called him "a dedicated, innovative reformer who insists on getting results." He knew Mr. Kerik as the business partner and protégé of former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who is Mr. Bush's good friend. But a Homeland Security official who spoke with The New York Times after the nomination was closer to the mark: "He's really an unknown factor here in Washington."

Obviously. The White House's background check on a man whose duties would include overseeing immigration and enforcing U.S. law failed to learn that he employed a nanny who may have been an illegal immigrant and that he had not paid social-security taxes on her behalf. Those belated admissions by Mr. Kerik were the official reason he withdrew from consideration for the job on Dec. 10.

But so much else wouldn't pass the smell test. There was a potential for conflict of interest: Mr. Kerik had, as Mr. Giuliani's consulting partner after leaving his job as New York's police commissioner, spent a couple of years helping companies to increase sales to the department he was now in line to head. (This fall, he made $6.2-million by exercising stock options he received from stun-gun maker Taser International, on whose board he sits.) He was fined in 2002 for using an on-duty police sergeant and two detectives to research his autobiography. (Not well enough, apparently; the book doesn't mention the first of his three wives.) A civil-arrest warrant was issued after he failed to pay condo fees. He has acknowledged receiving expensive gifts while New York's corrections commissioner, including a jewel-studded Tiffany shield, but says he did no one any favours in exchange.

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To what extent did the White House not notice these and other skeletons in his closet, and to what extent did it not care? Where was the White House's due diligence before nominating Mr. Kerik as the country's national security chief?

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