NEW YORK, N.Y. – New York City's police commissioner during the Sept. 11 attacks said Wednesday he started crying when President Donald Trump pardoned him for felony convictions that put him behind bars for three years, aware he got a break other ex-convicts never see.
Bernard Kerik said felony convictions, a prison stint and its aftermath taught himthose convicted of crimes face tens of thousands of knock-on effects. The American Bar Association has cataloged 45,000 “collateral consequences.”
“That conviction lives with you eternally until the day you die,” he said in a telephone interview. “People talk about second chances. You don’t really get a second chance. The only second chance comes if the president pardons you.”
He noted, for instance, that some inmates learn to be barbers in prison only to find some states won't license hairdressers with felony pasts. That is true for real estate sales and garbage collection, he said.
Kerik got choked up Wednesday recalling his surprise when a phone caller announced: “Please stand by for the president of the United States.”
“You have a knot in your stomach,” Kerik said,as he recounted that Trump told him he was signing the pardon as the two spoke.
“I started crying,” said the Franklin Lakes, New Jersey,resident, who is a frequent Fox News guest and visitor to the president's Mar-a-Lago resort. “I thanked him profusely.”
Soon, an avalanche of congratulatory calls and 1,700 text messages overwhelmed his phone, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich,who also received a pardon.
Kerik, an Army veteran, rose to the pinnacle of law enforcement before a fall so steep that even a city jail named after him was renamed.
In 2010, he pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud and false statement charges, partially stemming from over $250,000 in apartment renovations he received from a construction firm that authorities say counted on Kerik to convince New York officials it had no organized crime links.
In a presentence filing, prosecutors chided Kerik, saying "he more than once unlawfully used public office for private profit, and then, after leaving government, became a wealthy man by shamelessly exploiting the most horrific civilian tragedy in this nation’s history.”
Besides Blagojevich, others receiving pardons Tuesday included former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. and Michael Milken, a once powerful financier felled by insider trading.
Trump's pardons have come under criticism because well-heeled friends of the president advocated for many of them and because many of the convictions were for corruption.
Kerik, 64, was a corrections officer in New Jersey in the 1980s before joining the New York City police department. He provided security for Rudolph Giuliani during his successful 1993 mayoral run.
In 1997, Kerik was named the city's Department of Correction commissioner and was appointed by Giuliani as police commissioner in 2000.
Giuliani and Kerik were praised as heroes after the Sept. 11 attack,and Kerik was nominated in late 2004 to be homeland security secretary. But his misdeeds were uncovered in the scrutiny that followed, leaving his reputation in tatters.
Since his 2013 prison release, Kerik has advocated for national criminal justice and prison reform, including before Congress and at the White House.
“There isn’t one person in this country out of 300 million people with my background, my expertise and my success in criminal justice,” he said, soft pedaling his criminal record.
Kerik said he's “getting over the numbness and shock of what just happened” and planning to deliver on a promise to his son, a Newark, New Jersey, police officer, to shoot guns at a firing range once he gets a firearm again.
“Personally, emotionally, the principle of being remade a full and whole American citizen is probably what’s most important to me," he said.