Sunday, May 16, 2010
On December 3, 2004, after three decades of dedicated service to the City of New York and to our country, President George W. Bush nominated me to become the second Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
It was a privilege and an honor, and I accepted the president’s nomination with a strong belief that my experience and success as a public servant would make this country safer in the wake of a newfound enemy as we continued to defend ourselves in the war against terror.
A week after my nomination, I withdrew my name from consideration because the confirmation process was quickly deteriorating into a tabloid nightmare which threatened to make a mockery of everything I had ever accomplished. What began with failing to pay the payroll tax of my children's nanny -- which has plagued more than a dozen presidential cabinet nominees, past and present -- became a five and a half year nightmare of local, state, and federal investigations that resulted in a fifteen count criminal indictment against me.
For nearly three years, I prepared to go to trial to defend myself against substantially the same charges I had already faced in New York State Court. Then, just days before the federal trial was to begin, my bail was revoked and I was imprisoned. The judge threatened to disqualify my legal team, which both he and the government prosecutors had already done twice before and would have sent me back to square one for the third time with my savings now exhausted.
On November 5th, 2009, I was being held in pre-trial detention and financially helpless. I faced the prospect of remaining behind bars awaiting trial for what could have been more than a year while new court appointed lawyers prepared for my defense. As a result, I decided to accept a plea agreement offered by the government prosecutors. I pled guilty to eight counts in exchange for a sentence of 27 to 33 months, which many legal observers have opined as severe considering the allegations made against me in the case, especially considering my otherwise unblemished record of service to this country dating back more than 30 years to my days as a young GI in Korea.
Ignoring the signed plea agreement and recommendations made by the prosecutors, as well as the recommendation of the U.S. Department of Probation and my highly decorated service to the American people, the judge sentenced me to 48 months in federal prison – 15 months over the recommended and agreed upon sentence.
Words cannot express my disappointment in the prosecutors and the judge’s behavior, and his sentence that followed. I have repeatedly expressed remorse for what I may have done, however, unlike many, I can’t remain silent in the face of what I believe has been a gross injustice, which I pray will be remedied by an appellate court.
As I prepare to serve my sentence, I have had to likewise prepare Angelina and Celine, my seven and ten year old daughters for what is next to come and had to teach them that there are times when we are put in situations which are beyond our control and that no matter how undeserved, unsought, or unwanted, we must find the strength, courage, and perseverance to carry on and move forward.
I sat with them and watched the movie Rocky Balboa, for the sole purpose of having them watch one scene where Rocky speaks to his son and says, “The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are….it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward!”
When Sly Stallone wrote those words, he was talking about the challenges in real life and the principles of courage, strength, and perseverance.
In my life, I have been confronted with extraordinary challenges, from the age of three when I was abandoned by my own mother who was later murdered, to gun battles on the streets of New York City, through the aftermath of 9/11, to my work rebuilding a shattered Iraq, these are the principles by which I have lived.
My friends say that because I have persevered in the face of great challenge, I became a convenient target of personal and political attacks, most of which were waged by people that have never met me and know nothing about me other than the media headlines that they have read. As I have listened to my critics, I have often wondered, how they would have fared under the same circumstances and the same scrutiny.
I have been blessed with tremendous support, friendships, and loyalties that I will never forget, and mean more to me than anyone will ever know. To those that have been in my corner and have spoken up for me, written letters of support and that have prayed for me, I offer my heartfelt thanks. It is a humbling thing to have such support, and I will forever cherish it and try to remain worthy of it.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross once said, “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” I’m not exactly a stained-glass window, I don’t think I’ve sparkled or shined, and I certainly don’t claim to be beautiful, but I do think there is a light within me!
That light is my love for my wife, my children, and my country. It is a light that they ignited; they sustain, and will guide me through the dark times ahead.
And now, as I have told Celine and Angelina, “It is time to move forward,” and end this nightmare.
I pray for God to watch over my wife, my two little girls, and my family in my absence. I also pray that he brings us together again much sooner rather than later.
I pray for our country, its leadership, and the men and women who like my son, are on the front lines and in harm’s way everyday, protecting us from evil and defending the very freedoms by which we live.
Finally, I can only hope that history will judge me based on my 30 years of public service to our great nation, and not by tabloid headlines, my imperfections, or the mistakes that I may have made.