The scene outside the old Victorian-style courthouse in Dubuque on Thursday morning showed that the indictment of Bernard B. Kerik is at the very least a big distraction for Rudolph W. Giuliani’s presidential campaign.
The site had been chosen with care: Mr. Giuliani spoke across from the courthouse, which has a statue of Justice atop its golden cupola. With him were two former United States attorneys who were there to talk about Mr. Giuliani’s record as a corruption-busting federal prosecutor before he became mayor of New York.
But the only federal corruption case that reporters asked about was the one being built against Mr. Kerik — his former driver, police commissioner, partner, and, briefly, choice to head the federal Department of Homeland Security. A grand jury on Thursday voted to charge Mr. Kerik, and he is expected to be arraigned on a sealed indictment at midday Friday in United States District Court in White Plains on corruption-related charges, according to people briefed on the case.
So Mr. Giuliani said once again said that he had made “a mistake in not checking him out more carefully.” He pointed out the successes he had in New York. And almost lost in the mix was Mr. Giuliani’s effort to highlight a less well-known aspect of his own biography, and to talk up his new endorsement from Pat Robertson to Iowa voters.
Of course, a trial during the heat of a presidential campaign could prove another challenge for his bid at a crucial time.
Mr. Kerik’s lawyer, Kenneth M. Breen, has said several times during the course of the investigation that his client intends to fight the charges. And while the timing of any trial is difficult to predict, several lawyers who practice in White Plains said that the case could reach trial in six months to a year — at the height of the political season.
Several people with knowledge of the case said it was unlikely that Mr. Giuliani would be called as a witness at any possible trial.
The grand jury voted to indict Mr. Kerik on conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, and substantive counts of wire and mail fraud, under a statute often used in corruption cases, according to people briefed on the vote. The panel also voted to charge him with lying on a mortgage application and his homeland security application and with several counts of tax fraud.
Democrats and rival campaigns are already looking at the indictment as a way to call Mr. Giuliani’s judgment into question, and to try to cloud his reputation in areas in which he is seen as strong: on fighting crime and corruption.
That was apparent after Mr. Giuliani held a question-and-answer session with students here Thursday afternoon at Iowa State University: as the crowd left the hall, they were greeted by a man in a suit and a Giuliani mask holding aloft a sign that read “Free Bernie Kerik!”
Dag Vega, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, questioned why Mr. Giuliani, a Republican, had made Mr. Kerik police commissioner, in light of growing evidence he had been briefed about Mr. Kerik’s connections to a company suspected of having mob ties.
“Rudy Giuliani’s tough-on-crime mantra is laughable given that he promoted Bernard Kerik throughout his career while knowing about his ethical problems,” Mr. Vega said in a statement. Mr. Giuliani, for his part, said that he expects voters to look at his whole record — not just one mistake. “I think that voters should look at it,” Mr. Giuliani said at the morning event in Dubuque, when asked about the case. “And what they should say is in that particular case I pointed out that I made a mistake; I made a mistake in not clearing him effectively enough. I take the responsibility for that.”
“But I think they can then look at the results that I had as a United States attorney,” he continued, “the results that I had as associate attorney general, and most importantly the results that I had as mayor, and say to themselves, ‘If he makes the same balance of right decisions and incorrect decisions as president, the country would be in pretty good shape.’”
Mr. Giuliani added that he has “the benefit and the burden of having had a probably more extensive career, particularly public career, than any of the other people running.”
“I’ve done more different things at a high level, and under a great deal of pressure,” Mr. Giuliani said. “So you’re going to have to look at the successes and the mistakes, and maybe this will be a healthy process for the American people.”
He added, “I am not running as the perfect candidate.”
Michael Cooper reported from Ames, Iowa, and William K. Rashbaum from New York.