CONCORD, N.H. – The revelation that security costs for Rudy Giuliani’s trysts with Judith Nathan were spread to obscure New York accounts exposes the former mayor to harsh questions his campaign wanted badly to avoid – about character, truthfulness and a penchant for secrecy.

Conservatives who were already troubled by Giuliani’s support for abortion rights and gay rights have further reason to wonder about the thrice-married candidate’s morality.

Republicans seeking a candidate who can challenge Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton on issues of integrity may feel betrayed.

People who argue Giuliani overplays his anti-terrorism experience can wonder whether it was security – or protection from prying eyes – he was receiving in the Hamptons.

And voters wary of the Bush administration’s secrecy might be concerned about a candidate who, at minimum, surrounds himself with people who refused to answer questions when confronted with evidence suggesting the security costs were being squirreled away.

Giuliani himself, confronted at Wednesday night’s GOP debate, said that “as far as I know,” his security officers’ handling of travel records was appropriate.

In an interview Thursday with the “CBS Evening News,” Giuliani dismissed the report as a “dirty trick” played hours before Wednesday’s debate.

“It’s a typical political hit job with only half the story told, not that second part told – that every single penny was reimbursed, that all of this was public,” Giuliani said. “All of this was discoverable. It was not done in a way that nobody could see it.”

Aides who refused any prepublication comment for the original story on later offered a string of defenses, starting with the obvious facts that other candidates had security details and the mayor of New York receives around-the-clock police protection as well.

On Thursday, Joe Lohta, who was deputy mayor and budget director under Giuliani, said the billing practice was necessary because the police officers did not make a lot of money and their department took up to two months to repay them for their travel expenses. So Giuliani’s office got a credit card and paid it off with funds from the various agencies. At the end of each fiscal year, the New York Police Department repaid the divisions.

“None of these divisions of the mayor were ever deprived of any money,” said Lohta.

The practice, though, was not used by David Dinkins, who preceded Giuliani, or Michael Bloomberg, his successor. Giuliani aides wondered aloud whether Bloomberg was the source for the story, perhaps to aid his own potential White House campaign next year.

Throughout his candidacy, Giuliani has sought blanket absolution for his foibles by conceding generic “mistakes” and highlighting his bond to Nathan, now his wife. He has also stated to potential supporters, as he did in his first campaign commercial, “they’re not going to find perfection” in his candidacy.

But the security-billing story raises questions about whether people will be satisfied by such answers, especially from a White House candidate running in large part on his law-and-order credentials.

The records show Giuliani making his first trip to the Long Island community of Southampton, where Nathan had a condominium, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 1, 1999 – well before the former mayor acknowledged the breakdown of his second marriage in the spring of 2000. Giuliani and Nathan have refused to say when their romance began.

There were 10 more trips before Giuliani left office on Jan. 1, 2002, including visits every weekend in August 2001, as well as the 2001 Labor Day holiday – just nine days before the mayor’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks propelled him to national prominence.

Security costs for those trips were charged to agencies like the New York City Loft Board, which regulates loft apartments. It was billed $34,000. The Office for People with Disabilities was charged $10,000, while the Assigned Counsel Administrative Office, which provides lawyers for indigent defendants, was charged roughly $400,000.

A city auditor discovered the Loft Board charges, and when City Comptroller William Thompson later asked for an explanation, he was rebuffed by mayoral aides who cited “security,” a Thompson spokesman said. Subsequent revelations prompted Thompson to write to Bloomberg, suggesting a review of mayoralty travel expenses.

Eight of Giuliani’s 11 trips outside New York City were not on his official schedule, and reporters who asked about the mayor’s absences as his second marriage failed were told he was spending time with his son and golfing.

The New York Post reported later in 2000 that neighbors had seen Giuliani canoodling with Nathan at her condominium the prior summer, his stays so long some asked members of his security detail to turn off the engines of their idling vehicles.

David Rohde, a political science professor at Duke University, said reporters and Giuliani’s rivals have incentive to both investigate and call attention to the billing, since it touches on issues that loom large in a presidential race, not the least of which are character and truthfulness.

“Using public money to carry on an affair, and do it in a way that is designed to conceal that fact from the public, people would think that reflects on his character,” Rohde said. “And most especially social conservatives, who are dicey about him in the first place.”

EDITOR’S NOTE – Glen Johnson has reported on local, state and national politics since 1985. He covers the Republican presidential candidates in New Hampshire for The Associated Press.

AP-ES-11-29-07 1909EST

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