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an old friend of bush secretly taped their conversations in 1998-2000

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/20/politics/20talk.html?ei=5065&en=3d3a7b4f99465096&ex=1109480400&partner=MYWAY&pagewanted=print&position= February 20, 2005 In
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 19, 2005

      February 20, 2005
      In Secretly Taped Conversations, Glimpses of the
      Future President

      WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 - As George W. Bush was first
      moving onto the national political stage, he often
      turned for advice to an old friend who secretly taped
      some of their private conversations, creating a rare
      record of the future president as a politician and a

      In the last several weeks, that friend, Doug Wead, an
      author and former aide to Mr. Bush's father, disclosed
      the tapes' existence to a reporter and played about a
      dozen of them.

      Variously earnest, confident or prickly in those
      conversations, Mr. Bush weighs the political risks and
      benefits of his religious faith, discusses campaign
      strategy and comments on rivals. John McCain "will
      wear thin," he predicted. John Ashcroft, he confided,
      would be a "very good Supreme Court pick" or a
      "fabulous" vice president. And in exchanges about his
      handling of media questions about his past, Mr. Bush
      appears to have acknowledged trying marijuana.

      Mr. Wead said he recorded the conversations because he
      viewed Mr. Bush as a historic figure, but he said he
      knew that the president might regard his actions as a
      betrayal. As the author of a new book about
      presidential childhoods, Mr. Wead could benefit from
      any publicity, but he said that was not a motive in
      disclosing the tapes.

      The White House did not dispute the authenticity of
      the tapes or respond to their contents. Trent Duffy, a
      White House spokesman, said, "The governor was having
      casual conversations with someone he believed was his
      friend." Asked about drug use, Mr. Duffy said, "That
      has been asked and answered so many times there is
      nothing more to add."

      The conversations Mr. Wead played offer insights into
      Mr. Bush's thinking from the time he was weighing a
      run for president in 1998 to shortly before he
      accepted the Republican nomination in 2000. Mr. Wead
      had been a liaison to evangelical Protestants for the
      president's father, and the intersection of religion
      and politics is a recurring theme in the talks.

      Preparing to meet Christian leaders in September 1998,
      Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead, "As you said, there are some
      code words. There are some proper ways to say things,
      and some improper ways." He added, "I am going to say
      that I've accepted Christ into my life. And that's a
      true statement."

      But Mr. Bush also repeatedly worried that prominent
      evangelical Christians would not like his refusal "to
      kick gays." At the same time, he was wary of unnerving
      secular voters by meeting publicly with evangelical
      leaders. When he thought his aides had agreed to such
      a meeting, Mr. Bush complained to Karl Rove, his
      political strategist, "What the hell is this about?"

      Mr. Bush, who has acknowledged a drinking problem
      years ago, told Mr. Wead on the tapes that he could
      withstand scrutiny of his past. He said it involved
      nothing more than "just, you know, wild behavior." He
      worried, though, that allegations of cocaine use would
      surface in the campaign, and he blamed his opponents
      for stirring rumors. "If nobody shows up, there's no
      story," he told Mr. Wead, "and if somebody shows up,
      it is going to be made up." But when Mr. Wead said
      that Mr. Bush had in the past publicly denied using
      cocaine, Mr. Bush replied, "I haven't denied

      He refused to answer reporters' questions about his
      past behavior, he said, even though it might cost him
      the election. Defending his approach, Mr. Bush said:
      "I wouldn't answer the marijuana questions. You know
      why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I

      He mocked Vice President Al Gore for acknowledging
      marijuana use. "Baby boomers have got to grow up and
      say, yeah, I may have done drugs, but instead of
      admitting it, say to kids, don't do them," he said.

      Mr. Bush threatened that if his rival Steve Forbes
      attacked him too hard during the campaign and won,
      both Mr. Bush, then the Texas governor, and his
      brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, would withhold
      their support. "He can forget Texas. And he can forget
      Florida. And I will sit on my hands," Mr. Bush said.

      The private Mr. Bush sounds remarkably similar in many
      ways to the public President Bush. Many of the taped
      comments foreshadow aspects of his presidency,
      including his opposition to both anti-gay language and
      recognizing same-sex marriage, his skepticism about
      the United Nations, his sense of moral purpose and his
      focus on cultivating conservative Christian voters.

      Mr. Wead said he withheld many tapes of conversations
      that were repetitive or of a purely personal nature.
      The dozen conversations he agreed to play ranged in
      length from five minutes to nearly half an hour. In
      them, the future president affectionately addresses
      Mr. Wead as "Weadie" or "Weadnik," asks if his
      children still believe in Santa Claus, and chides him
      for skipping a doctor's appointment. Mr. Bush also
      regularly gripes about the barbs of the press and his
      rivals. And he is cocky at times. "It's me versus the
      world," he told Mr. Wead. "The good news is, the world
      is on my side. Or more than half of it."

      Other presidents, such as Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon
      B. Johnson, secretly recorded conversations from the
      White House without the knowledge of others. Some
      former associates of President Bill Clinton taped
      personal conversations in apparent efforts to
      embarrass or entrap him. But Mr. Wead's recordings are
      a rare example of a future president taped at length
      without his knowledge talking about matters of public
      interest like his political strategy and priorities.

      Mr. Wead first acknowledged the tapes to a reporter in
      December to defend the accuracy of a passage about Mr.
      Bush in his new book, "The Raising of a President." He
      did not mention the tapes in the book or footnotes,
      saying he drew on them for only one page of the book.
      He said he never sought to sell or profit from them.
      He said he made the tapes in states where it was legal
      to do so with only one party's knowledge.

      Mr. Wead eventually agreed to play a dozen tapes on
      the condition that the names of any private citizens
      be withheld. The New York Times hired Tom Owen, an
      expert on audio authentication, to examine samples
      from the tapes. He concluded the voice was that of the

      A White House adviser to the first President Bush, Mr.
      Wead said in an interview in The Washington Post in
      1990 that Andrew H. Card Jr., then deputy chief of
      staff, told him to leave the administration "sooner
      rather than later" after he sent conservatives a
      letter faulting the White House for inviting gay
      activists to an event. But Mr. Wead said he left on
      good terms. He never had a formal role in the current
      president's campaign, though the tapes suggest he had
      angled for one.

      Mr. Wead said he admired George W. Bush and stayed in
      touch with some members of his family. While he said
      he has not communicated with the president since early
      in his first term, he attributed that to Mr. Bush's
      busy schedule.

      Mr. Wead said he recorded his conversations with the
      president in part because he thought he might be asked
      to write a book for the campaign. He also wanted a
      clear account of any requests Mr. Bush made of him.
      But he said his main motivation in making the tapes,
      which he originally intended to be released only after
      his own death, was to leave the nation a unique record
      of Mr. Bush.

      "I believe that, like him or not, he is going to be a
      huge historical figure," Mr. Wead said. "If I was on
      the telephone with Churchill or Gandhi, I would tape
      record them too."

      Summer of 1998

      The first of the taped conversations Mr. Wead
      disclosed took place in the summer of 1998, when Mr.
      Bush was running for his second term as Texas
      governor. At the time, Mr. Bush was considered a
      political moderate who worked well with Democrats and
      was widely admired by Texans of both parties. His
      family name made him a strong presidential contender,
      but he had not yet committed to run.

      Still, in a conversation that November on the eve of
      Mr. Bush's re-election, his confidence was soaring. "I
      believe tomorrow is going to change Texas politics
      forever," he told Mr. Wead. "The top three offices
      right below me will be the first time there has been a
      Republican in that slot since the Civil War. Isn't
      that amazing? And I hate to be a braggart, but they
      are going to win for one reason: me."

      Talking to Mr. Wead, a former Assemblies of God
      minister who was well connected in conservative
      evangelical circles, Mr. Bush's biggest concern about
      the Republican presidential primary was shoring up his
      right flank. Mr. Forbes was working hard to win the
      support of conservative Christians by emphasizing his
      opposition to abortion. "I view him as a problem,
      don't you?" Mr. Bush asked.

      Mr. Bush knew that his own religious faith could be an
      asset with conservative Christian voters, and his
      personal devotion was often evident in the taped
      conversations. When Mr. Wead warned him that "power
      corrupts," for example, Mr. Bush told him not to
      worry: "I have got a great wife. And I read the Bible
      daily. The Bible is pretty good about keeping your ego
      in check."

      In November 1999, he told his friend that he had been
      deeply moved by a memorial service for students who
      died in an accident when constructing a Thanksgiving
      weekend bonfire at Texas A & M University, especially
      by the prayers by friends of the students.

      In another conversation, he described a "powerful
      moment" visiting the site of the Sermon on the Mount
      in Israel with a group of state governors, where he
      read "Amazing Grace" aloud. "I look forward to sharing
      this at some point in time," he told Mr. Wead about
      the event.

      Preparing to meet with influential Christian
      conservatives, Mr. Bush tested his lines with Mr.
      Wead. "I'm going to tell them the five turning points
      in my life," he said. "Accepting Christ. Marrying my
      wife. Having children. Running for governor. And
      listening to my mother."

      In September 1998, Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead that he was
      getting ready for his first meeting with James C.
      Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, an evangelical
      self-help group. Dr. Dobson, probably the most
      influential evangelical conservative, wanted to
      examine the candidate's Christian credentials.

      "He said he would like to meet me, you know, he had
      heard some nice things, you know, well, 'I don't know
      if he is a true believer' kind of attitude," Mr. Bush

      Mr. Bush said he intended to reassure Dr. Dobson of
      his opposition to abortion. Mr. Bush said he was
      concerned about rumors that Dr. Dobson had been
      telling others that the "Bushes weren't going to be
      involved in abortion," meaning that the Bush family
      preferred to avoid the issue rather than fight over

      "I just don't believe I said that. Why would I have
      said that?" Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead with annoyance.

      By the end of the primary, Mr. Bush alluded to Dr.
      Dobson's strong views on abortion again, apparently
      ruling out potential vice presidents including Gov.
      Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Gen. Colin L. Powell,
      who favored abortion rights. Picking any of them could
      turn conservative Christians away from the ticket, Mr.
      Bush said.

      "They are not going to like it anyway, boy," Mr. Bush
      said. "Dobson made it clear."

      Signs of Concern

      Early on, though, Mr. Bush appeared most worried that
      Christian conservatives would object to his
      determination not to criticize gay people. "I think he
      wants me to attack homosexuals," Mr. Bush said after
      meeting James Robison, a prominent evangelical
      minister in Texas.

      But Mr. Bush said he did not intend to change his
      position. He said he told Mr. Robison: "Look, James, I
      got to tell you two things right off the bat. One, I'm
      not going to kick gays, because I'm a sinner. How can
      I differentiate sin?"

      Later, he read aloud an aide's report from a
      convention of the Christian Coalition, a conservative
      political group: "This crowd uses gays as the enemy.
      It's hard to distinguish between fear of the
      homosexual political agenda and fear of homosexuality,

      "This is an issue I have been trying to downplay," Mr.
      Bush said. "I think it is bad for Republicans to be
      kicking gays."

      Told that one conservative supporter was saying Mr.
      Bush had pledged not to hire gay people, Mr. Bush said
      sharply: "No, what I said was, I wouldn't fire gays."

      As early as 1998, however, Mr. Bush had already
      identified one gay-rights issue where he found common
      ground with conservative Christians: same-sex
      marriage. "Gay marriage, I am against that. Special
      rights, I am against that," Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead,
      five years before a Massachusetts court brought the
      issue to national attention.

      Mr. Bush took stock of conservative Christian views of
      foreign policy as well. Reading more of the report
      from the Christian Coalition meeting, Mr. Bush said to
      Mr. Wead: "Sovereignty. The issue is huge. The mere
      mention of Kofi Annan in the U.N. caused the crowd to
      go into a veritable fit. The coalition wants America
      strong and wants the American flag flying overseas,
      not the pale blue of the U.N."

      As eager as Mr. Bush was to cultivate the support of
      Christian conservatives, he did not want to do it too
      publicly for fear of driving away more secular voters.
      When Mr. Wead warned Mr. Bush to avoid big meetings
      with evangelical leaders, Mr. Bush said, "I'm just
      going to have one," and, "This is not meant to be

      Past Behavior

      Many of the taped conversations revolve around Mr.
      Bush's handling of questions about his past behavior.
      In August 1998, he worried that the scandals of the
      Clinton administration had sharpened journalists'
      determination to investigate the private lives of
      candidates. He even expressed a hint of sympathy for
      his Democratic predecessor.

      "I don't like it either," Mr. Bush said of the Clinton
      investigations. "But on the other hand, I think he has
      disgraced the nation."

      When Mr. Wead warned that he had heard reporters
      talking about Mr. Bush's "immature" past, Mr. Bush
      said, "That's part of my schtick, which is, look, we
      have all made mistakes."

      He said he learned "a couple of really good lines"
      from Mr. Robison, the Texas pastor: "What you need to
      say time and time again is not talk about the details
      of your transgressions but talk about what I have
      learned. I've sinned and I've learned."

      "I said, 'James' - he stopped - I said, 'I did some
      things when I was young that were immature,' " Mr.
      Bush said. "He said, 'But have you learned?' I said,
      'James, that's the difference between me and the
      president. I've learned. I am prepared to accept the
      responsibility of this office.' "

      By the summer of 1999, Mr. Bush was telling Mr. Wead
      his approach to such prying questions had evolved. "I
      think it is time for somebody to just draw the line
      and look people in the eye and say, I am not going to
      participate in ugly rumors about me, and blame my
      opponents, and hold the line, and stand up for a
      system that will not allow this kind of crap to go

      Later, however, Mr. Bush worried that his refusal to
      answer questions about whether he had used illegal
      drugs in the past could prove costly, but he held out
      nonetheless. "I am just not going to answer those
      questions. And it might cost me the election," he told
      Mr. Wead.

      He complained repeatedly about the press scrutiny,
      accusing the news media of a "campaign" against him.
      While he talked of certain reporters as "pro-Bush" and
      commented favorably on some publications (U.S. News &
      World Report is "halfway decent," but Time magazine is
      "awful"), he vented frequently to Mr. Wead about what
      he considered the liberal bias and invasiveness of the
      news media in general.

      "It's unbelievable," Mr. Bush said, reciting various
      rumors about his past that his aides had picked up
      from reporters. "They just float sewer out there."

      Mr. Bush bristled at even an implicit aspersion on his
      past behavior from Dan Quayle, the former vice
      president and a rival candidate.

      "He's gone ugly on me, man," Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead.
      Mr. Bush quoted Mr. Quayle as saying, "I'm proud of
      what I did before 40."

      "As if I am not!" Mr. Bush said.

      Sizing Up Opponents

      During the primary contest, Mr. Bush often sized up
      his dozen Republican rivals, assessing their appeal to
      conservative Christian voters, their treatment of him
      and their prospects of serving in a future Bush
      administration. He paid particular attention to
      Senator John Ashcroft. "I like Ashcroft a lot," he
      told Mr. Wead in November 1998. "He is a competent
      man. He would be a good Supreme Court pick. He would
      be a good attorney general. He would be a good vice

      When Mr. Wead predicted an uproar if Mr. Ashcroft were
      appointed to the court because of his conservative
      religious views, Mr. Bush replied, "Well, tough."

      While Mr. Bush thought the conservative Christian
      candidates Gary L. Bauer and Alan Keyes would probably
      scare away moderates, he saw Mr. Ashcroft as an ally
      because he would draw evangelical voters into the

      "I want Ashcroft to stay in there, and I want him to
      be very strong," Mr. Bush said. " I would love it to
      be a Bush-Ashcroft race. Only because I respect him.
      He wouldn't say ugly things about me. And I damn sure
      wouldn't say ugly things about him."

      But Mr. Bush was sharply critical of Mr. Forbes,
      another son of privilege with a famous last name.
      Evangelicals were not going to like him, Mr. Bush
      said. "He's too preppy," Mr. Bush said, calling Mr.
      Forbes "mean spirited."

      Recalling the bruising primary fight Mr. Forbes waged
      against Bob Dole in 1996, Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead,
      "Steve Forbes is going to hear this message from me. I
      will do nothing for him if he does to me what he did
      to Dole. Period. There is going to be a consequence.
      He is not dealing with the average, you know, 'Oh
      gosh, let's all get together after it's over.' I will
      promise you, I will not help him. I don't care."

      Another time, Mr. Bush discussed offering Mr. Forbes a
      job as economic adviser or even secretary of commerce,
      if Mr. Forbes would approach him first.

      Mr. Bush's political predictions were not always on
      the mark. Before the New Hampshire primary, Mr. Bush
      all but dismissed Senator John McCain, who turned out
      to be his strongest challenger.

      "He's going to wear very thin when it is all said and
      done," he said.

      When Mr. Wead suggested in June 2000 that Mr. McCain's
      popularity with Democrats and moderate voters might
      make him a strong vice presidential candidate, Mr.
      Bush almost laughed. "Oh, come on!" He added, "I don't
      know if he helps us win."

      Mr. Bush could hardly contain his disdain for Mr.
      Gore, his Democratic opponent, at one point calling
      him "pathologically a liar." His confidence in the
      moral purpose of his campaign to usher in "a
      responsibility era" never wavered, but he acknowledged
      that winning might require hard jabs. "I may have to
      get a little rough for a while," he told Mr. Wead,
      "but that is what the old man had to do with Dukakis,

      For his part, Mr. Wead said what was most resonant
      about the conversations with Mr. Bush was his concern
      that his past behavior might come back to haunt him.
      Mr. Wead said he used the tapes for his book because
      Mr. Bush's life so clearly fit his thesis: that
      presidents often grow up overshadowed by another

      "What I saw in George W. Bush is that he purposefully
      put himself in the shadows by his irresponsible
      behavior as a young person," Mr. Wead said. That
      enabled him to come into his own outside the glare of
      his parents' expectations, Mr. Wead said.

      Why disclose the tapes? "I just felt that the
      historical point I was making trumped a personal
      relationship," Mr. Wead said. Asked about
      consequences, Mr. Wead said, "I'll always be friendly
      toward him."
    • Ram Lau
      I like Ashcroft a lot, he told Mr. Wead in November 1998. He is a competent man. He would be a good Supreme Court pick. He would be a good attorney general.
      Message 2 of 2 , Feb 19, 2005
        "I like Ashcroft a lot," he told Mr. Wead in November 1998. "He is a
        competent man. He would be a good Supreme Court pick. He would be a
        good attorney general. He would be a good vice president."

        This is pretty scary stuff to see.

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