George W. Bush is accusing Democrats of playing “dirty politics” by leaking information about his 24-year-old arrest for drunken driving just days before voters head to the polls.
“I believe that most Americans are going to come to the conclusion that this is dirty politics,” the Texas governor said in an interview with FOX News this afternoon.
Bush publicly admitted Thursday night, after it was reported by a Maine television station, that he had been arrested for driving under the influence on Labor Day weekend in 1976 near his family home in Kennebunkport.
According to an ABC News poll, only seven percent of all likely voters say the arrest raises serious concern in their minds about whether Bush is qualified to be president, and virtually all of them favor Gore anyway. Almost no Bush supporters—one person in this poll of nearly 700—say it raises serious concern about his qualifications. Indeed, only 16 percent of Gore supporters say so.
Tom Connolly, a former nominee for governor in Maine and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, acknowledged Friday that he was the one who tipped off the press but says the Gore campaign had “zero” involvement.
Gore campaign Chairman William Daley categorically denied any involvement.
But Bush said the attorney’s Democratic ties raise suspicion.
“I don’t know whether my opponent’s campaign is involved,” the Republican candidate said Friday. “But I do know that the person who admitted doing it at the last minute was a Democrat and partisan.”
The Gore campaign has steered clear of commenting on the story except to deny any involvement in its revelation. In fact, Connolly said, he tried to tip off Gore staffers to the existence of court records on the Bush DUI case but never received a response.
“It is time for Governor Bush’s campaign to stop hurling charges, and start accepting responsibility,” Daley said in a statement e-mailed to reporters. “Whatever questions remain unanswered are the responsibility of Governor Bush and his campaign, not ours.”
Connolly, meanwhile, dismissed the Bush camp’s complaints about timing.
“Bush is the one who has been playing around with the truth,” he said. “He’s known about it for 20 years.”
In his first campaign speech since the arrest was revealed, Bush made a veiled reference to the controversy.
“It has become clear to America over the course of this campaign that I have made mistakes in my life,” Bush said this morning at a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich. “but I am proud to tell you that I have learned from those mistakes.”
Reporter Denies Being Manipulated
Erin Fehlau, the local TV reporter who broke the story, said she was confident it was “not a setup.”
Fehlau said a police officer had overheard a judge and a lawyer discussing the matter. (She would not reveal the identity of the lawyer, but Connolly later acknowledged his role.) The officer asked Fehlau, who was covering an unrelated story at the courthouse, if it was true. Fehlau said she then sought out Connolly, who provided her with a court document on the Bush case.
“When I ran up to him and asked him if he had anything on it, he said, yes he did,” Fehlau said Friday on ABCNEWS’ Good Morning America. “Did he look surprised? I guess he did look a little surprised.”
Mistakes Were Made
Bush, who was 30 at the time of the arrest, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence, was fined $150 and his driving privileges were suspended.