The FBI has launched a full criminal investigation as it seeks to find out how GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush’s secret debate prep material ended up in the hands of an adviser to his Democratic rival, Al Gore.
The FBI inquiry has already zeroed in on one suspect, Yvette Lozano, an employee of a media consulting firm that does work for the Bush campaign, to a package containing Bush campaign documents and a videotape of Bush practicing for the upcoming presidential debates.
“We are pleased the FBI is digging, and digging deep,” Bush campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters this afternoon. “We want them to get to the bottom of it.”
The package containing the sensitive material arrived Sept. 13 in the Washington offices of Tom Downey, an adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. Downey turned the material over to the FBI.
A law enforcement source confirmed the Post report that the label on the Express Mail package received by Downey also directly corresponds to the date and time Lozano was filmed by a security camera mailing a package in an Austin, Texas, post office. Bush’s national campaign headquarters are in Austin.
Lozano insists the package she sent did not contain the video, but a pair of pants from The Gap that she was sending back for her boss, Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon.
Lozano told ABCNEWS that agents have fingerprinted her — for a second time — and have confiscated her office computer.
Late last week, two agents questioned her and, in an exclusive interview with ABCNEWS, she said they warned her that her arrest was a possibility.
“Their words were, ‘We guarantee you will not be arrested if you tell us right now who put you up to this,’” Lozano said.
Video Raises Questions
The agency’s suspicions were aroused by the post office surveillance video, which showed Lozano mailing a package on Sept. 11.
“I offered to take the lie detector test,” she told ABCNEWS. “I’ve offered my fingerprints on numerous occasions. I’ve given them multiple samples of my fingerprints. And the truth is on my side.”
McKinnon defended his employee and said that the fact he received another pair of Gap pants in exchange for the other ones, is proof Lozano is telling the truth.
The Bush campaign, which supports Lozano’s assertions of innocence, faults the FBI for focusing its attention her instead of casting a wider net.
An unresolved question is whether Lozano violated any federal laws if she sent the tape to Downey, a former House member, sources told the Post. The FBI is waiting for a ruling from Department of Justice’s Public Integrity unit on whether the department wants to proceed with a possible prosecution, they said.
Public Integrity normally handles cases related to possible wrongdoing by public officials but is involved in this case, the sources told the newspaper, because the Bush campaign received federal funding. If Lozano made false statements to the FBI about her conduct, that would be a violation of federal law.
For his part, McKinnon has expressed certainty that Lozano was not involved in mailing the tape.
“We know that when they discover who it is that it will have no connection to the Bush campaign,” McKinnon said. “It will have some connection to the Gore campaign.”
Lozano may have fallen under suspicion because she and McKinnon have a history of helping Democrats. Lozano worked for former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, whom Bush unseated, and state Rep. Vilma Luna. McKinnon, who runs Maverick Media consulting in Austin, also worked for Richards as well as other Democrats before signing on with the Bush team.
McKinnon has said he gave the FBI his credit card information so agents can track the package and corroborate their story. And both McKinnon and Lozano have offered to take a lie detector test.
Bush Team, FBI Clash
The Bush campaign has cried foul, accusing the Clinton administration of interfering with the inquiry.
“Someone in power in Washington … has leaked erroneous information implicating a young woman who is innocent,” Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes told reporters Tuesday.
“This causes us to seriously question whether the FBI is being allowed to do its job and actually investigate or whether someone in Washington is playing politics with this investigation,” Hughes added.
But Hughes appeared to back off her position slightly when asked about Lozano again Saturday afternoon, pointing out that Lozano is not formally a member of the Bush campaign.
“She’s not my employee so it’s a little bit hard for me,” said Hughes. “I think I’m being put in a bad position of being asked to answer for someone who’s not my employee, who I don’t know. I’ve never met the woman.”
FBI agents interviewed chief Bush strategist Karl Rove Saturday afternoon, stopping by the campaign office for a session that lasted less than half an hour.
The Gore campaign has complained it is being set up to take the blame and defended the FBI.
“They’re a professional law enforcement agency,” Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said. “We’re very, very comfortable having the FBI take up this investigation. For some reason, the Bush campaign does not seem to be very comfortable with the FBI.”
Interviewed this morning on Fox News Sunday, Gore campaign chairman William Daley said the FBI has not interviewed any Gore staffers in connection with the inquiry.
“I think, from what I see and what I saw on television, they’re totally focused on people within the organization of the Bush campaign — or loosely called the Bush campaign,” said Daley.
Mole at Large?
The Bush campaign also has sought to link the episode to the recent suspension of a Gore campaign staff member who bragged he knew of a “mole” on the Texas governor’s team but then retracted his initial statement after being questioned by ABCNEWS.
“The Gore campaign has obviously had a problem because they have had to suspend one of their employees for boasting about the presence of a mole,” Hughes said.
“I think the man ought to tell us who it is,” said Bush on Larry King Live last week. “I would like to know who it is.”
There is no indication that the two matters arerelated.
ABCNEWS’ Jackie Judd, Chris Vlasto, Mark Halperin, John Berman, Ariane DeVogue, Beverley Lumpkin and Brian Hartman contributed to this report.