Five days before the election, GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush admits he was arrested for drunk driving in 1976. Bush says Democrats were behind the disclosure.
ABCNEWS.com Nov. 3
— 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.
Tom Connolly, a former nominee for governor in Maine and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, acknowledged today that he had provided the information to the press.
“I don’t know whether my opponent’s campaign is involved,” the Republican candidate said today. “But I do know that the person who admitted doing it at the last minute was a Democrat and partisan.”
But Gore campaign Chairman William Daley categorically denied any involvement.
“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,” added Connolly. “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” — though the revelation apparently originated with a lawyer who has served as a Democratic National Convention delegate.
Fehlau said a police officer had overheard a judge and the attorney discussing the matter. The officer asked Fehlau, who was covering an unrelated story at the courthouse, if it was true. Later, Fehlau said she sought out the lawyer, 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 today 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.
Campaign spokesman Dan Bartlett said Bush was driving with his sister, Doro, then 17, after celebrating the visit of Australian tennis player John Newcombe, a close friend. Newcombe and his wife also were in the car. According to Bartlett, Bush was driving — very slowly and swerving — in the opposite direction from the arresting officer. The officer turned around to pull Bush over and, after giving him a sobriety field test, took him to the station.
Bush said Thursday he kept the arrest under wraps because he did not want to set a bad example for his children. His daughters, twins Barbara and Jenna, turn 19 on Nov. 25.
“I didn’t wanted to talk about this in front in my daughters,” he said. “I’ve told my daughters they shouldn?t be drinking and driving.”
As the Bush camp accuses opponents of running a smear campaign, it is also being pressed to explain a Dallas Morning News reporter’s claim that Bush answered ‘No’ when asked in 1998 whether he had been arrested for anything other than a previously disclosed college prank.
Bush Communications Director Karen Hughes denied Bush had concealed information. “The reporter was clearly left with the impression — an accurate impression — that the governor had been involved in some incident involving alcohol,#0148; she said today.
Stumping this morning in Millersville, Pa., Bush running mate Dick Cheney urged supporters to keep their “eye on the ball” in the closing days of the campaign.
“There’s all kinds of stuff flying around out there,” Cheney said. “ The important thing is we keep our eye on the ball and what we’re going to decide on Tuesday.”
Cheney has acknowledged that he too has been arrested for drunken driving. Juleanna Glover Weiss, Cheney’s press secretary, confirmed Thursday that the former defense secretary was twice arrested for driving while intoxicated — in 1962 and 1963, when he was in his 20s.
Bush has often said that he quit drinking right after his 40th birthday in 1986 — 10 years after the incident.
A year before being arrested, Bush earned his masters of business administration and returned to Texas to get into the oil business at age 29.
In the summer of 1977, he met his future wife, Laura, whom he married that November. A year later, he launched an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Congress.
ABCNEWS’ John Berman and Ariane DeVogue contributed to this report.