Neil Bush and First Family Politics

ByABC News

Oct. 1, 2004 -- — President George W. Bush's younger brother, Neil Bush, 49, has put himself and his prominent family into an unflattering election year spotlight.

In a revealing videotaped divorce proceeding obtained by 20/20, Neil disclosed numerous business deals that gave him generous financial benefits for minimal effort. Also detailed were the startling sexual liaisons he had while on business trips in Asia.

In the March 3, 2003, deposition, Neil testified to earning $60,000 a year to be co-chairman of Crest Investment Company for, on average, three or four hours a week of work.

When asked the specifics of his position with the Houston-based company, Neil said he was responsible for "answering phone calls when Jamal Daniel, the other co-chairman, when he called and asked for advice."

Daniel, a Syrian-born businessman based in Houston, is also an advisory board member of New Bridge Strategies, LLC, a company "created specifically with the aim of assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the U.S.-led war in Iraq," according to its Web site.

New Bridge, based in Houston, lists as the principals of the company a group of well-connected businessmen with serious political weight. There are former members of both Bush administrations, the powerful lobbyists Ed Rogers and Lanny Griffith, and John Howland, also a principal of the Crest Investment Company.

Rogers and Griffith told ABC News they were unaware of any connection the company might have to Neil Bush.

And as the violence was escalating this March in Iraq, while Daniel was helping to arrange for clients lucrative contracts in Iraq, he also hosted a lavish second wedding at his Houston mansion for his longtime friend and now business associate Neil Bush, who was marrying for the second time.

Daniel declined to comment for this story.

"I think it shames the Bushes and I think it shames Americans that it doesn't shame the Bushes," said Kevin Phillips, a former Republican strategist and author of The American Dynasty, a critical look about the Bush family.

Observers of the Bush family say Neil has always chosen his friends carefully.

"The history of Neil is essentially a quarter century of moving and shaking and connecting and collecting," Phillips said.

Described as a Dom Perignon affair, the wedding was attended by family patriarch and former President George H.W. Bush, as well as prominent guests from the Middle East and China.

"And there were also very lavish gifts," said Mimi Swartz, executive editor of Texas Monthly. "I think the couple got matching Bulgari watches, I think someone else gave them an SUV."

Neil Bush's business travails first surfaced in the late 1980s, when he found himself in the unwelcome spotlight as a director on the board of the failed Silverado Banking Savings and Loan Association in Denver. It was a failure that cost taxpayers $1.3 billion, and though Neil denied any wrongdoing in a scandal that unfolded during the 1992 election, it cost his family as well.

"I remember having one chair in the whole living room," said Sharon Bush. "It was a tough time. We had to move and sell the house."

But when Sharon and Neil Bush resettled in Houston, where his parents live, Sharon says there was no shortage of profitable offers and deals through family connections.

"I think Neil is sort of a good time Charlie," said Phillips. "He's somebody who wants to make money on the family connections. I imagine he feels bad occasionally when something goes really wrong. But since he can't do too much else, he keeps doing it."

For example, in the deposition Neil said he was brought in to advise the board of a Chinese semiconductor company despite possessing no knowledge about semiconductors.

Neil Bush declined repeated requests to comment for this story. His lawyer said Neil has never been asked to contact a relative about a governmental matter nor would he do so.

"He's obviously not the world's greatest administrator or strategist but it doesn't matter if your name is Bush and your brother is president and your father is former president," Phillips said. "You can make a lot of arrangements and that's what he does."

And the indiscretions of Neil Bush do not end with his business practices. In the same videotaped deposition, he admits to having sex with women who simply showed up at his hotel room door during business trips to Thailand and Hong Kong.

"Mr. Bush, you have to admit that it's a pretty remarkable thing for a man just to go to a hotel room door and open it and have a woman standing there and have sex with her," said Sharon's attorney, Marshall Davis Brown.

"It was very unusual," responded Bush. And he testified it happened on more than one occasion. All the while, his wife of 23 years, Sharon, sat stunned across the table.

"He was so charming and he had always told me he loved me, so I was very shocked," the now ex-wife of Neil Bush said.

"I think it's outrageous that his parents did not at some point say to him, Neil, you're embarrassing your parents," said Phillips. "You're embarrassing your whole family. This is not what a son of the president of the United States does. This is not what the brother of the president of the United States does."

Today, Sharon Bush is not only divorced from Neil, she told 20/20, but completely cut out of the larger Bush clan, what she calls the Bush corporation.

It is a tight-knit family that sticks together financially, socially, and of course, politically.

"Well, you know, we all work together to support George and get him elected. And my father-in-law, to get him elected. It's a family affair. You work hard," Sharon Bush recalled.

Sharon and Neil Bush were married in 1980, when his father was running for vice president, and the couple was once the toast of Houston.

"Promixity to Neil meant proximity to his father, proximity to his brother," said Texas Monthly's Swartz.

Sharon was active in charity work, and busy raising her three teenage children — Lauren, a model who can be seen in the pages of top fashion magazines such as Vogue and W, Ashley, and son Pierce.

But Sharon knew from the beginning, indeed on her wedding day, that politics came first.

While in her wedding dress, she said she was asked by her new mother-in-law to step out of certain family photos. Barbara wanted only her sons to be photographed with her, Sharon said.

And now, after Neil's recent wedding to Maria Andrew, a woman who volunteered in his mother Barbara's office, Swartz said friends of the Bush family began a whispering campaign against Sharon.

Among the rumors was "that she was unstable," said Swartz. "And I want be very careful to say that her friends did not say that, her close friends would stick up for her but the Bush surrogates, I think did an excellent job of blackening her reputation."

Sharon Bush's marriage had come to an end two days after her 50th birthday, when she says Neil sent her an e-mail from Dubai.

The e-mail read, "Sharon, we've both been unhappy. We're almost out of money and I've lost my patience for being compared to my brothers."

Given that only two days prior, Sharon said Neil had given her a ring and said he loved her, she was in a daze over the news. In attempting to reach out to her in-laws, Sharon said she received a baffling response.

"I just really basically was turned off, turned away," Sharon said, though she recounted a conversation with her mother-in-law, Barbara. "I said I think Neil is having a mid-life crisis. You know, I'm worried about his business and maybe stress was leading to this e-mail. And she basically said, you talk to your mother and Neilsy will talk to me. And Neilsy will never abandon his children. And that was it."

Sharon Bush said her divorce settlement only allowed for four years of alimony at $2,500 a month, and further contends that she will soon have to sell the family home in Houston. Meanwhile, Neil and his new wife are building a multi-million dollar house next door to his parents.

"They were my family for almost a quarter-century," Sharon said of the Bushes. "I believed in families, and I believed in the family values. And I thought they did, too. So, I thought I would get help from them."

But Swartz, a veteran of the Houston social scene, thought otherwise.

"It's very much like the presidency of George W.," she said. "I think you're either with them, or you're not, and if you're not with them, you are on that ice floe for the rest of your life."

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