Embarrassing Relatives Plague Presidents


Dec. 2, 2003 — -- Neil Bush says he didn't bother asking any questions when strange women knocked on the door of his hotel room, entered and had sex with him. But you could hear an all-too-familiar lament from the White House — Oh, Brother!

Presidents are always having family problems, just like the rest of us. Who doesn't have a relative he would just as soon forget? There's a Roger Clinton or a Billy Carter swinging from every family tree.

You'd think the leader of the free world wields some power around the house — but not at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. As Jimmy Carter once said, "I have more influence over members of the U.S. Senate than I do over Billy."

In the Watergate era, Richard Nixon actually ordered wiretaps on his brother's phone. Years earlier, Lyndon B. Johnson supposedly ordered the Secret Service to keep his brother as a virtual White House prisoner, to reel in his drunken cavorting.

Now, President Bush, who has three brothers and a sister, faces a new battle on the home front. The reports last week of his 48-year-old brother's antics emerged in a deposition that was part of his recent divorce.

Neil Bush says that in the late 1990s, he slept with several mysterious women who just showed up at his door at hotels in Hong Kong and Thailand. He didn't know whether they were prostitutes because he didn't even ask them any questions.

"You have to admit 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 his ex-wife's lawyer.

"It was very unusual," replied Bush, according to the deposition.

The business deals that brought Neil Bush to Asia are now also under scrutiny. A computer chip company backed by the son of a former president of China promised to pay him $2 million, even though he has no background in semiconductors.

Years earlier, Neil Bush was attached to another controversy. He was the director of Silverado Savings and Loan, a Colorado bank that collapsed in 1988 at a cost to taxpayers of $1 billion.

Of course, it's not clear what (if any) fallout President Bush might suffer as a result of his brother. Certainly, as we look back on some infamous first brothers, we're reminded that family ties often put presidents in a bind.

1. Billy Carter: Redneck Powerbroker When his brother was elected president in 1976, Billy Carter gleefully turned his life into a national joke. He was Jimmy Carter's drunken sibling, who bragged about smoking pot at the White House and urinating in public.

At his gas station in Plains, Ga., Billy Carter swigged beer while holding court for reporters, causing his family endless headaches.

"I got a mother who went into the Peace Corps at the age of 68. I got a sister who's a holy roller preacher. I got another sister who rides motorcycles and wears helmets. I got a brother who thinks he's going to be president of the United States," he told reporters.

"I'm the only sane one in the family," he said, bragging that he could drink 20 to 25 beers, "but not every day."

Carter leveraged his celebrity into an array of products, including "Billy Beer" and his first book, Redneck Power: The Wit and Wisdom of Billy Carter,, while charging $5,000 for personal appearances.

"I wish Billy would have gone along with my plan to involve him in the government," President Carter once told an audience.

"I was going to reorganize and put the FBI and the CIA together. But Billy said he didn't want to join any agency he couldn't spell."

But President Carter had a harder time explaining Billy's actions when the first brother accepted a $200,000 loan from the Libyan government and had to register as an agent for the rogue nation.

When his brother lost his bid for re-election, Billy remained unapologetic. "I think I helped Jimmy as much as I hurt him," he said. "Certainly I didn't hurt him enough to lose 44 states."

Billy Beer never took off. Eventually, Billy had to sell his home to settle a debt with the Internal Revenue Service. And in later years, he mellowed.

In 1988, about seven years before he lost his battle to pancreatic cancer, Billy took an oath of sobriety and concentrated on his other love — trailer park homes.

2. Donald Nixon: The Would-Be Burger KingHow'd you like to sink your teeth into a nice, juicy Nixonburger?

In the mid 1950s, Donald Nixon dreamed of slapping the family name on a chain of fast-food restaurants. The would-be burger king ended up borrowing $205,000 from Howard Hughes — a disclosure that might have damaged his brother's 1962 run for the governor of California.

President Nixon wasn't taking any chances in 1972, when he was running for re-election, and it was later revealed that he ordered the Secret Service to wire-tap his brother's phone. Nixon's presidency turned into political chopped meat — but he couldn't blame his brother.

3. Roger Clinton: The Pardoned Pumpkinhead It's not hard to guess why the Secret Service codename for President Clinton's half brother was "Headache." When Bill was serving as governor of Arkansas, Roger spent a year in a state prison for cocaine trafficking, and later described himself as having a "walk-in closet full of skeletons."

Having a brother as president, Roger tried to make it in show business. He signed a record deal and landed a role in Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings, playing the role of "Mayor Bubba."

But Roger was better known as a party animal and troublemaker. The would-be rock star spent time as a gofer for Clinton's TV producer friends, Harry and Linda Bloodworth Thomason.

In his final days in office, President Clinton pardoned his brother on the cocaine charge and wiped his slate clean — but not for long. After a fracas at a Los Angeles nightclub, Roger was soon arrested on charges of drunken driving and disturbing the peace.

Amid the controversy, Roger Clinton was also under FBI investigation for allegedly accepting money to broker presidential pardons for six other drug felons. The scandal also touched the first lady's brother, Hugh Rodham, who was asked to return $400,000 for helping secure pardons for a convicted drug trafficker and scam artist.

4. Sam Houston Johnson: Prisoner of Pennsylvania AvenueMany White House scribes say it probably wasn't love that drove Lyndon B. Johnson to make a place for his brother at the White House. The president's staff worked overtime to keep his brother out of sight, and most everyone agrees it was no easy job.

Sam Houston Johnson, eight years younger than his brother, was a self-described "problem drinker," and was said to leak damaging information to the press while carousing.

When President Johnson died, it was evident that there was no love lost between the brothers. LBJ, a millionaire, left his brother a measly $5,000.

In his biography, Sam Houston described himself as a virtual prisoner of the White House who was barely allowed to step outside without a cadre of Secret Service officers watching his every move.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producerat ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files ispublished Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice whena new column is published, join the e-maillist.

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