Tags: Democrat | Leak | Bush | DUI | Arrest | Could | Backfire

Democrat Leak of Bush DUI Arrest Could Backfire

Friday, 03 November 2000 12:00 AM

"Nobody condones drinking and driving, but people in Maine are sick of the politics of this. It just gives them further impetus to want change," said Steve Abbott, chief of staff for Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine.

"It reminds people of the Clinton administration's historic contempt for people's privacy, for their use and abuse of FBI files against political enemies, and their willingness to do absolutely anything," said Grover Norquist, president of the Americans for Tax Reform.

"We were always expecting an October surprise, and I guess this is it" a few days late, remarked Norquist.

Norquist expects the backlash to help Bush. He predicted legal consequences for those who leaked the court documents.

"I think it will help Bush a little bit. This is such obviously a dirty trick and obviously done by the Democrats, and it's 24 years old. This comes across as desperation," said Norquist.

"We now know [this was] leaked by an active Democrat, Gore supporter, in violation of the law, of taking sealed court documents," said Norquist.

"The guy who leaked it will almost certainly be disbarred for this, and the judge who was part of this, who was also a Democrat," Norquist said.

Norquist conceded that Bush should have revealed the information himself earlier.

"In 20/20 hindsight, it would have made sense to have brought it up seven months ago," said Norquist.

"It wasn't as if he had insisted he had never had a problem because he drank too much. His point was his drinking was affecting his life and he decided to change it and he did," he said.

Portland lawyer Tom Connolly, a failed 1998 Maine gubernatorial candidate and a Gore delegate at the Democrat convention in August, admitted he leaked information to the press about Bush's DUI but said he acted without the knowledge of the Gore campaign.

Connolly said someone who was in Biddeford District Court when Bush's 1976 case came up was concerned that it had never been reported and alerted "a public figure" about the case.

Connolly said he obtained a copy of a court docket of Bush's arrest, which he gave to a local television reporter.

But Abbott said the timing of the leak "has made people very skeptical" about what motivated Connolly, who did not act on his own.

"People will pursue the issue of where this came from. Someone had to look for this. It took a serious effort to get it. We'll definitely hear more about it here in Maine."

Abbott predicted the story would run its course over the weekend, but would eventually hurt the Gore campaign.

"It's of interest to people in the media, but the campaigns will get back focused on issues," he said.

Jim Tobin, a longtime Republican political strategist from Maine, thinks the effect on the election will be minimal. "People are going to see this for what it is, a Democratic dirty trick."

"It's very interesting that this comes within four days of the [election]," said Tobin.

"Mr. Connolly practices law in Maine, and I can't imagine that he just came across this information recently," he said. "I'm sure he's directly linked with the Gore campaign. He's in Maine. Maine is a small state."

Some Republican lawmakers and Texas Democrat Rep. Martin Frost agreed that the DUI disclosure won't have an effect on the election Tuesday.

Frost said during a Fox interview Friday, "I don't think it matters."

Ken Cole, a Republican National Committee member and a former chairman of the Republican Party in Maine, said the DUI was "nothing more than a traffic violation," but leaking information about it would backfire on the Democrats.

"I know Tom Connolly. I know he ran for governor as a Democrat two years ago. I know he was a Gore delegate. I know he'd certainly love to embarrass George W. Bush, and I'm sure that was his intent," Cole said.

Bush was pulled over near his family's Kennebunkport summer home after spending time in a bar with friends and a family member during the Labor Day weekend of 1976. Bush, who was driving the car, failed a road sobriety test and a second test in the police station, registering a 0.10 blood alcohol level, his campaign said.

Bush pleaded guilty to drunk driving, paid a $150 fine and lost his driving privileges in Maine for a month.

Cole, an attorney who handled drunk driving cases in the 1970s, said the Bush case would not be considered a criminal conviction in 1976.

"Usually these cases didn't even go to trial," Cole said. "They were settled with the district attorney.

"If George Bush hadn't played straight here, this wouldn't even be turning up. He could have gone to the DA and ask that the case be filed. What people usually did was pay a 'filing fee,' which was equal to what the fine would be, and the case was disposed of with no entry anywhere.

"Bush was totally straight here by pleading guilty and paying this fine. It's a case of no good turn going unpunished."

Bush's blood alcohol level – 0.10 – was a level 99.9 percent of drinkers in America had as their blood alcohol level when they were stopped, Cole said. "That's like two or three beers. It's not a substantial amount."

In a separate interview, House Majority Leader Dick Armey blamed political motives for the leak. "When you weigh this against what Gov. Bush has accomplished, it's a very small blip on the radar screen."

The Republican governor of Connecticut, John Rowland, agreed that the DUI disclosure would not hurt Bush. "Anyone who thinks the disclosure was not politically motivated is naive."

If Democrats Al Gore and Joe Lieberman win the presidential election, Rowland will be the one appointing a Republican successor to Lieberman's Senate seat.

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Nobody condones drinking and driving, but people in Maine are sick of the politics of this. It just gives them further impetus to want change, said Steve Abbott, chief of staff for Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine. It reminds people of the Clinton...
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Friday, 03 November 2000 12:00 AM
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