[Paleopsych] NYT: In Secretly Taped Conversations, Glimpses of the Future President
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The New York Times > Washington > In Secretly Taped Conversations,
Glimpses of the Future President
February 20, 2005
[Bush in private is very much like he is in public. I ordinarily don't send
things like this, but it's quite revelatory to know that not every politician
is a conscious deceiver. Followup article appended. Both came out during
my annual Lenten break, but they are still worth reading.]
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 - As George W. Bush was first moving onto the
national political stage, he often turned for advice to an old friend
who secretly taped some of their private conversations, creating a
rare record of the future president as a politician and a personality.
In the last several weeks, that friend, Doug Wead, an author and
former aide to Mr. Bush's father, disclosed the tapes' existence to a
reporter and played about a dozen of them.
Variously earnest, confident or prickly in those conversations, Mr.
Bush weighs the political risks and benefits of his religious faith,
discusses campaign strategy and comments on rivals. John McCain "will
wear thin," he predicted. John Ashcroft, he confided, would be a "very
good Supreme Court pick" or a "fabulous" vice president. And in
exchanges about his handling of questions from the news media about
his past, Mr. Bush appears to have acknowledged trying marijuana.
Mr. Wead said he recorded the conversations because he viewed Mr. Bush
as a historic figure, but he said he knew that the president might
regard his actions as a betrayal. As the author of a new book about
presidential childhoods, Mr. Wead could benefit from any publicity,
but he said that was not a motive in disclosing the tapes.
The White House did not dispute the authenticity of the tapes or
respond to their contents. Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said,
"The governor was having casual conversations with someone he believed
was his friend." Asked about drug use, Mr. Duffy said, "That has been
asked and answered so many times there is nothing more to add."
The conversations Mr. Wead played offer insights into Mr. Bush's
thinking from the time he was weighing a run for president in 1998 to
shortly before he accepted the Republican nomination in 2000. Mr. Wead
had been a liaison to evangelical Protestants for the president's
father, and the intersection of religion and politics is a recurring
theme in the talks.
Preparing to meet Christian leaders in September 1998, Mr. Bush told
Mr. Wead, "As you said, there are some code words. There are some
proper ways to say things, and some improper ways." He added, "I am
going to say that I've accepted Christ into my life. And that's a true
But Mr. Bush also repeatedly worried that prominent evangelical
Christians would not like his refusal "to kick gays." At the same
time, he was wary of unnerving secular voters by meeting publicly with
evangelical leaders. When he thought his aides had agreed to such a
meeting, Mr. Bush complained to Karl Rove, his political strategist,
"What the hell is this about?"
Mr. Bush, who has acknowledged a drinking problem years ago, told Mr.
Wead on the tapes that he could withstand scrutiny of his past. He
said it involved nothing more than "just, you know, wild behavior." He
worried, though, that allegations of cocaine use would surface in the
campaign, and he blamed his opponents for stirring rumors. "If nobody
shows up, there's no story," he told Mr. Wead, "and if somebody shows
up, it is going to be made up." But when Mr. Wead said that Mr. Bush
had in the past publicly denied using cocaine, Mr. Bush replied, "I
haven't denied anything."
He refused to answer reporters' questions about his past behavior, he
said, even though it might cost him the election. Defending his
approach, Mr. Bush said: "I wouldn't answer the marijuana questions.
You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I
He mocked Vice President Al Gore for acknowledging marijuana use.
"Baby boomers have got to grow up and say, yeah, I may have done
drugs, but instead of admitting it, say to kids, don't do them," he
Mr. Bush threatened that if his rival Steve Forbes attacked him too
hard during the campaign and won, both Mr. Bush, then the Texas
governor, and his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, would withhold
their support. "He can forget Texas. And he can forget Florida. And I
will sit on my hands," Mr. Bush said.
The private Mr. Bush sounds remarkably similar in many ways to the
public President Bush. Many of the taped comments foreshadow aspects
of his presidency, including his opposition to both anti-gay language
and recognizing same-sex marriage, his skepticism about the United
Nations, his sense of moral purpose and his focus on cultivating
conservative Christian voters.
Mr. Wead said he withheld many tapes of conversations that were
repetitive or of a purely personal nature. The dozen conversations he
agreed to play ranged in length from five minutes to nearly half an
hour. In them, the future president affectionately addresses Mr. Wead
as "Weadie" or "Weadnik," asks if his children still believe in Santa
Claus, and chides him for skipping a doctor's appointment. Mr. Bush
also regularly gripes about the barbs of the press and his rivals. And
he is cocky at times. "It's me versus the world," he told Mr. Wead.
"The good news is, the world is on my side. Or more than half of it."
Other presidents, such as Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson,
secretly recorded conversations from the White House. Some former
associates of President Bill Clinton taped personal conversations in
apparent efforts to embarrass or entrap him. But Mr. Wead's recordings
are a rare example of a future president taped at length without his
knowledge talking about matters of public interest like his political
strategy and priorities.
Mr. Wead first acknowledged the tapes to a reporter in December to
defend the accuracy of a passage about Mr. Bush in his new book, "The
Raising of a President." He did not mention the tapes in the book or
footnotes, saying he drew on them for only one page of the book. He
said he never sought to sell or profit from them. He said he made the
tapes in states where it was legal to do so with only one party's
Mr. Wead eventually agreed to play a dozen tapes on the condition that
the names of any private citizens be withheld. The New York Times
hired Tom Owen, an expert on audio authentication, to examine samples
from the tapes. He concluded the voice was that of the president.
A White House adviser to the first President Bush, Mr. Wead said in an
interview in The Washington Post in 1990 that Andrew H. Card Jr., then
deputy chief of staff, told him to leave the administration "sooner
rather than later" after he sent conservatives a letter faulting the
White House for inviting gay activists to an event. But Mr. Wead said
he left on good terms. He never had a formal role in the current
president's campaign, though the tapes suggest he had angled for one.
Mr. Wead said he admired George W. Bush and stayed in touch with some
members of his family. While he said he has not communicated with the
president since early in his first term, he attributed that to Mr.
Bush's busy schedule.
Mr. Wead said he recorded his conversations with the president in part
because he thought he might be asked to write a book for the campaign.
He also wanted a clear account of any requests Mr. Bush made of him.
But he said his main motivation in making the tapes, which he
originally intended to be released only after his own death, was to
leave the nation a unique record of Mr. Bush.
"I believe that, like him or not, he is going to be a huge historical
figure," Mr. Wead said. "If I was on the telephone with Churchill or
Gandhi, I would tape record them too."
Summer of 1998
The first of the taped conversations Mr. Wead disclosed took place in
the summer of 1998, when Mr. Bush was running for his second term as
Texas governor. At the time, Mr. Bush was considered a political
moderate who worked well with Democrats and was widely admired by
Texans of both parties. His family name made him a strong presidential
contender, but he had not yet committed to run.
Still, in a conversation that November on the eve of Mr. Bush's
re-election, his confidence was soaring. "I believe tomorrow is going
to change Texas politics forever," he told Mr. Wead. "The top three
offices right below me will be the first time there has been a
Republican in that slot since the Civil War. Isn't that amazing? And I
hate to be a braggart, but they are going to win for one reason: me."
Talking to Mr. Wead, a former Assemblies of God minister who was well
connected in conservative evangelical circles, Mr. Bush's biggest
concern about the Republican presidential primary was shoring up his
right flank. Mr. Forbes was working hard to win the support of
conservative Christians by emphasizing his opposition to abortion. "I
view him as a problem, don't you?" Mr. Bush asked.
Mr. Bush knew that his own religious faith could be an asset with
conservative Christian voters, and his personal devotion was often
evident in the taped conversations. When Mr. Wead warned him that
"power corrupts," for example, Mr. Bush told him not to worry: "I have
got a great wife. And I read the Bible daily. The Bible is pretty good
about keeping your ego in check."
In November 1999, he told his friend that he had been deeply moved by
a memorial service for students who died in an accident when
constructing a Thanksgiving weekend bonfire at Texas A & M University,
especially by the prayers by friends of the students.
In another conversation, he described a "powerful moment" visiting the
site of the Sermon on the Mount in Israel with a group of state
governors, where he read "Amazing Grace" aloud. "I look forward to
sharing this at some point in time," he told Mr. Wead about the event.
Preparing to meet with influential Christian conservatives, Mr. Bush
tested his lines with Mr. Wead. "I'm going to tell them the five
turning points in my life," he said. "Accepting Christ. Marrying my
wife. Having children. Running for governor. And listening to my
In September 1998, Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead that he was getting ready
for his first meeting with James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the
Family, an evangelical self-help group. Dr. Dobson, probably the most
influential evangelical conservative, wanted to examine the
candidate's Christian credentials.
"He said he would like to meet me, you know, he had heard some nice
things, you know, well, 'I don't know if he is a true believer' kind
of attitude," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush said he intended to reassure Dr. Dobson of his opposition to
abortion. Mr. Bush said he was concerned about rumors that Dr. Dobson
had been telling others that the "Bushes weren't going to be involved
in abortion," meaning that the Bush family preferred to avoid the
issue rather than fight over it.
"I just don't believe I said that. Why would I have said that?" Mr.
Bush told Mr. Wead with annoyance.
By the end of the primary, Mr. Bush alluded to Dr. Dobson's strong
views on abortion again, apparently ruling out potential vice
presidents including Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Gen. Colin L.
Powell, who favored abortion rights. Picking any of them could turn
conservative Christians away from the ticket, Mr. Bush said.
"They are not going to like it anyway, boy," Mr. Bush said. "Dobson
made it clear."
Signs of Concern
Early on, though, Mr. Bush appeared most worried that Christian
conservatives would object to his determination not to criticize gay
people. "I think he wants me to attack homosexuals," Mr. Bush said
after meeting James Robison, a prominent evangelical minister in
But Mr. Bush said he did not intend to change his position. He said he
told Mr. Robison: "Look, James, I got to tell you two things right off
the bat. One, I'm not going to kick gays, because I'm a sinner. How
can I differentiate sin?"
Later, he read aloud an aide's report from a convention of the
Christian Coalition, a conservative political group: "This crowd uses
gays as the enemy. It's hard to distinguish between fear of the
homosexual political agenda and fear of homosexuality, however."
"This is an issue I have been trying to downplay," Mr. Bush said. "I
think it is bad for Republicans to be kicking gays."
Told that one conservative supporter was saying Mr. Bush had pledged
not to hire gay people, Mr. Bush said sharply: "No, what I said was, I
wouldn't fire gays."
As early as 1998, however, Mr. Bush had already identified one
gay-rights issue where he found common ground with conservative
Christians: same-sex marriage. "Gay marriage, I am against that.
Special rights, I am against that," Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead, five years
before a Massachusetts court brought the issue to national attention.
Mr. Bush took stock of conservative Christian views of foreign policy
as well. Reading more of the report from the Christian Coalition
meeting, Mr. Bush said to Mr. Wead: "Sovereignty. The issue is huge.
The mere mention of Kofi Annan in the U.N. caused the crowd to go into
a veritable fit. The coalition wants America strong and wants the
American flag flying overseas, not the pale blue of the U.N."
As eager as Mr. Bush was to cultivate the support of Christian
conservatives, he did not want to do it too publicly for fear of
driving away more secular voters. When Mr. Wead warned Mr. Bush to
avoid big meetings with evangelical leaders, Mr. Bush said, "I'm just
going to have one," and, "This is not meant to be public."
Many of the taped conversations revolve around Mr. Bush's handling of
questions about his past behavior. In August 1998, he worried that the
scandals of the Clinton administration had sharpened journalists'
determination to investigate the private lives of candidates. He even
expressed a hint of sympathy for his Democratic predecessor.
"I don't like it either," Mr. Bush said of the Clinton investigations.
"But on the other hand, I think he has disgraced the nation."
When Mr. Wead warned that he had heard reporters talking about Mr.
Bush's "immature" past, Mr. Bush said, "That's part of my schtick,
which is, look, we have all made mistakes."
He said he learned "a couple of really good lines" from Mr. Robison,
the Texas pastor: "What you need to say time and time again is not
talk about the details of your transgressions but talk about what I
have learned. I've sinned and I've learned."
"I said, 'James' - he stopped - I said, 'I did some things when I was
young that were immature,' " Mr. Bush said. "He said, 'But have you
learned?' I said, 'James, that's the difference between me and the
president. I've learned. I am prepared to accept the responsibility of
this office.' "By the summer of 1999, Mr. Bush was telling Mr. Wead
his approach to such prying questions had evolved. "I think it is time
for somebody to just draw the line and look people in the eye and say,
I am not going to participate in ugly rumors about me, and blame my
opponents, and hold the line, and stand up for a system that will not
allow this kind of crap to go on."
Later, however, Mr. Bush worried that his refusal to answer questions
about whether he had used illegal drugs in the past could prove
costly, but he held out nonetheless. "I am just not going to answer
those questions. And it might cost me the election," he told Mr. Wead.
He complained repeatedly about the press scrutiny, accusing the news
media of a "campaign" against him. While he talked of certain
reporters as "pro-Bush" and commented favorably on some publications
(U.S. News & World Report is "halfway decent," but Time magazine is
"awful"), he vented frequently to Mr. Wead about what he considered
the liberal bias and invasiveness of the news media in general.
"It's unbelievable," Mr. Bush said, reciting various rumors about his
past that his aides had picked up from reporters. "They just float
sewer out there."
Mr. Bush bristled at even an implicit aspersion on his past behavior
from Dan Quayle, the former vice president and a rival candidate.
"He's gone ugly on me, man," Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead. Mr. Bush quoted
Mr. Quayle as saying, "I'm proud of what I did before 40."
"As if I am not!" Mr. Bush said.
Sizing Up Opponents
During the primary contest, Mr. Bush often sized up his dozen
Republican rivals, assessing their appeal to conservative Christian
voters, their treatment of him and their prospects of serving in a
future Bush administration. He paid particular attention to Senator
John Ashcroft. "I like Ashcroft a lot," he told Mr. Wead in November
1998. "He is a competent man. He would be a good Supreme Court pick.
He would be a good attorney general. He would be a good vice
When Mr. Wead predicted an uproar if Mr. Ashcroft were appointed to
the court because of his conservative religious views, Mr. Bush
replied, "Well, tough."
While Mr. Bush thought the conservative Christian candidates Gary L.
Bauer and Alan Keyes would probably scare away moderates, he saw Mr.
Ashcroft as an ally because he would draw evangelical voters into the
"I want Ashcroft to stay in there, and I want him to be very strong,"
Mr. Bush said. " I would love it to be a Bush-Ashcroft race. Only
because I respect him. He wouldn't say ugly things about me. And I
damn sure wouldn't say ugly things about him."
But Mr. Bush was sharply critical of Mr. Forbes, another son of
privilege with a famous last name. Evangelicals were not going to like
him, Mr. Bush said. "He's too preppy," Mr. Bush said, calling Mr.
Forbes "mean spirited."
Recalling the bruising primary fight Mr. Forbes waged against Bob Dole
in 1996, Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead, "Steve Forbes is going to hear this
message from me. I will do nothing for him if he does to me what he
did to Dole. Period. There is going to be a consequence. He is not
dealing with the average, you know, 'Oh gosh, let's all get together
after it's over.' I will promise you, I will not help him. I don't
Another time, Mr. Bush discussed offering Mr. Forbes a job as economic
adviser or even secretary of commerce, if Mr. Forbes would approach
Mr. Bush's political predictions were not always on the mark. Before
the New Hampshire primary, Mr. Bush all but dismissed Senator John
McCain, who turned out to be his strongest challenger.
"He's going to wear very thin when it is all said and done," he said.
When Mr. Wead suggested in June 2000 that Mr. McCain's popularity with
Democrats and moderate voters might make him a strong vice
presidential candidate, Mr. Bush almost laughed. "Oh, come on!" He
added, "I don't know if he helps us win."
Mr. Bush could hardly contain his disdain for Mr. Gore, his Democratic
opponent, at one point calling him "pathologically a liar." His
confidence in the moral purpose of his campaign to usher in "a
responsibility era" never wavered, but he acknowledged that winning
might require hard jabs. "I may have to get a little rough for a
while," he told Mr. Wead, "but that is what the old man had to do with
For his part, Mr. Wead said what was most resonant about the
conversations with Mr. Bush was his concern that his past behavior
might come back to haunt him. Mr. Wead said he used the tapes for his
book because Mr. Bush's life so clearly fit his thesis: that
presidents often grow up overshadowed by another sibling.
"What I saw in George W. Bush is that he purposefully put himself in
the shadows by his irresponsible behavior as a young person," Mr. Wead
said. That enabled him to come into his own outside the glare of his
parents' expectations, Mr. Wead said.
Why disclose the tapes? "I just felt that the historical point I was
making trumped a personal relationship," Mr. Wead said. Asked about
consequences, Mr. Wead said, "I'll always be friendly toward him."
The New York Times > Washington > From Psst to Oops: Secret Taper of Bush Says
History Can Wait
February 24, 2005
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 - All week, Doug Wead has said the reason he
secretly recorded some of his phone calls with President Bush was for
But Wednesday, after a blast of criticism, Mr. Wead abruptly decided
he had spoken too soon. "History can wait," he said, promising to turn
over the tapes to Mr. Bush.
The disclosure that he had such tapes, recordings that spanned two
years before the 2000 presidential election when he was an evangelical
adviser to Mr. Bush, was published in The New York Times on Sunday.
Since then, Mr. Wead has appeared on several television news and talk
shows to defend his actions, insisting several times that he had never
sought to profit from the tapes and had decided to release some of
them only after the president's re-election.
"My thanks to those who have let me share my heart and regrets about
recent events," Mr. Wead wrote in the statement, posted on his Web
site Wednesday. "Contrary to a statement that I made to The New York
Times, I know very well that personal relationships are more important
Mr. Wead, an author who drew on the tapes obliquely for one page in
his recently published book, "The Raising of a President: The Mothers
and Fathers of Our Nation's Leaders," said, "I am asking my attorney
to direct any future proceeds from the book to charity and to find the
best way to vet these tapes and get them back to the president to whom
The White House declined to add to its previous statements that Mr.
Bush "was having casual conversations with someone he believed was his
But even Laura Bush was drawn into the controversy during her trip in
Europe with Mr. Bush.
"I think it's very odd and awkward, to be perfectly frank, to tape
someone while you're talking to them on the phone, and they don't know
it, and then come out with the tapes later," Mrs. Bush said in an
interview on the NBC morning show "Today." "I don't know if I'd use
the word 'betrayed,' but I think it's a little bit awkward for sure."
Mr. Wead's decision may be the coda to an unlikely 15-year-friendship,
begun when Mr. Bush was the born-again son of a well-known political
family and Mr. Wead was a former evangelist who made his living
turning out quickly written books and speaking at Amway conventions.
Among the disclosures Mr. Wead made about the tapes was that he was
keeping some additional undisclosed ones - coyness that prompted
furious speculation this week about what else or who else they might
contain since Mr. Bush and Karl Rove, his top political adviser, both
had many conversations with Mr. Wead over the phone during that time.
One of the tapes he played for The Times included what he said was a
brief conversation with Mr. Rove.
In the eyes of the Bush family and its loyalists, Mr. Wead violated a
cherished code of silence about their private affairs.
White House displeasure could put a dent in Mr. Wead's other careers.
As news of the conversations was about to be published last weekend,
the White House warned some of its evangelical allies who might be
mentioned on the tapes. Mr. Wead had augmented his book royalties with
fees as an evangelical motivational speaker and an expert on the Bush
family, and his actions could hurt his popularity with evangelical
supporters of Mr. Bush. He also has close ties to Rich DeVos, the
wealthy evangelical Christian co-founder the network-marketing giant
Amway who is also a major supporter of Mr. Bush. Representatives of
Mr. DeVos did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
"I know Doug Wead," said Dr. James C. Dobson, the founder of the
evangelical group Focus on the Family who acknowledged receiving a
"heads up" before the report appeared. "I am shocked by his breach of
trust and his relationship with then Governor Bush, who had welcomed
him into his confidence."
Richard Land, president of the ethics and religious liberty commission
of the Southern Baptist Convention said, "I would say it wasn't all
that great a career move if he wants to speak at evangelical events."
Mr. Wead declined to comment on any contact with the White House about
the tapes, but said the White House had not pressured him.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Mr. Wead, sounding noticeably
fatigued, said he decided to change course because of "the perception
that I have tried to exploit the tapes and make money off of it and
hurt the president and had all kinds of agendas."
"This seems like the best thing to show that isn't the case," he said.
"Nobody believes my story that I saw him as a figure of history," Mr.
Wead said with exasperation. "I guess I have got a story that is
unbelievable to people."
Mr. Wead said he had not yet worked out to whom he would give his
future royalties. He noted that his advance for his current book was
based only on the success of his previous book about presidential
families, which became a best seller, not on his access to the tapes.
Mr. Wead declined to comment on how he planned to turn over the tapes
to the president. "That will be proceeding," he said.
About the book he is planning next, another history of presidential
families, and his career as a paid speaker, Mr. Wead said he did not
yet know what the consequences might be.
"What is next is for me to make this right," he said. "To give any
future proceeds away and to give the tapes back to the president since
he didn't know he was being recorded."
Because the tapes were made before Mr. Bush became president, they
would not be subject to the regulations governing presidential papers,
which require them to be declassified after 25 years, said Barbara
Elias, freedom of information coordinator for the National Security
Archive, a nonprofit research group. Other lawyers suggested that the
White House may seek to convey the tapes to an outside lawyer
representing Mr. Bush, thus further shielding them under
Mr. Wead, a former minister of the Assemblies of God, first met
President Bush's father before his 1988 presidential campaign. At the
time, Mr. Wead was already a speaker at Amway events and had also
written a handful of books, and he approached Mr. Bush, who was then
the vice president, about a biography. Mr. Wead became an adviser to
the first President Bush on relations with evangelical Christians. The
younger Mr. Bush, who had become more deeply religious than his
father, worked closely with Mr. Wead in reaching out to conservative
Christians in his father's campaigns; the two often traveled the
After the 1988 election, Mr. Wead worked as a White House aide. He
left in 1990 after he sent a letter criticizing the invitation of some
gay activists to the White House, although Mr. Wead says he did not
object to their inclusion.
In 1992, however, when Mr. Wead was considering running for Congress
in Arizona, Mr. Bush stood by his friend, telling The Arizona
Republic: "Sometimes in White House circles, people have the knives
out for you. I think Doug got caught up in that. But I don't believe
he was fired. There was no reason for it."
On the tapes Mr. Wead played for The Times, he often appears to be
angling for a position on Mr. Bush's campaign, pointing out that he
might be able to help Mr. Bush with conservative Christians. Mr. Bush
politely rebuffs him, explaining that he was ruling out any of his
father's former advisers. Still, Mr. Bush called repeatedly to seek
Mr. Wead's advice and never failed to ask Mr. Wead friendly questions
about his welfare.
Tuesday evening, Mr. Wead sent a copy of his statement to Chris
Matthews, host of the MSNBC television program "Hardball," explaining
that he was canceling a planned appearance on the show.
"It seems the better part of wisdom for me to forgo television for a
time," he wrote, according to a copy of the note released by MSNBC.
"It would only add to the distraction I have caused to the president's
important and historic work."
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Matthews, who once worked as a
speechwriter to President Jimmy Carter, said he was sympathetic and
that the note seemed heartfelt.
"This is a live debate among people who have served high-level people
like presidents at close range, whether your duty is to your personal
relationship or to history," Mr. Matthews said. "It is a question of
loyalty versus truth."
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