Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Secret Tapes Not Meant to Harm, Writer Says

Secret Tapes Not Meant to Harm, Writer Says
Ex-Bush Adviser Contends He Recorded Their Conversations for 'Historic' Purposes

By Lois Romano and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers

A former adviser to George W. Bush said yesterday that he secretly taped Bush over a two-year period when the latter was running for president for "historic" purposes, and that he had planned eventually to give the recordings to Bush for his archives.

Doug Wead, 58, an author and onetime religious adviser to Bush, said in a telephone interview that after excerpts from the tapes appeared yesterday in the New York Times, he was approached by a Bush intermediary suggesting that he turn over the recordings sooner rather than later.

But Wead -- who used the conversations for his new book, "The Raising of a President" -- said that no one from the White House has expressed anger at him for revealing portions of the tape. Asked whether Bush would view the actions as an act of treachery from a trusted friend, Wead said, "It depends on what else is on the tapes. . . . Ninety percent of the tapes have not been heard. He can see that my motive was not to try to hurt him.

"If I released all the tapes, it would be an act of betrayal," Wead said. "Most of them have never seen the light of day and never will."

The excerpts obtained by the Times and ABC show the aspiring president privately as he likes to portray himself publicly: very religious, very conservative -- and tolerant. Bush also seems to infer on one tape that he has tried marijuana, which he has never admitted publicly. Wead, who worked briefly in the White House for Bush's father, spoke to George W. Bush regularly by phone from 1998 through the 2000 presidential campaign, recording most of those conversations. The recordings show the evolution of Bush's political thinking on dealing with the religious right, as well as how he would handle rumors about his drinking and drug use.

"The cocaine thing, let me tell you my strategy on that," Bush said on the tape, according to a transcript posted on ABC's "Good Morning America" Web site. "Rather than saying no -- I think it's time for someone to draw the line and look people in the eye and say, you know, 'I'm not going to participate in ugly rumors about me and blame my opponent,' and hold the line. Stand up for a system that will not allow this kind of crap to go on."

On the question of marijuana use, Bush says, "Do you want your little kid to say, 'Hey Daddy, President Bush tried marijuana; I think I will.' . . . I wouldn't answer the marijuana question. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried."

At another point, Bush said of the rumors about him: "It's unbelievable. They just float sewer out there."

Response from the White House yesterday about the tapes was low-key, with senior aides declining to comment or criticize Wead. White House officials said yesterday that Bush did not know he was being recorded, but did not dispute the authenticity of the tapes. Press secretary Scott McClellan characterized the conversations as "casual conversations that then-Governor Bush was having with someone he thought was a friend."

Both Wead and the White House said Wead and Bush have not talked in several years. Asked whether he had recorded anyone else, Wead said, "I don't want to go there at all. I am hoping I can legally get rid of some of these." He said he made the tapes in Texas, where it is legal to record telephone conversations as long as one party is aware of it. Wead now lives in Haymarket, Va.

Wead is well-connected in the evangelical community and served a stint in the George H.W. Bush administration as a liaison to the religious right. But he was pushed out of the elder Bush's White House after he wrote a letter complaining that representatives of the gay community had been invited to the White House for a bill signing.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, aides to then-Gov. Bush were wary of Wead. Wead told The Washington Post in 2000 that top Bush political adviser Karl Rove made it clear to Wead that he did not approve of Wead's interference. About the same time, a close Bush adviser told The Post that Wead was not close to Bush.

Nonetheless, Bush continued to call Wead from the road, Wead told The Post in 1999 and 2000. Wead said at the time that he was making notes of Bush's conversations, but did not mention to The Post that he was also taping them.

Yesterday, Wead said in the interview that he began just taking notes, and initially started recording Bush so that he could remember their conversations in case the candidate wanted him to follow up on anything. He also said that he thought Bush might ask him to write a quick biography to counter what the candidate fretted would be negative biographies.

"He's a figure of history, like a Churchill," added Wead. "I see him as a pivotal figure. I love him."

Wead's newly published book is about the parents of presidents, not just Bush. He said that he had never intended the tapes to become public, but that his publisher, Simon & Schuster, asked to hear them for libel reasons. He said after he played them for his editors, he was contacted by the Times and agreed to play portions for a reporter.

On the tapes, Bush touts John D. Ashcroft as a possible running mate or attorney general, maintains that primary opponent John McCain "will wear thin" over time, and refers to another opponent, Steve Forbes, as "mean-spirited," according to the Times.

The conversations spend much time on Bush's religious beliefs and his courting of the evangelical right. At one point, according to the Times report, Bush seemed concerned that evangelicals wanted him to come out publicly against homosexuality.

"I think he wants me to attack homosexuals," Bush said after meeting high-profile Texas preacher James Robison.

The future president said he told 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?' "

Referring to one conservative group, Bush said, "This crowd uses gays as the enemy. It's hard to distinguish between fear of the homosexual political agenda and fear of homosexuality, however."

Wead said he first met George W. Bush in 1987, when George H.W. Bush was running for president, and Wead was a liaison with the religious community. "Apparently George W. was auditing some of the memos I was sending to his father," Wead told public television's "Frontline." "I knew that his father was vetting my memos with somebody. I suspected it was Billy Graham. It had to be someone sharp who understood evangelical Christianity. . . . George W. said, 'I've been reading your memorandum. Good stuff, Wead. I'm taking you over. You report to me.' So that was that."

Researcher Don Pohlman contributed to this report.

originally published Monday, February 21, 2005; Page A02