A sworn affidavit by Texas Gov. George W. Bush insisting he had no discussions about a state investigation into a political contributor's funeral home business has been contradicted by the company's own lawyer.
Bush had been subpoenaed by attorneys for Eliza May, the former executive director of the Texas Funeral Service Commission, which had been investigating Service Corporation International of Houston, the world's largest funeral company, whose chief executive, Robert Waltrip, is a close political ally of the Bush family. May, who was fired in February, is suing SCI, Waltrip and the state of Texas, alleging that Bush and other state officials pressured her agency to stop the investigation.
The Texas governor and front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination sought to avoid testifying in the case by filing an affidavit swearing he "had no conversations with [SCI] officials, agents, or representatives concerning the investigation or any dispute arising from it."
The affidavit also stated that Bush never spoke with the Texas Funeral Service Commission about the investigation, and that Bush had "no personal knowledge of relevant facts of the investigation nor do I have any personal knowledge of relevant facts concerning any dispute arising from this investigation."
But in a forthcoming story by Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, Johnnie B. Rogers, attorney for SCI, said he and Waltrip met with Bush's chief of staff and campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, on April 15 to hand deliver a letter demanding an end to the investigation.
Bush stuck his head into the meeting, Rogers told Isikoff, and said, "Hey Bobby, are those people still messing with you?" When Waltrip indicated that they were, Bush asked Rogers, "Hey, Johnnie B. Are you taking care of him?" Rogers replied, "I'm doing my best, Governor."
Rogers' story appears to contradict Bush's statement that he has "had no conversations with SCI officials, agents or representatives" about the state's investigation. Bush press secretary Linda Edwards told Isikoff that Bush and Waltrip had a "brief verbal exchange," though "they did not discuss the case."
May's attorneys believe the controversy should intensify the call for Bush to testify. "Obviously the statement of Johnnie B. Rogers in Newsweek indicates that [Bush] knew more than he's letting on about this case," said May's attorney, Derek Howard. "This is all the more reason to have him deposed."
May's lawsuit alleges she was fired because her department's investigation got too close to discovering illegal embalming practices by SCI. Bush has received $35,000 in campaign contributions since 1996 from SCI's political action committee, and Waltrip is an old friend and benefactor of the Bush family.
A hearing has been set for Aug. 30 in the Travis County Courthouse in Austin to decide if Bush must testify in the case.
The funeral home flap presents the first real test for Bush's high-flying presidential campaign. Earlier stories about his draft status seem to have fallen by the wayside, and the persistent rumors about his rambunctious youth have proven to be nothing more than gossip to date.
But these allegations represent something different. It can't be good news to the Bush campaign that Isikoff, the reporter who first dug up the name Monica Lewinsky, is on the case. The word around Austin is that "60 Minutes" is beginning to get interested in the story.
Meanwhile, the silence out of Austin is deafening. The normally gregarious Rogers has apparently been muzzled, and is not speaking to the media. He told Salon News that all questions about the matter should be referred to SCI spokesman Bill Miller.
Neither Bush's campaign press team nor his gubernatorial press office returned numerous calls seeking comment.