The communications director for Gov. George W. Bush ramped up her campaign's insinuations about possible political espionage Tuesday. In comments to reporters, Karen Hughes seemed to indict not only the campaign of Vice President Al Gore for possible spying, but also the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Clinton administration for "playing politics with this investigation" -- and possibly even racism.
It was quite a display.
Her statement came after the Dallas Morning News reported on its Web site that the FBI had been investigating the activities of Yvette Lozano, a 30-year-old assistant to Bush media strategist Mark McKinnon. Lozano was seen on surveillance videos mailing a package around the same time that someone mailed confidential debate preparation materials belonging to the Bush campaign to former Rep. Tom Downey, D-N.Y., a confidante of Gore. She has since said that she was merely returning a pair of pants to the Gap on McKinnon's behalf.
Downey says he immediately turned the materials over to the FBI after realizing their sensitive nature, and the surrounding stories and FBI "preliminary inquiry" have set off a firestorm of allegations from both the Bush and Gore campaigns -- with ever-declining levels of fact accompanying the escalating suspicions of campaign representatives.
"It's wrong and inappropriate for federal law enforcement officials out of Washington, presumably officials connected with the Clinton administration, to play politics with this, to try to implicate a young woman who is innocent, a young Hispanic woman who doesn't have enough money to afford a lawyer," Hughes said. She didn't provide any proof for her charges of Clinton administration politics.
"Someone in power in Washington, someone affiliated with law enforcement -- perhaps the Justice Department -- has leaked erroneous information implicating a young woman who is innocent," Hughes alleged without a lick of proof. "They alleged to the press that she was somehow sending a tape when actually she was sending a pair of pants to the Gap, and has shipping labels to prove that. People's lives are at stake here."
Hughes said that the leak of the inquiry into Lozano's activities "causes us to have seriously questioned whether the FBI is being allowed to do its job and actually investigate whether someone in Washington is playing politics with this investigation."
Hughes went on to insinuate that the FBI's investigation has been improperly aimed at the Bush campaign, instead of the Gore campaign, for reasons she made sound quite conspiratorial. The Gore camp, for its part, has said that it knows nothing about the package.
In a Sunday conference call with reporters, Gore himself seemed to imply that the package was some sort of attempt to "set up" his campaign. "If they keep sending -- if somebody in the Bush campaign keeps sending -- confidential internal data to us, we'll keep turning it over to the FBI," Gore said. When asked if he thought his campaign was being set up, Gore said he had no comment.
Hughes said that the FBI was favoring the Gore theory, despite hard evidence to the contrary. Bush media consultant Stuart Stevens "actually saw some Democratic consultants late at night in an adjacent production facility. And he called the FBI and would like to talk with them about the information he has, and they have yet to talk with him," she said.
Hughes didn't mention that the FBI has also yet to talk to Bush's chief strategist, Karl Rove, whom many Democrats suspect of having sent the tape in an attempt to "set up" the Gore campaign. Rove has episodes of dirty tricks and allegations of questionable campaign activities in his past.
"Someone higher up, someone in power in Washington, leaked information ... saying that the FBI believed the suspect was someone who worked for the Bush campaign," Hughes said. "And that's now been identified as an innocent young woman who is an employee of [McKinnon's firm] Maverick Media, who has actually been a baby sitter for Mark McKinnon for a number of years, who has offered to take a lie-detector test and who, again, was shipping a pair of pants to the Gap and has shipping labels to prove that."
When asked about what he thought of Hughes' charges, Gore spokesman Mark Fabiani deferred. "You'd have to call the FBI about that. It's not something that we have any knowledge of," he said.