Karen Hughes defends Bush

Reporters spar with the Texas governor's campaign spokeswoman over the meaning of a "direct answer."


Salon Staff
November 4, 2000 1:30AM (UTC)

Karen Hughes, communications director of the George W. Bush campaign, in a press conference Friday morning:

Karen Hughes: Good morning. How's everybody?

I double checked the public record. The only time Governor Bush has ever been previously asked whether he had ever been arrested for drinking, he responded, quote, "I do not have a perfect record as a youth."

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That was his response in October of 1996 when he was directly asked this question, more than three years ago.

And I find it interesting that in the closing days of this campaign, the Democratic candidate for governor of Maine has now admitted that he is the one who released this information, to the public and to the media -- in the closing days of this campaign, about something that happened more than 24 years ago.

I think the American people are tired of this kind of "gotcha" politics. They're tired of last-minute dirty tricks. And I think the Democrats owe the American people an explanation.

When Governor Bush was asked about this, he acknowledged [it] last night. The first time we've ever been asked directly about this incident, we immediately acknowledged that in fact, more than, about 24 years ago, he had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

He regrets that that happened. He does not believe it sets a good example for our children. And he thinks it's important that we send a clear signal to all our children that they should not drink and drive.

Reporter: But Karen, he has been asked whether he's been arrested before and his answer at the time to [Wayne Slater] of the Dallas Morning News was no.

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Hughes: That was not reported and the governor disputes that. We do not believe that is accurate.

The reporter later told me that he was left with the impression that the governor in fact had been involved in some sort of incident involving alcohol. And therefore I think there's some illogic in that assertion.

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The reporter was clearly left with the impression that the governor -- an accurate impression that the governor had been involved in some incident involving alcohol. And, again, when he was directly asked, on Oct. 9 of 1996, he was asked directly had he ever been arrested for drinking, and the governor replied, quote, "I do not have a perfect record as a youth."

Reporter: So he never said no, consciously, that he had in fact been arrested?

Hughes: Well, again, I think that the governor at the time -- remember, the governor has twin daughters who are at a very impressionable age.

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He had made a decision as a father that he had been very forthcoming in acknowledging that he'd made mistakes. He has always been very forthcoming in acknowledging that he drank too much in the past, before he quit drinking 14 years ago. But he had made a decision as a father that he did not want to set that bad example for his daughters or for any other children.

Reporter: But would it be an acceptable excuse for President Clinton if he had said that he lied under oath because he didn't want to set any bad example for Chelsea?

Hughes: Well, Jake, again, the only time the governor was directly asked -- he was directly asked if he had ever been arrested for drinking, and he replied, and I quote, "I do not have a perfect record as a youth."

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Throughout this campaign, he has been very forthcoming with the American people that he made mistakes as a youth, that he did things as a youth that he is not proud of, and he has been very open about that.

Reporter: Is a 30-year-old a youth, Karen?

Reporter: There are two issues here. The first is that a specific recollection of something that was very unambiguous. A direct question, and a direct answer, which was a denial on the issue of "have you ever been arrested?" -- not for drinking but just arrested, period.

Hughes: We just dispute that, David. We dispute that. And the reporter also told me afterward that his recollection is that he was left with the impression that there had been some sort of incident -- an accurate -- a truthful impression that there had been ...

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[unintelligble talking]

Reporter: ... said that Bush said no.

Hughes: That there had been ...

Reporter: ... It doesn't answer the question. You're talking about apples and oranges. The impression's not relevant. You got a direct answer to a direct question, and the dispute is that when this conversation appeared in print and in a profile of you, you never disputed the veracity of it.

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Hughes: David, again, I don't remember seeing that in print. I do dispute the veracity of that. The governor -- the only time the governor believes that he was asked this question was in October of 1996, when he was asked if he had ever been arrested for drinking. That's about as direct a question you could get. And he answered directly, "I do not have a perfect record as a youth."

Reporter: Is that a direct answer?

Reporter: That's not a direct answer.

Hughes: I think that is consistent with his desires as a father to set a good example for his own daughters. He made a decision, as a father, that this was something that had happened 24 years ago and something he had not shared with his own daughters.

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Reporter: Is a better example, Karen, that he not -- is it a better example to your daughters that you mislead or do not tell the entire truth, as opposed to just telling the truth outright? Wouldn't that be the better ...

Hughes: Well, again, Governor Bush has been very forthcoming. He has always acknowledged that he has made mistakes. He has always acknowledged that he occasionally drank too much in the past. He quit drinking, more than 14 years ago, has not had a drink since.

And he has acknowledged that he had a problem with drinking too much on occasion, and this is one of those occasions.

He has made mistakes. He has been very forthcoming about acknowledging he made mistakes.

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Thank you all very much.


Salon Staff

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