Newsweek's Michael Isikoff reports that the nominee for attorney general may have helped President Bush escape jury duty in a drunken-driving case involving a dancer at an Austin strip club in 1996, in order to protect Bush from disclosing his own 1976 conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol.
The Newsweek report is based on Gonzales' recent testimony during Senate confirmation hearings, and follow-up interviews with Travis County Judge David Crain and lawyers involved in the case.
"In separate interviews, Crain -- along with [defense attorney] Wahlberg and prosecutor John Lastovica -- told NEWSWEEK that, before the case began, Gonzales asked to have an off-the-record conference in the judge's chambers. Gonzales then asked Crain to 'consider' striking Bush from the jury, making the novel 'conflict of interest' argument that the Texas governor might one day be asked to pardon the defendant (who worked at an Austin nightclub called Sugar's), the judge said. 'He [Gonzales] raised the issue,' Crain said. Crain said he found Gonzales's argument surprising, since it was 'extremely unlikely' that a drunken-driving conviction would ever lead to a pardon petition to Bush. But 'out of deference' to the governor, Crain said, the other lawyers went along. Wahlberg said he agreed to make the motion striking Bush because he didn't want the hard-line governor on his jury anyway. But there was little doubt among the participants as to what was going on.
"'In public, they were making a big show of how he was prepared to serve,' said Crain. 'In the back room, they were trying to get him off.'"