- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2000

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. Aides to Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush said yesterday the Justice Department is playing politics to shield Vice President Al Gore in a criminal probe of how his campaign staff acquired a videotape of Mr. Bush's presidential debates preparation.

Bush spokesman Karen Hughes said anonymous Justice officials leaked information to the media over the weekend "to point the finger" at the Bush campaign, even though a Gore staffer was suspended for boasting that he knew of a "mole" in the Bush camp.

"We are concerned that when there are leaks from high-ranking Justice Department officials saying things that our campaign has not been told by the investigators on the ground that there's the appearance, at least, of playing politics in the midst of a presidential campaign," Mrs. Hughes said. "And that would be wrong and inappropriate for federal law enforcement agents."

When asked by The Washington Times whether Bush officials believe that Justice, which has rejected three recommendations to investigate Mr. Gore for fund-raising irregularities, is showing a pattern of protecting Mr. Gore in this case, Mrs. Hughes said: "I would hope not. As an American citizen, I grew up thinking that the FBI was beyond reproach and that they would conduct a law enforcement investigation without regard to politics. But already we have seen anonymous leaks from federal law enforcement officials that we don't think are appropriate."

Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said: "I will leave it up to the FBI as to how they're going to conduct this investigation. People should be careful about trying to politicize an FBI investigation."

The 90-minute videotape of Mr. Bush in a mock debate with Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, posing as Mr. Gore, was received in the mail Sept. 13 by a Gore adviser, former New York Rep. Thomas Downey. Mr. Downey gave the the tape to the FBI, which is investigating its origin.

Over the weekend, the Gore campaign suspended with pay a staffer, Michael Doyne, who had boasted to a friend in an e-mail message that he knew of a "mole" in the Bush camp. Mr. Doyne later swore in an affidavit that he made the boast idly and did not have a contact working for Mr. Bush.

Mrs. Hughes said yesterday that Bush officials have determined the tape is a copy made by an unknown person, and that the campaign has all its "legitimate" original tapes.

Last night on CNN's "Larry King Live," Mr. Bush said he is anxious to learn who tried to undermine his campaign.

"I believe we will get to the bottom of it, and I look forward to finding out who it is," Mr. Bush said.

As the candidates prepare for their first pressure-filled debate Tuesday in Boston, each camp tried yesterday to cast blame on the other for the mystery tape. Mrs. Hughes insisted there is not a traitor in the Republican nominee's midst.

"Governor Bush knows for a fact that our campaign manager and our chief political strategist and our communications director and our policy director are working to elect George Bush, not to try to help Al Gore," she said. "If the Gore campaign has a mole, it's someone who supports Al Gore, not someone who supports George Bush."

Gore officials say they do not have a "plant" in the Bush campaign and that the tape was mailed from Austin headquarters for the Bush campaign by someone who apparently wants to torpedo the Republican's candidacy.

The chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, Molly Beth Malcolm, told two Texas newspapers that the episode "has the fingerprints" of Mr. Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove. Mrs. Hughes yesterday dismissed that insinuation as "ridiculous."

"Karl Rove has worked around the clock for years working to support Governor Bush and elect Governor Bush as president," she said. "It's so ridiculous that I don't think it merits a denial."

Mrs. Hughes said the Bush campaign has urged the FBI to question Gore staffers, but the FBI has not indicated it would do so.

"Any investigation into how the Gore campaign ended up with our materials should involve not just us, but also the Gore campaign," Mrs. Hughes said. "We have conveyed to the FBI that we think this is a very serious matter, that a Gore campaign staffer would be placed on suspension after bragging to a friend that he had access to inside information from the Bush campaign."

A spokesman for the Justice Department, Myron Marlin, did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment yesterday.

Meanwhile, a worker with Mr. Bush's media consultant said the FBI questioned her Thursday and Friday about a parcel containing Gap pants she mailed from Austin on Sept. 11, an event captured by a security videotape.

"They kept saying, 'Those weren't pants in that package,' " Yvette Lozano told the Dallas Morning News in an interview that appeared on its Web site yesterday. She denied mailing any debate package and added that she was fingerprinted.

Miss Lozano works for Mark McKinnon, an ad man for the Bush campaign.

Justice Department spokesman Carole Florman refused to comment on Miss Lozano's account.

• Andrew Cain contributed to this report from Ann Arbor, Mich.

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