Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Nearly six months after President Bush vanquished the fiercely partisan forces behind former Vice President Al Gores Florida recount wars, he will face them again today in a meeting with California Gov. Gray Davis.
The Democratic governor this month hired Mr. Gores toughest political enforcers: Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani, who once called themselves the “masters of disaster” for their defense of Clinton-Gore scandals and their attacks on Mr. Bush. Almost immediately, Mr. Davis criticism of the president escalated.
Reeling from an energy crisis that makes him less popular in his own state than Mr. Bush, the governor is seeking to reverse that trend by blaming high fuel prices on Texas energy suppliers, who are being portrayed by Mr. Lehane and Mr. Fabiani as the presidents buddies.
A similar theme — the effect of oil industry mergers on the increase in gasoline prices — will be the subject of a probe to be announced today by the Democrat slated to become chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan.
Mr. Davis and the two ex-Gore advisers — whom he hired for $30,000 a month — are trying to make Mr. Bushs first presidential visit to California as uncomfortable as possible. Democrats have organized protests and arranged for anti-Bush ads to air on TV and radio stations.
Even the logistics of the meeting itself have become an exercise in political posturing. Both sides claim to have invited the other to meet in the first place. And once the get-together was set, Mr. Davis tried to invite consumers who would embarrass the president by blaming him for high energy prices.
Mr. Davis is expected to renew his criticism of the president for refusing to cap wholesale power prices. Mr. Bush is expected to instead emphasize the need for longer-term solutions, including more power plants in a state where no major electricity-generating facility has been built in a decade.
In his effort to turn the president into a foil for his energy woes, Mr. Davis hired the two men most responsible for Mr. Gores political hardball tactics in the post-election struggle. Mr. Lehane and Mr. Fabiani were the operatives who personally carried out Mr. Gores order to paint Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris as a Bush partisan.
“On the morning of Nov. 13, Al Gores media men decided that they had to take Katherine Harris down,” wrote media reporter Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post in December. “They were determined to discredit Floridas secretary of state.”
Within a matter of hours, Mr. Fabiani was telling reporters that Mrs. Harris was an “obvious political crony” of the Bush family who was engineering “an outrageous attempt by Bush to steal the election.”
Mr. Lehane publicly denounced Mrs. Harris as a “hack,” a “lackey” and a “Soviet commissar.”
Even Mr. Gore later told Mr. Lehane he had gone too far by calling Mrs. Harris a Soviet commissar. It was not the only time the vice president was forced to rein in the zeal of his two media strategists.
In October, Mr. Fabiani, the vice presidents deputy campaign manager, accused Mr. Bush of “incoherence” and “babbling” after the Texas governor struggled to explain his economic plan. Mr. Gore soon found himself doing damage control. “I would not say it that way,” the vice president allowed. “But I appreciate Mark very much, and I think that a little hyperbole in trying to make a point like this is understandable.”
At another point in the campaign, Mr. Lehane attacked Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, for disclosing that Robert Conrad, head of the Justice Departments campaign finance task force, had recommended the appointment of a special counsel to probe whether Mr. Gore had been truthful during an April 2000 interview with investigators.
“Hes been engaging in McCarthyite tactics,” Mr. Lehane said of Mr. Specter. “Theyre turning the United States Congress into a scandal industrial complex and George W. Bush is the CEO of that.”
Democrats and Republicans alike denounced the attack as over the line. But Mr. Fabiani defended Mr. Lehane by insisting that “its illegal to leak confidential law enforcement information and Senator Specter did it for political purposes.”
He later added: “I hope Senator Specter is not holding his breath, waiting for that apology, because its not coming. Hes absolutely guilty.”
Eventually, Mr. Gore was forced to publicly ask his staff to tone down the rhetoric. But by then, the damage had been done.
Former White House press secretary Michael McCurry used to refer to Mr. Fabiani, a White House special counsel, as “my garbage man.” It was a reference to Mr. Fabianis prowess at turning Clinton scandals into attacks against Republicans.
Mr. Lehane, who served as Mr. Fabianis assistant in the Clinton White House, spent taxpayers dollars to assemble a 331-page book titled “The Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce,” a primer on stopping journalists from writing scandal stories.
In September, Mr. Lehane drove a New York Times reporter to a slowed-down screening of a Bush TV ad that showed a fleeting image of the word “rats” as a fragment of the word “bureaucrats.” It was the first step in what Mr. Fabiani called “Rat-Gate Rollout,” a comprehensive campaign to convince the press that the Bush campaign had planted a subliminal message in the ad.
Mr. Fabiani wrote a memo outlining every detail of his plan, which included “Rat-Man impersonators at Bush and Cheney events.” The New York Times splashed the story across its front page, only to realize that Fox News Channel had already analyzed the ads frozen frame two weeks earlier, dismissing it as an amusing coincidence.
Mr. Lehane is from Kennebunk, Maine, which is adjacent to Kennebunkport, home of former President George Bush. When Gore supporters revealed in the closing days of the presidential campaign that the younger Mr. Bush had been cited for driving under the influence in Kennebunkport in 1976, Mr. Lehane vociferously denied having anything to do with the leak.
Still, California Republicans have objected to this months hiring of Mr. Lehane and Mr. Fabiani by the governor. State Sen. Jim Brulte, GOP leader, called them “attack dogs.” Republican assembly leader Dave Cox called them “political hacks.”
Mr. Lehane has defended the hirings, saying the real issue should be the “gouging” of California energy consumers by Texas producers.

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