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New book claims W snorted coke at Camp David

David Corn reviews Kitty Kelly biography that claims W snorted coke at Camp David during daddy's presidency
September 07, 2004
Did Bush Snort Coke? Does It Matter?
If you're a Bush-basher and wired for email, by now you have probably received word of this article in the London Mirror. The piece reveals that celeb-biographer Kitty Kelly maintains in her about-to-published book on the Bush dynasty, The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty, that George W. Bush snorted coke at Camp David. According to the British tabloid, Kelly's source is Sharon Bush, the recently divorced wife of Neil Bush, brother of W. (At the GOP convention, an all-too happy Neil, a onetime S&L scammer, was parading about with his new wife, and the couple sat in the family box. Apparently, the Bush clan did not mind the news that came out of Neil's divorce proceeding last fall: Neil had engaged in "sex romps" in Asia, he had received a $400,000 a year board position by a Chinese semiconductor company founded by the son of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, and he was given a $60,000-per-year consultancy from a firm looking to win contracts in post-inavasion Iraq.) Sharon Bush supposedly told Kelly: "Bush did coke at Camp David when his father was President, and not just once either." And other sources told Kelly that Bush had a fancy for the powder. And--gasp!--the book also claims that Laura Bush smoked weed when she was young.

Before a media hoopla (or hoopla-ette) ensues--just today I received my invitation to the book party--here's my first question: does this matter? Bush has supported tough drug laws. So if the stories are true, that means he has incarcerated people for activity he himself once engaged in with impunity. This raises the issue of hypocrisy, of course. Also, coking up at Camp David reveals a certain lack of judgment and recklessness that might be of interest to voters. (How that compares to getting a blow job in the Oval Office I leave to each of you to ponder.) But my sense is that tales from what Bush has conceded was an irresponsible youth--he defines youth quite liberally and offers few details of his irresponsibility--are not as relevant today as they were in the 2000 campaign. Then Bush was an unknown leader. His tenure as governor in Texas--practically a part-time position--revealed only so much. Thus, his carousing (including his DWI conviction), his pre-politics business career (as a failing oil man who benefited from the kindness of various insiders), and his spotty service in the Air National Guard were important matters. Unfortunately, these parts of his biography received short shrift in much of the media before the 2000 election.

Now that the public has seen Bush in action (and, in some cases, in inaction) for over three-and-a-half years, the electorate has more than enough information upon which to evaluate and judge his presidency. This election--like most presidential elections that include an incumbent--is mostly about the performance of the guy in office. Isn't it possible that a onetime cokehead could become an effective president? While I have spent much time writing about Bush's Air National Guard service (or lack thereof), I acknowledge that a person's military experience from 30 years ago may be no indicator of his or her qualifications for the commander-in-chief job. Oliver North racked up a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts--nearly matching John Kerry's medals. But I wouldn't want him to be president of the United States.

Bush has shown his stuff since he became president: a war based on misrepresentations, deficit-boosting tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy, an assault on workplace protections and environmental laws and safeguards, and so much more. Is there anything else the voting public needs to know?

I have a distinct interest in asking this question. As happens occasionally, I received a call the other day from someone with a hot lead on a Bush story. I've had many folks over the years call me with tips for blockbuster stories regarding the Bushes (and the Clintons) that went nowhere. Such tip-mongering seems natural; it hardly means there is smoke coming from a real fire. In any event, this latest tip came from an attorney I did not know. He said that in 1986, while he was working at a small law school, he had a conversation with another attorney employed at the school. The other lawyer told him that he had done cocaine with W. in the White House. My informant gave me the name of the other lawyer but said he has not spoken with him since 1986 and had no idea where this person (who has a rather common name) could be reached. So what I have in hand is a source--whom I do not know and whose reliability I cannot assess--telling me about a conversation that supposedly occurred 18 years ago. Which brings me to my second question: should I bother to pursue this story? Doing so will take time and energy. Presumably, the lawyer who coked up with Bush was a pal of Bush. If I manage to locate him, would he confirm that is what he told my source in 1986? And if he did say that, would that prove the incident happened? Would an unsubstantiated charge from one person make for a story worthy of publishing (or posting)?

I confess: I am torn. Perhaps I'll poke into this. Yet even if the story does pan out--and the odds of nailing down a tale like this are quite long--I would argue that Bush's actions in Iraq are far more important for a voter to consider than how he partied in the 1980s. By all means, I wish Kitty Kelly well. A biographer has an obligation to dig up and assess the dirt of the past. (And I like salacious material about the powerful as much as the next guy.) But not every piece of information she uncovers has an equal role in the current debate on whether Bush deserves four more years. Still, if an allegation of cocaine use from a scorned ex-sister-in-law prevents us from four more years of the Bush crowd, I'm not going to cry crocodile tears about the declining state of public discourse. But you tell me: should I, or should I not, bust my hump to confirm that separate rumor of coke-snorting in the White House? Use the comments section below. And note this disclaimer: I reserve the right to ignore any and all advice.

Posted by David Corn at 04:30 PM | Comments (15)

September 04, 2004

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