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Family Ties Pull Schuller Spokesman Into Fray

CLINTON UNDER FIRE

Media: Michael Nason finds himself in the glare by helping his niece, whose husband revealed his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

January 29, 1998|JEAN O. PASCO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The last thing Orange County public affairs consultant Michael Nason figured he'd be doing Wednesday would be standing amid a crush of media in Oregon hurling questions about the latest wrinkle in the sexual affair allegations engulfing President Clinton.

Nason, spokesman for the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, had received a worried call from his brother on Monday asking for help. Nason's niece, Kathy, is married to Andy Bleiler, the high school drama teacher who admitted that he'd had a five-year affair with Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky is the woman who reportedly said in surreptitious tape recordings that she was encouraged to lie to federal officials about their alleged sexual relationship.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday January 31, 1998 Orange County Edition Part A Page 5 Metro Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Terry Giles--A story Thursday on how Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr was selected dean of Pepperdine University's law school mischaracterized the role of attorney Terry Giles. Giles is on the board of regents but had no hand in picking Starr.

Reporters were camped on the lawn of the Bleilers' Portland home after tracking down Andy Bleiler as the married man with whom Lewinsky carried on an affair after graduating in 1991 from Beverly Hills High School. The couple and their young son were secluded at a friend's house.

"I didn't know about the relationship," Nason said Wednesday from Portland. "I was driving up the Santa Ana Freeway on Monday when the phone rang and it was my brother. I nearly lost control of the car."

He hopped the first flight north. In Portland, he discovered that reporters had zeroed in on his niece's husband the previous Thursday, the day the Lewinsky case broke publicly. The New York Post was preparing to identify Bleiler in its Tuesday editions as a one-time paramour of the former White House intern.

Nason said he agreed to help because "family comes first." He said there was no truth to speculation that the couple's press conference was orchestrated for political advantage to either help or hurt the accusations against the president.

"It's public relations 101--get your story out and explain it," Nason said. "There is no political agenda here. Zero."

Nason, a lifelong Republican who has worked in politics and public relations for 25 years, said he called attorney Terry Giles of Rancho Santa Fe, who represented Schuller against allegations of assault last summer by a United Air Lines flight attendant.

"I figured they'd need counsel," Nason said. "I explained the situation [to Giles] and he said, 'I'm in.' "

By early Tuesday, news crews had moved to the friends' home where the Bleilers were staying. That, and the Post's publication threat, convinced Nason and Giles to arrange Tuesday evening's hastily called press conference outside the couple's home, Nason said. The press conference dominated Wednesday morning news shows on the latest developments in the growing White House imbroglio.

It was the appearance of Giles that first raised eyebrows. A prominent alumnus of Pepperdine University, Giles served on the selection committee that recently picked Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr to be the school's dean, said a lawyer familiar with the selection process who asked not to be identified.

Starr, who has spent four years investigating various alleged White House scandals, was given audiotapes earlier this month of Lewinsky's alleged confessions to Linda Tripp, a government worker who met Lewinsky after she was transferred to work with Tripp at the Pentagon.

Then Nason, a figure familiar locally for his political work and longtime association with Schuller, was spotted at the Bleilers' press conference.

A year ago, Schuller sat next to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the president's State of the Union address, and was honored by name during the president's speech.

Nason said the only relationship that mattered was his as an uncle helping his niece.

"There has been no contact and nothing to do with any political agenda, and anyone who tries to put it as a political setup is going down the wrong path," he said. "The conspiracy theorists are going to have to go elsewhere."

He said the media crush has been difficult on his niece and her husband, who completed marriage therapy and were preparing to put the affair behind them. His niece is "doing fabulously," he said, and the family has rallied around the couple, who are scheduled to meet sometime this week with a member of Starr's office.

Times staff writer Bonnie Hayes contributed to this report.

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