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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bush Debate Preview Video Sent to Gore Camp

September 14, 2000|ALAN C. MILLER and JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — The presidential campaign took on a cloak-and-dagger aura Wednesday after a videotape of George W. Bush, which appeared to depict him in the midst of debate preparations, was mailed to a close friend and debate advisor to rival Al Gore.

The advisor, former Rep. Tom Downey of New York, alerted his lawyer, who called the FBI, which picked up the package. FBI officials said the agency is investigating whether any federal laws might have been violated.

"That was the right thing to do," said Chris Lehane, a spokesman for Gore, the Democratic nominee.

Gore campaign officials appeared puzzled and slightly uneasy about the incident, as uncertain about the package's origins and contents as they were about its potential effect on the campaign.

Bush officials also were puzzled. Karen Hughes, communications director for the Republican nominee, said the campaign learned of the package in a call from Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley to Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans.

"We do not know what it is that the Gore campaign claims to have," Hughes said. "We have asked them to allow us to review it. . . . It's not appropriate to discuss whatever it is until I know what it is."

One immediate fallout of the incident was Downey's decision to abandon plans to stand in for Bush during Gore's mock warmup debates.

"I told the campaign that it probably would not be appropriate for me to play Bush, and they agreed," Downey said. "Whether [whoever sent the tape is] trying to set me up or they're trying to help, it doesn't matter. The right thing is not to keep this stuff."

Downey, who played Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp in 1996 and Democratic presidential rival Bill Bradley earlier this year against Gore, said he had been getting ready to do the campaign's first mock debate.

The incident occurred a day before senior officials from both camps were to meet at the Commission on Presidential Debates in Washington to try to resolve differences concerning the so-far unscheduled fall debates.

Downey said the package arrived at his Washington lobbying office about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. He said he watched about a minute of the videotape, shut it off and called his lawyer, Marc Miller, who took the package and called the FBI.

Downey said that, before shutting off the tape, he saw Bush and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who is standing in as Gore in Bush's mock debates, and a moderator.

Downey said the package came with a letter from "Amy," and with about 200 pages of what appeared to be detailed debate preparations. "This was debate material that was prepared for Bush for a Gore debate," Downey said. "If you had this material, you would have had a very big advantage."

The package bore an Austin, Texas, postmark--home of Bush's campaign headquarters.

Gore approved of Downey's handling of the situation, Lehane said.

*

Times staff writers Edwin Chen and Michael Finnegan contributed to this story.

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