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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bush Attacks Gore's Veracity as Tone Sharpens

Politics: GOP candidate lists 'misrepresentations.' Vice president criticizes the change in strategy.

September 24, 2000|MARIA L. La GANGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ORLANDO, Fla. — George W. Bush ended an issue-oriented week with a scathing personal attack against Al Gore, charging Saturday in some of the harshest language of the presidential campaign that his Democratic rival "spent the week misleading Americans."

The Texas governor, who has promised to eradicate the nastiness and finger-pointing of Washington, cited a catalog of Gore "misrepresentations" and called them "serious business."

"Not the legitimate debate of political disagreements," he told a Pennsylvania Republican Party gathering via satellite from Florida, "they are a disturbing pattern of embellishments and sudden reversals."

Addressing a labor union convention in Cleveland via telephone from Washington, the vice president disparaged Bush's comments, remarking that Bush's plan to talk about issues this week "didn't seem to last very long."

"With our whole future at stake, this is no time for personal attack, which is why I'll never make any," Gore told the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers. "After all, this election isn't about me or Gov. Bush. It's about you and your future."

With just more than six weeks to go before election day, Bush has been struggling in national opinion polls and he has recently seen his lead slipping in key states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. He has spent the last two days in Florida, where his younger brother is governor and he should be ahead, but the race there is neck and neck.

The Republican nominee for president has responded to the slippage by stepping up his campaign activity and focusing on issues, traveling 6,076 miles through nine states last week and reaching out to women voters with appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "Live With Regis."

Karen Hughes, Bush's communications director, defended Bush's comments and described the candidate's change in strategy from nice guy to attack dog as simply making an "important comparison" between the two men.

As Bush stumped in Florida on Saturday morning, his staff was rattled by a published report that the FBI has tentatively identified the person who allegedly sent a package of the Republicans' debate preparation materials to a Gore confidant.

Quoting anonymous sources, the Associated Press reported overnight that "early evidence appears to point to a person in the Bush campaign, but further investigation to confirm that is needed."

The videotape of a debate practice session along with sensitive documents had been mailed from Austin, Texas, nearly two weeks ago to Tom Downey, a former Long Island congressman who is helping Gore with his own debate homework. Downey said he immediately turned the package over to the FBI to investigate.

Visibly angry, Hughes refuted the AP story Saturday and accused the Justice Department of playing politics with a serious and ongoing investigation. Bush campaign manager Joseph Allbaugh also called FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to complain about how the investigation has been handled and to demand the identity of the suspect, if there is one.

On Saturday, the Gore campaign suspended a low-level staffer after an ABC News report quoted the man as saying that he knew of a mole--a Gore operative--working on the Bush staff. The Gore campaign investigated the matter and "found no evidence whatsoever that [it] . . . received or used confidential information from the Bush campaign," said Gore communications director Mark D. Fabiani.

Still, the 28-year-old aide was placed on paid administrative leave "so that the campaign can review his actions and explanations over the last two days," Fabiani said. Hughes dismissed the mole story as "rumor."

Bush prizes loyalty above all other qualities, and the possibility of an inside job could be particularly painful, since Hughes said only a small number of top campaign aides had authorized access to the purloined materials.

The FBI said Saturday that it does not have any suspects in the case yet. "At this point we're just looking into a preliminary inquiry," said FBI spokeswoman Tracy Silberling.

Bush spent the last 5 1/2 days on a 12-city campaign swing designed to showcase his policies and regain momentum lost during several weeks of verbal gaffes and plunging poll numbers.

While he emphasized the issues, he also steadily escalated his attacks against his rival, culminating in the satellite message to Pennsylvania party faithful.

The campaign fell short of calling Gore a liar, but a Friday e-mail from the Bush campaign declared in the subject field: "Gore makes things up."

And Hughes told reporters Saturday that "after the last eight years, the American people want to look to the White House and trust their president to tell them the truth. The events of this week have seriously cast doubt on the vice president's statements."

Bush highlighted a series of what he called Gore's "embellishments and sudden reversals":

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