Naked City

Stark Rove-ing Mad

By Robert Bryce, Fri., Sept. 29, 2000

The case of the purloined videotape is far from over, but fingers are already pointing at Karl Rove, Gov. George W. Bush's chief political strategist. There's no proof that Rove or any other of the Bush campaign insiders sent the tape of Bush preparing for his upcoming debate to an ally of Al Gore's two weeks ago. But many pundits are suggesting Rove did it, pointing to a 1986 bugging incident at Rove's office to bolster their allegations.

In October of 1986, Rove was working for Republican Bill Clements in his race against then-Gov. Mark White. A few days before the candidates were to debate, Rove discovered a listening device that had been planted behind a needlepoint picture of an elephant hanging on his wall. The FBI investigated. Accusations and counteraccusations were made. But no charges were ever brought, and the matter slowly dissipated, amid general speculation that Rove had planted the bug himself.

The latest dirty trick took place earlier this month, when a videotape was apparently taken from the offices of Bush media advisor Mark McKinnon. The tape, along with copies of other debate briefing materials, was then mailed to the office of Gore ally, lobbyist, and former U.S. Rep. Thomas Downey, where it arrived on Sept. 13. Only a handful of Bush campaign staffers had access to the materials, including Rove, McKinnon, communications director Karen Hughes, campaign manager Joe Allbaugh, campaign chairman Don Evans, and policy director Josh Bolten.

Although no suspects have been named, the FBI, which is investigating the matter, has told several media outlets that it believes the tape was sent by someone inside the Bush camp, presumably in an attempt to entrap the Gore campaign. And given Rove's history, which includes more than a passing familiarity with dirty tricks, many pundits believe Rove is the chief suspect. Rove did not return calls from the Chronicle.

Adding interest to the video shenanigans are a few other fun facts. In 1986, when Rove was working for Clements, the chief spokesperson for White was an idealistic young turk named Mark McKinnon. It is "outrageous and sad that Rove would suggest the White campaign would be involved in a matter like this," McKinnon told the Austin American-Statesman at the time. Calling the bugging incident "bizarre and incredible," McKinnon said the Clements campaign was "desperate and frayed at the edges."

There's more. The bug was reportedly responsible for tipping Democrats that the Clements campaign had recently hired a Washington-based consultant, whom Rove and Clements campaign manager George Bayoud had discussed hiring over the phone shortly before the matter was mysteriously leaked. The consultant was a sometime blues guitar player renowned for his facility with attack ads and dirty tricks. His name: Lee Atwater.

Oh, one other fact about the 1986 incident stands out: Rove's candidate won that year.

Credibility Gap?

If only Mark McKinnon weren't such a clothes horse, none of this would have happened. But then, McKinnon can't just wear any old shade of khakis, can he?

Indeed, McKinnon's wardrobe has become a focal point of the FBI's ongoing investigation into the missing videotape. On Wednesday, The Dallas Morning News reported that the FBI recently interrogated Yvette Lozano, who works at McKinnon's office, because security cameras at an Austin post office showed Lozano mailing a package on Sept. 11, just two days before the mysterious debate video showed up at Thomas Downey's office. Lozano said the agents demanded to know who had "put her up" to mailing the video to the Gore camp.

But Lozano had an explanation. She wasn't a spy for Gore, nor was she sending any tape. Instead, she was mailing a pair of pants back to The Gap for McKinnon because they were the wrong color. Lozano's claim was bolstered when McKinnon showed the Morning News a sealed package from The Gap containing the $19.99 replacement khakis. McKinnon, who did not return calls from the Chronicle, went on to tell Pete Slover of the Morning News that Lozano's situation was akin to that of Richard Jewell, the man who was wrongly made a suspect in the bombing attack during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Clearly, understatement is not McKinnon's strongest quality. But he sure dresses well.

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