The Magazine

To Catch a Mole

How hard can it be to find out who leaked the Bush debate materials to Gore?

Oct 9, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 04 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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P Outside the Bush campaign, more questions about Lozano have arisen. At FreeRepublic.com, chat rooms have been filled with discussions of her political background: Was she a member of a Democratic PAC? Has she since converted to Republicanism? What is she doing working for Bush anyway? Late last week a theory began circulating among reporters that Lozano would never have mailed the trousers, since Maverick Media is closer to a Gap outlet than it is to a post office. Stuart Stevens has an answer for this. Lozano had to mail the trousers, he says, because McKinnon had purchased them as part of "an Internet-only special at $ 19.95." (Which, Stevens adds, "is its own scandal.")


P Meanwhile, as the press and public dissect the shopping habits of Bush's staff, why is no one asking questions of the Gore campaign? There has been much speculation that the tape was actually part of an elaborate dirty trick. According to this theory, chief Bush strategist Karl Rove mailed the secret materials to Tom Downey in the hope that Downey would keep them, and later be revealed to be in possession of them.


This may have happened. It is far more likely that the tape was stolen by someone who wanted to help Gore -- by a Democratic partisan. The Gore campaign would seem an obvious place to begin a search for such a person, especially since it was revealed last month that a Gore staffer once bragged to a friend about a "mole" in the Bush campaign. Yet as of the end of last week, the FBI had not interviewed any employees of Gore 2000. The Bush campaign interprets the FBI's behavior as a clear sign of political bias in the Justice Department.


P On the other hand it may be that the FBI has trouble following leads. Shortly after the theft was revealed, Stuart Stevens called the FBI agent in charge of the inquiry and offered to pass on information that might help catch the thief. No one called back. Frustrated, Stevens went on television to complain about the FBI's inaction. A week later, Stevens still hadn't heard from the FBI. "The FBI is not investigating in the way the FBI is capable of investigating," says Stevens, whose father was an FBI agent. "I think they're capable of returning a phone call. This is not Lockerbie, putting pieces of the plane together."


P True. And keeping a campaign office from being burglarized isn't very complicated, either. Almost everyone agrees the Downey tape was probably taken (copied, actually) from the offices of Maverick Media. Adjoining Maverick is a company called Waterworks, a video production house that rents studio time to consultants making commercials. Between the two offices is a door that, thanks to the local fire code, is never locked. Democratic consultants often work at Waterworks. After hours, any one of them could have walked into Maverick and taken the tape, which was apparently left in plain view.


The Bush campaign has known for some time that Maverick Media is not a secure environment. Long before the theft, Stuart Stevens says he insisted on his own, separate office at Maverick, "in part because the whole security thing bothered me so much, to be honest." Why would the Bush campaign allow a debate tape -- "the crown jewels," as one aide describes it -- to lie around unsecured in a place like Maverick Media? Even stranger, why would the campaign admit that it had done something this reckless? As Paul Begala, hardly an unbiased observer, correctly points out, "Voters are not going to say: 'He lost control of his most secret debate secrets, let's make him president.'"


We may never know what happened to the tape. The Bush campaign may never know either, since according to several people employed by it, there has never been a comprehensive internal investigation of the theft. The campaign has since tightened its security. Officials in Austin are confident it could never happen again. But in an environment as small and tightknit as the Bush campaign, where loyalty is prized nearly above all, the suspicion that there is a mole in the next cubicle can be particularly poisonous.


Unless it is solved soon, it is unlikely that the tape affair will reach even footnote status. And this may be what bothers members of the Bush staff more than anything. "If the tape had been sent from Nashville to Austin," says one, "it would be a huge deal."




Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.