President Bush's former sister-in-law denied yesterday that she had given author Kitty Kelley any information about allegations of past drug use by Bush.
Sharon Bush is quoted in Kelley's forthcoming book about the Bush family as making one of the allegations, and Kelley's editor said in an interview Tuesday that she had provided "confirmation" for the information.
But Sharon Bush, who is divorced from the president's brother Neil, said in a statement: "I categorically deny that I ever told Kitty Kelley that George W. Bush used cocaine at Camp David or that I ever saw him use cocaine at Camp David. When Kitty Kelley raised drug use at Camp David, I responded by saying something along the lines of, 'Who would say such a thing?'
"Although there have been tensions between me and various members of the Bush family, I cannot allow this falsehood to go unchallenged."
Doubleday, Kelley's publisher, was quick to dispute her account.
"Doubleday stands fully behind the accuracy of Ms. Kelley's reporting and believes that everything she attributes to Sharon Bush in her book is an accurate account of their discussions," said Associate Publisher Suzanne Herz. "Ms. Kelley met with Sharon Bush over the course of a four-hour lunch on April 1, 2003, at the Chelsea Bistro in Manhattan."
The next day, Herz said, Kelley had a 90-minute phone conversation with Bush in the presence of Peter Gethers, her Doubleday editor. Gethers confirmed the accuracy of the statement yesterday.
Kelley "has notes to corroborate both these conversations," Herz said, and Bush "understood that anything she said could be used for publication."
The conflicting accounts will undoubtedly become fodder in the emerging debate over "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty." White House and Republican Party spokesmen have denounced the book as "garbage" and "fiction." Publication day is set for Monday, when Kelley will begin three days of "Today" show interviews, but some of the allegations have already leaked to a British newspaper.
Sharon Bush's attorney, David Berg, said from Texas yesterday that his client had never given Kelley a formal interview. He said the two women spoke when Bush, who was in financial difficulty during the divorce, asked Kelley to put her in touch with a speakers' bureau, though in the end Bush never made any speeches.
"She talked to Kitty Kelley and there was an agreement that she would not be quoted or used as a source," Berg said. "This was totally off the record." Bush was "surprised and shocked" when Kelley raised the drug question, he said.
"She did tell Kitty Kelley that she felt the Bush family was being hypocritical about the so-called family values issue" in light of the way she was treated in the divorce, Berg said. "She regrets ever having spoken to her. This is really below the belt." Berg said yesterday Sharon Bush would not agree to be interviewed about the dispute.
Doubleday referred a reporter to Lou Colasuonno, a former tabloid editor who was then providing public relations advice to Sharon Bush and arranged last year's lunch with Kelley. Asked about the disputed quote on drug use, he said: "From what I've seen reported in the media, and having not seen the book, I would not describe it as inaccurate."
Colasuonno said he did not recall Bush saying anything about the meeting being off the record. He also did not recall Kelley taking extensive notes, but said she had her pen and pad out at some point, perhaps when the women exchanged phone numbers.
Berg said that no one had asked his client to issue her denial. "Sharon is estranged from the Bush family," he said.
The controversy doesn't appear to have hurt Doubleday: Advance sales of "The Family" made the book No. 6 yesterday on Amazon.com.