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  Watergate's Shadow on the Bush Presidency
George Bush never got used to the scrutiny and criticism that have become part and parcel of the modern presidency. His own words tell the tale.

By Bob Woodward
The Washington Post Magazine
Sunday, June 20, 1999; Page 8

President George Bush was sick, almost reduced to tears.

His third son, Neil, who was shy and dyslexic, was under public criticism for his involvement in a Colorado savings and loan association. As far as Bush was concerned, the son was paying part of the price for the father's presidency.

"They're out to get my boy," Bush told White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater, "they're out to get me."

Four years earlier, Neil had joined the board of Silverado Banking, Savings and Loan Association, a high-flying Colorado S&L; Hoping to make a big financial killing, Neil became entangled with other Colorado businessmen, one of whom extended him a $1.2 million line of credit for a company in which Neil had invested only $100 of his personal funds.

Now, in 1990, the S&L bubble had fully burst, a scandal that would cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars, and some Democrats and some reporters were attempting to make Neil the public face of one of the largest financial disasters in American history. All three newsmagazines, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report, referred to Neil as the "poster boy" of the scandal. Neil's problem created a Bush family crisis that cast a pall over the White House years.

Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, saw how the focus on his son wounded Bush. Scowcroft realized that Bush was stewing about the treatment of Neil, stewing more about it perhaps than about anything else. It all fit Bush's view of the news media, which he blamed for the onslaught of rumor and doubt that he believed had infected Washington.

"You know," Bush told Scowcroft, "they don't have guts enough to come after me, they go after my son who was an innocent victim."

Scowcroft had an additional explanation: Watergate. Had there not been Watergate, he felt, there would have been no legs for almost any of these mini-scandals. It had created the atmosphere that nourished them.

The biggest legacy of Watergate was the independent counsel law that created prosecutors with unlimited time and leeway to dig into allegations against high government officials.

In the third year of his presidency, Bush was still dealing with that legacy. It was spring of 1991, and White House Counsel Boyden Gray had become worried that Iran-contra Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh's investigation – which began in the Reagan administration – was now targeting Bush. Gray brought in a special counsel, William Lytton, an attorney who had helped bail President Reagan out of Iran-contra earlier.

On May 14, Lytton met with Bush. According to Lytton's recollection and his notes of the meeting, he told Bush, "Mr. President, as best I can tell, Walsh is really coming after you." Walsh was working through all the people who were close to Bush. Lytton wanted to wake Bush up to the danger.

In the next several weeks, Lytton systematically canvassed the lawyers who were representing Walsh's targets. On June 12, 1991, Gray and Lytton went to see Bush. The president was seated at his desk in the Oval Office with his jacket off. He was wearing a striped shirt with a white collar. His tie was loosened. It was his 67th birthday. One of his gifts had been a stuffed toy that included a plastic mallet. Upon seeing the lawyers and knowing the subject, Bush removed the mallet.

"Take that, Walsh!" Bush shouted, hitting the plastic mallet on his desk. Bang! Bang! Bang! "Take that, Walsh!" He hit the desk some more, a look of relish and anger on his face.

"I'd like to get rid of this guy," the president said.

• • •

Since Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974 the Watergate legacy has altered the prerogatives and daily lives of presidents. Congress has played a more prominent, inquisitorial role. The media has dug deep and incessantly because much had been hidden before. And quite naturally prosecutors and ethics investigators have been more and more determined. Since Richard Nixon's political demise, presidents have inhabited a new world, but they often have seemed not to recognize it.

George Bush had built his career as the patron of other Republican presidents, turning setbacks into opportunities. Nixon had rescued him from defeat in 1970, after he had lost the U.S. Senate race in Texas, appointing him U.N. ambassador. Gerald Ford had made him director of central intelligence, his first major executive post and one with mystique. Reagan had selected him to be vice president after he had lost the nomination. Bush had played by the accepted rules of the Republican Party, and gentlemanly restraint had served him well.

But the same qualities that had helped Bush reach the White House hurt him once he became president. He had not acquired the political skills that many politicians develop through struggle and adversity. As a new president he was not as well-equipped as he should have been to handle the inevitable scrutiny.

A dozen or so investigations of some of those closest to the president took their toll. His first nominee for secretary of defense, former senator John Tower, was rejected by the Senate after stories appeared about Tower's drinking and womanizing. His first nominee to the Supreme Court, David H. Souter, was subjected to rumors that he was gay, and his second, Clarence Thomas, was accused of harassing Anita Hill, a former employee of Thomas's in two federal agencies. Bush's closest aide, chief of staff John Sununu, was forced to resign because of his excessive use of government aircraft for personal travel.

As his own words reveal, these controversies almost dazed Bush. He never seemed to reach a state of peace, relaxation or happiness. The emotional inner life of his presidency was at times consumed with anger and private warfare with the various inheritances left by Watergate.

While Bush has co-authored a book on foreign policy decisions with Scowcroft, the former president has not written his memoirs and says he has no plans to do so. But private dictated entries from Bush's diary were obtained from the records of Joseph diGenova, who served as an independent counsel investigating the mini-scandal that became known as Passportgate. They are quoted here for the first time. In addition, a few diary entries come from a 1998 biography, George Bush: The Life of a Lone Star Yankee, by historian Herbert S. Parmet.

The entries, along with interviews with many of the former president's closest aides and advisers, paint a stark portrait of George Bush's days in office: of a presidency in twilight and of a man isolated, bitter and often confused.

• • •

The glare of congressional and media scrutiny complicated Bush's deliberations about the Persian Gulf crisis. In January 1991, Bush met with his national security team to discuss what to do about Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait the previous August.

"So if he gets out without a war, that's okay?" Bush asked his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell.

"Yes, sir," Powell replied. That was the goal of both the United States and the United Nations – Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. If there was no war, no U.S. servicemen would be killed, Powell stated, speaking like a good military leader looking out for his troops.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a talented, ambitious close friend from Texas and a subtle rival of the president's, said he agreed. Baker wanted to bring home victory through diplomacy. If he could negotiate an Iraqi withdrawal, it would be a monumental personal achievement.

Next Bush and Scowcroft, almost together, jumped on Powell and Baker.

"Don't you realize that if he pulls out, it will be impossible for us to stay," Scowcroft asked. Bush nodded in agreement as Scowcroft spoke. The massive U.S. force – 500,000 troops in all – could not remain in the region indefinitely, Scowcroft said. It would be politically and logistically impossible – and politically insupportable in the United States – to keep the troops there for an extended period. The nightmare would be for Saddam to pull out of Kuwait and move back into Iraq but stay on the border. His army could wait indefinitely, threatening to invade again. The allied coalition needed the chance to destroy Saddam's army or at least to devastate it so it would not be a threat in the near future.

It was sobering, the president agreed, the most sobering reality of the crisis. He had to play all the diplomatic cards. But, he made clear, a diplomatic solution would in fact bring about a larger crisis. Looking squarely at his advisers, the president said plainly, "We have to have a war."

Scowcroft was aware that this understanding could never be stated publicly or be permitted to leak out. Americans were peacemakers, not warmongers. An American president who declared the necessity of war would probably be thrown out of office. But the president's words reflected the stark reality of the Gulf confrontation.

Baker met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz on January 9 in Geneva for more than six hours. Bush feared the Iraqis would come up with some kind of gimmicky proposal or maneuver. He was nervous; it was one of his toughest and tensest times as president. Finally Baker called on the secure telephone.

"It's over," Baker told him. The Iraqis would not budge.

In part, Bush was jubilant because it was the best news possible, although he would have to conceal it publicly. But Bush was also totally drained and full of anxiety because he knew the failure of negotiations meant war.

The massive air war directed against Iraq and its military forces lasted 38 days, and the ground war four days. It was a stunning victory for U.S. forces and their commander-in-chief.

Bush was viewed as a president who had been forced into war by Saddam's total refusal to negotiate. That was true, but Bush and Scowcroft knew that by January 1991 it was a war they had to have. The big secret went undisclosed.

Bush didn't want the turmoil of after-action analysis, and he declined to talk in-depth to reporters or authors about the Gulf crisis or the war while in office.

"This is not something I want second-guessing on," Bush told Fitzwater. He wanted the war judged on the outcome, not the process of how he got there, or on who said what to whom. "Hell, they'll be writing about this and before you know it, they'll have us losing the war."

Bush did not trust the Congress or the media to sort out or explain his dilemma and responsibility without sensationalizing. Watergate had made a sober account of the truth by the president almost impossible.

Bush's moment of triumph quickly soured. On March 13, 1991, he complained to his diary about criticism that he had failed to march to Baghdad and bring down Saddam. Bush confided that the press drumbeat about the Gulf War continued – what he called the "sniping, carping, bitching, predictable editorial complaints." It was, the president dictated, "the cynical liberalism that comes down on any president," even though the march-to-Baghdad critique was coming from the right. He said he resented cartoonist Garry Trudeau, a fellow Yale graduate who routinely ridiculed Bush in his "Doonesbury" comic strip. He called Trudeau "a little elitist who is spoiled, derisive, ugly and nasty."

To his dictation machine, Bush added, "Sometimes I really like the spotlight, but I'm tired of it. I've been at the head table for many years, and now I wonder what else is out there."

• • •

In April 1991, Patty Presock, Bush's secretary, reported to Burton Lee III, the White House physician, that Bush's handwriting had changed. The president's sleep patterns were erratic. He had lost 15 pounds. The next month, while jogging at Camp David, Bush had collapsed from shortness of breath. His heart was beating irregularly.

The diagnosis was Graves disease, an overactive thyroid. Bush had lost some of his zest and stamina. Fitzwater watched for any changes, knowing the press would notice them. He saw that Bush had some mood swings and was not as engaged in his presidency. The president kept delaying his decision to run for reelection in 1992.

After many delays and false starts, Bush decided to run. More than a year later, on July 24, 1992, amid the campaign, the president snapped at a heckler, "Shut up and sit down." Later that day campaigning in Ohio, Fitzwater was worried. Lee said Bush had had an irregular heart episode that morning. The doctor said he was having trouble regulating the president's medication. The dosage, he said, affected mental acuity.

Fitzwater was shocked. When Bush appeared looking terrible and pale, Fitzwater asked Bush's photographer what he was seeing. The photographer confirmed that the president seemed to be drained. Later Bush's shirt soaked through and his voice was weak.

When Fitzwater questioned Bush about his health, the president claimed everything was perfect. But the staff had to push the president, set up special meetings to get him focused. The more Bush denied any problem, the more Fitzwater and Lee realized it was real. The president eventually shut down on the topic and said he did not want to hear any more.

Barbara Bush, who also suffered from Graves' disease, was upset and angry. She faulted Lee for not getting on top of the problem and regulating her husband's medication more effectively.

Regardless of who was to blame, the drive and vitality went out of Bush and his presidency.

• • •

Scandals continued to plague the Bush administration during the fall election campaign. On Sunday, October 4, 1992, Newsweek disclosed that the FBI was investigating whether someone at the State Department had tampered with the passport files of Bill Clinton, the Democratic nominee. "For weeks news organizations have been chasing an unsubstantiated rumor that Clinton, as an anguished young Rhodes scholar, faced with the draft, considered applying for citizenship in some other country." Three news organizations had filed Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the file. "When State officials pulled Clinton's file late last week, they discovered that it had apparently been tampered with – that several pages seemed to have been ripped out."

Bush dictated in his diary the next day that he was following stories about Clinton's anti-Vietnam protests. "According to the press," Bush dictated bitterly, "the debate on the draft, the lying and all of that have no bearing on the character issue."

Three days later, he dictated, "We cannot get this smoking gun on Clinton and his demonstrations, demonstrating against his country. There are all these rumors of him carrying a coffin. There are rumors that there was something in his State Department files that now apparently has been tampered with. All kinds of rumors as to who his hosts were in Russia, something he can't remember anything at all about. He hasn't come forward with his draft records and the press doesn't hone in on it. The press let up and they're not focusing on it, but I just can't help believe that the American people don't care about this."

Iran-contra would not go away. Independent counsel Walsh had indicted former secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger, but the judge in the case ruled that the indictment was technically flawed and demanded a proper re-indictment within the next month.

Walsh decided to include specific quotes from Weinberger's notes that had recently been discovered. One note recounted a January 7, 1986, meeting when President Reagan approved a large sale of arms to Iran "in return" for hostages. Weinberger's notes stated that he and Secretary of State Shultz "opposed," and then the notes said of Bush, "VP favored."

For five years Bush had denied that he was fully aware of the intensity and extent of the Weinberger-Shultz opposition, and had made general claims that he was "out of the loop."

On Friday morning, October 30, the Bush campaign daily tracking poll had the race a dead heat at 39 percent for Clinton, 39 percent for Bush and 12 percent for independent candidate Ross Perot. That afternoon, Walsh's grand jury voted the new indictment of Weinberger. The first wire story came out about 1 p.m.

Most news organizations have a strong policy against publishing or airing new issues or charges in the final days of a campaign. But the Weinberger re-indictment was an official grand jury action, and the "VP favored" was technically new. It was the first documented evidence that Bush had known the arms were a direct exchange for hostages and that Bush had been privy to the strong opposition of Weinberger and Shultz.

Clinton's running mate, Al Gore, jumped on the issue and used a Watergate analogy, calling it "a true smoking gun."

Bush was on a campaign train in Wisconsin the next day. His daily tracking poll was a shock. Clinton was still at 39 percent, but Bush had dropped 7 percentage points to 32 percent with those 7 points going straight to Perot, putting the Texas billionaire at 19. It happened to be Halloween. When Bush stopped in Chippewa Falls, a single-engine plane circled overhead with a fluttering banner streaking behind: "Iran-Contra Haunts You."

The president nearly flew off his hinges. "Today is Halloween, our opponents' favorite holiday," Bush declared to the crowd. "They're trying to scare America." If Clinton was elected, Bush said, "every day is going to be Halloween. Fright and terror!"

In Oshkosh, the president shouted, "Fright and terror! Witches and devils everywhere!"

A radio reporter asked Bush what he thought about the large and enthusiastic crowds. "Great!" Bush said, "I've only been mooned once!"

The next day, Sunday, November 1, Bush told CNN, "I think most people concede that the media has been very unfair." The president returned to the news coverage later. "I think the press has been the worst it's ever been, ever!"

• • •

On Tuesday, November 3, Clinton won the presidency with 43 percent to Bush's 38. Ross Perot took 19 percent of the vote. The next day a defeated Bush returned to the White House, where he was greeted by more than 1,000 supporters, Cabinet members and staff watching in a drizzle. "Let's finish this job with style," the president said in brief remarks, standing without a coat on a platform on the South Lawn.

As he walked into the White House, he spotted Attorney General William Barr in the crowd. With an index finger motion of "follow me," the president summoned Barr to the Oval Office. When they were alone, Bush exploded about the Weinberger re-indictment. "It appears this was very political!" he bellowed, following up with a string of very pungent remarks. "Cost me the election," he said furiously.

Barr said he thought the re-indictment was a crude political act with a political motive. Career Justice Department prosecutors would never bring out controversial information in an indictment just before an election. Barr said he wanted to dismiss Walsh. He knew the law well. He could remove Walsh for "misconduct."

"Walsh has abused his power!" Bush said, inviting the attorney general to fire Walsh. "I've had an itchy finger," Barr replied. During the previous 18 months, he had been tempted. The most recent outrage only renewed his interest. He said he had asked himself, "What is the standard that applies to this guy?"

He had consulted his most trusted and confidential advisers in the department. They worried that if Barr terminated Walsh, there would be a new firestorm. Because Walsh was appointed under the independent counsel law, Barr said, the courts would replace him with another person. The investigation would continue.

Neither man had to mention the obvious alternative: a presidential pardon for Weinberger.

• • •

Two weeks later, on Friday, November 20, James Baker, now the White House chief of staff, came to see Bush in the president's private study off the Oval Office. Baker was depressed about the passport matter. He had encouraged the release of Clinton's passport information before the election. He told the president that his career was ending in embarrassment. "Who needs this?" Baker said. He did not want to tarnish the president. Baker then took out a long letter of resignation and read it aloud. The passport matter was a blot on himself, on the president, and on the entire administration, Baker said.

Bush saw that the magnitude of the loss of the presidency was taking an emotional toll on Baker. He told Baker where he could stick his resignation. This was crazy and out of proportion. Baker was overly worried about perceptions and the news media and was torturing himself for no reason.

"Jim Baker is still all uptight about the passport mess and there is nothing else that he can think of," Bush dictated on December 9. On December 15, Bush dictated, "Jim Baker has lost all interest in what's going on at the White House. There isn't much for him to do and he's worried about this passport deal still. He's got a lawyer, and the lawyer tells him that they can't find anything that he could even be charged with.... He seems somewhat relieved but still totally preoccupied."

Bush noted that Baker was working with him on some speeches. "But his heart isn't in any of that. It's just gone. He wanted to leave but doesn't feel he can as long as this passport is beeping along out there."

• • •

An independent counsel – Joseph diGenova, the former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, was appointed to probe the passport matter. "Baker is a nervous wreck," Bush dictated December 17. The next day Bush noted, "It's ruining Jim Baker's life. Of all the clean, honorable, decent guys to have his Christmas ruined by this guy, it's too bad."

Bush read Mary McGrory's Washington Post column on December 22. Headlined "Missing and Presumed Injured," the McGrory column quoted Republicans as saying Baker had virtually dropped out. The passport flap had hurt Baker's reputation and his own aspiration to be president some day, she wrote, tainting him with a Republican dirty trick and a failure to properly manage the campaign.

"An ugly editorial by Mary McGrory," Bush confided to his diary, although Bush knew it was basically true that Baker had withdrawn, "and it will have Jim Baker climbing the wall....I feel sorry for Jim Baker. Mary McGrory tries to act like Barbara and I are opposed to him in some way – the meanest, nastiest, ugliest column. She has destroyed me over and over again and Jim is so sensitive about his own coverage that he will be really upset."

Bush finally decided to pardon Weinberger and four other Iran-contra figures. On Tuesday, December 22, he dictated into his diary, "The pardon of Weinberger will put a tarnish, kind of a downer, on our legacy."

Two days later on Christmas Eve, Bush signed a three-page executive order granting the pardon.

Walsh thought it was just dirty. Bush had decapitated his investigation. Walsh went on television. Was it possible that Bush would be prosecuted? he was asked. "I could not comment on that," Walsh said. "He's a subject now of our investigation." Did Walsh think this pardon was part of a continued coverup by Bush himself? "I think it's the last card in the cover-up," Walsh said. "He's played the final card."

Bush found no joy in the final days of his presidency. He dictated December 29, 1992, "Having it end up on this note – is absolutely sickening. I can understand why Jim Baker feels as he does on that awful little passport pimple, but that's the ugliness of it all."

• • •

The passport investigation continued well after Bush left the presidency. On October 28, 1993, diGenova went to Houston to interview Bush. FBI special agent Laura M. Laughlin filed a 13-page, Form 302 report on the interview.

Bush was gracious. The former president discussed the 1992 presidential campaign as if somebody else had been running. The way Bush talked it was almost as if the campaign had been a remote, out-of-body experience. Bush said he did not need to ask "permission" from the campaign people to bring up Clinton's character. But the media had decided that character wasn't important, Bush said, because the media were Clinton's peers and agreed with Clinton that the Vietnam War was morally wrong. Bush said he followed the media because he lived and died by these reports, including the ones about the passport matter. These articles drove politics, he said. At one point Bush said he was indignant that his campaign people did not find out what Clinton was doing when he traveled abroad as a student.

Bush also showed how angry he was about the independent counsel law. He was especially incensed at the FBI. During the campaign, the bureau had tried to pull one of its famous undercover sting operations on Bush's Texas campaign chairman, James Oberwetter, who was a friend of his son George W. Bush. After complaining that the Republicans had bugged his office, Ross Perot had given the bureau a recording of his own voice. An undercover agent had then called Oberwetter and said he had tapes of Perot's conversations. Oberwetter met the agent outside his office, quickly realized he was being set up and turned down the offer.

When he learned what the FBI had done, Bush was as angry as his advisers had seen him in 12 years. Recalling this affair for diGenova, Bush said bitterly that Perot was a "bastard" and "very dangerous." The former president said he would never forgive the FBI. "I always defended the FBI, but not anymore," he said.

It took three years before diGenova completed his investigation. He decided to bring no charges. He released his report in December 1995. Bush administration officials had been "stupid, dumb and partisan," diGenova said, but he had found no crimes. Those subjected to the process were due an apology, he said.

DiGenova realized that given the concealments and dodges and attempts at being too cute, he could have made a criminal case somewhere against someone. It would have been a nasty and injudicious use of the federal criminal law in his opinion, but he had seen firsthand the all too powerful weapon in the hands of an independent counsel.

• • •

In early 1998, I talked with Jean Becker, Bush's chief of staff who had been a newspaper reporter, about interviewing the former president for my book on the Watergate legacy. She suggested that I write Bush a letter, explaining as precisely as possible what I was attempting to do.

I sent the letter January 27, 1998, just as the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was breaking. Three weeks later I received a three-page "Dear Bob" letter from Bush, dated February 12. It was in an envelope with only his post office box number as a return address. PERSONAL was written over the back seal, apparently in his hand, with two pieces of Scotch tape over the seal.

President Bush wrote: "I know that you and my trusted Jean Becker have been going back and forth, trading calls, chatting. Now I have your letter of January 27th. Let me be very frank – I am disinclined to have the conversation that you suggest. There are several reasons for this position.

"First, I do not think you and I had a very pleasant relationship."

We in fact had no relationship. Bush had declined numerous requests I made to interview him throughout more than two decades. I was not surprised that he had never agreed to be interviewed by me, since I was looking for behind-the-scenes accounts of decision making – a style of reporting he disliked. I also felt that if he had agreed to be interviewed, he would not be particularly helpful. But I did want to give him a chance to respond and to add whatever he chose. He no doubt knew that I talked to many of his senior aides and Cabinet members.

Bush continued in his letter, "You were the aggressive investigative reporter, I the office holder who knew that his every move, his every experience in business, or personal life or politics no matter how long ago would come under intrusive scrutiny. In the old days this would not have influenced me. That aggressive adversarial relationship went with the territory. Today, happily retired and trying to stay away from the Beltway media, it does influence me.

"Back then experts would tell me, 'You better talk to him/her, they'll write the story anyway and you better get your side of it told accurately.' But now at 73 and having been through some ups and downs with the Washington press I am inclined to stay out of the story, out of the interview business. Instead I favor letting the writers themselves make the call, letting the chips fall where they may without my spin.

"Perhaps I am being unduly influenced by today's frenzy, a frenzy of sleaze and alleged tawdry behavior, but for me my reluctance is far deeper than that.

"When I read books by today's new school journalists I see my name in direct quotes, words in my mouth I never uttered. I talked to our publisher at Knopf about this method. 'Literary License,' says he. But I don't like it."

In my letter to Bush, I had said that I thought Watergate had taught him an important lesson, namely, to narrow the gap between his statements and actions. In other words, to speak as close to the truth as possible, and I wrote he had done that in his public statement about Iraq's invasion of Kuwait: "This will not stand."

Bush wrote in his reply: "Watergate was your watershed. For you it was an earthshaking event that made you....For me Watergate was a major event, for as you correctly point out, I was chairman of the GOP during those tumultuous times. I am sure I learned from Watergate, but it did not have the major effect that your letter seems to imply. Watergate had absolutely nothing to do with how I conducted myself during the Iraqi crisis."

Bush continued, "I think Watergate and the Vietnam War are the two things that moved Beltway journalism into this aggressive, intrusive, 'take no prisoners' kind of reporting that I can now say I find offensive.

"The new young cynical breed wants to emulate you. But many of them to do that question the word and the integrity of all in politics. It is almost like their code is 'You are guilty until proved innocent.' I gave a speech on the media in New York last fall and that is all I think I should say on the subject.

"Having said the above, the bottom line is I really don't want to get into any of this with any reporter or writer any more than I want to discuss the current scandal about which I would inevitably be asked to comment...

"Barbara's memoir gave our family history and did it well. That's enough for me now. Oh, there may be a handful of additional interviews, but if they relive ancient history and reopen old wounds, I'm sorry but I want no part of it.

"I told the truth on Iran-contra, but I have been plagued by a press determination to prove otherwise. I listen to revisionistic leftists flail away against our action in Panama. I see respected columnists constantly criticize me for not 'getting' Saddam Hussein, going in, finding him, killing him. They, of course, are free to do their thing; and I am free to do mine. Mine is to stay the hell out of Dodge and do as the old Chinese mandarin adage says 'Stand on sidelines hands in sleeves.'

"I hope you do not find this letter personally offensive. Out of office now, away from Washington, out of national politics I have a freedom now that I treasure. I am turned off by what you appropriately call a 'climate of scandal and mistrust'. I am deeply offended by much of what I read, having tried to show respect for the offices I was proud to hold. But I know that comments by me would not help change things, indeed would probably be seen as piling on by a poor loser. So, Bob, we better leave things as they are.

"I suppose it might have a ring of hypocrisy if I, unwilling to pitch in, wish you well on your new project; but I do."

The letter was signed "Sincerely, George Bush."


Bob Woodward has been a reporter and editor at The Post for 28 years. This article is adapted from his new book, "Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate," published by Simon and Schuster. Copyright 1999 by Bob Woodward. Jeff Glasser assisted in its reporting and writing.


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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