A former employee of George W. Bush's media adviser was sentenced to a year in jail and fined $3,000 yesterday for sending Bush's secret debate briefing materials to his Democratic rival during the presidential campaign and then lying about it to a grand jury.
Ending one of the more bizarre and titillating episodes of the 2000 campaign, Juanita Yvette Lozano pleaded guilty in an Austin court to mail fraud and perjury. She admitted stealing a videotape of Bush practicing for the debates and 120 pages of confidential material from her boss, media consultant Mark McKinnon. She sent the package anonymously in September to Vice President Al Gore's debate adviser, lobbyist Tom Downey, who promptly called the FBI.
The incident, which unfolded at the height of the campaign, set off months of intrigue and accusations as both presidential campaigns tried to ferret out the mole and distance themselves from a potentially disastrous political situation. So sensitive was the investigation that FBI Director Louis J. Freeh oversaw it himself.
Bush operatives accused the Gore campaign of planting a spy in the Republican's camp. Democrats suggested Bush officials sent the materials as a dirty trick to embarrass Gore. But in the end, the truth was far less intriguing.
Lozano, who had worked for Democrats in the past -- and who was discovered to have had a checkered work history -- apparently acted alone for motives she did not explain in court.
"The thing that most concerns me is not only did you breach your duty to your employer and the political process, but you intentionally lied before a grand jury," U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks told Lozano before she was sentenced.
Lozano, 31, said yesterday that her life had been a "series of lost opportunities and friendships." She said she was particularly disappointed that as a convicted felon she will lose her right to vote. "Every Election Day will be a painful reminder. I will simply be an observer. Voting, for me, was more than a privilege; it was an honor," she said.
Lozano's attorney did not return a call for comment yesterday.
In addition to duping the Bush campaign, which jumped to her defense last year, she fooled her boss and friend of a decade, McKinnon. He had trusted her to baby-sit his children and had gone on national television to aggressively defend her when suspicions first surfaced. McKinnon met Lozano when they worked on the Texas gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Ann Richards in 1990.
McKinnon yesterday called this chapter in the campaign and his life "a nightmare for all of us."
"I think Yvette understands now that there are serious consequences for serious breaches of trust," he said. "It's been very difficult for me. This was not just a professional breach, but a personal breach. . . . My attorneys and a lot of other people were advising me that I was too far out there defending her."
At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "I hope this will bring this unfortunate chapter to a close. I think nobody is more hurt or disappointed or saddened that this took place in the Bush campaign, and particularly Mark McKinnon. . . . And I hope she has learned a lesson." Asked if he thought Lozano had acted on her own, Fleischer said, "That's what all the evidence indicates . . . in the course of the investigation."
Downey received the package by Express Mail on Sept. 13. "I will call you soon to find out what other materials can be useful to the VP," an enclosed note read. The return sender was listed as "Amy Smith."
Within weeks federal investigators were focused on McKinnon's Austin office as the source of the leak because the media adviser was thought to have the only copy of the materials that was not secured and accounted for at campaign headquarters. In addition, the copy of the tape Downey received was of professional quality and likely dubbed from the master, which McKinnon had made.
Despite Lozano's denials, a security tape showed her mailing a parcel from an Austin post office at the precise time the package to Downey was sent from the same location. In an odd twist, McKinnon had asked Lozano to send back a pair of mail-order $19.99 Gap pants for him. So when she insisted the video had merely caught her mailing his trousers, McKinnon backed her up.
Eventually, Lozano ran out of excuses and defenders. The FBI seized her office and home computers and discovered on the hard drive Downey's Washington address and background information on him. She was indicted in March. Her denials before the grand jury about having knowledge about Downey ultimately became the basis for the perjury charge.
Staff writer Mike Allen contributed to this report.