After judiciously recusing himself from any official role in the Florida recount, Gov. Jeb Bush vowed to avoid even the "slightest appearance of a conflict of interest," promising that no political work concerning the disputed election would be done by him or his staff on taxpayer time.
But after filing a public records request, the Los Angeles Times has discovered that nearly 100 phone calls were made from the governor's office to his brother's campaign, its staffers, advisers and attorneys during the protracted recount battle. At least 10 of these came from Jeb's own line, including calls to W head strategist Karl Rove, W chief of staff Clay Johnson, W campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker, and W's private line in the Texas governor's office. What's more, Jeb also took part in at least one conference call with Bush campaign workers.
But when questioned by a reporter about the nature of the calls, the governor replied via e-mail: "I have no clue what these calls were about." He did, however, venture a few guesses: "They could have been my assistant passing on a request for an invitation to speak or an autographed picture. They might have been answering a request on where to eat in Tallahassee for the hoards (sic) of Austin folks that made their way here. They could have been for many reasons. I cannot remember."
Those of you who scratched your heads in disbelief throughout last year's shenanigans in Florida may start to feel your scalps beginning to itch. Particularly in light of the recent revelation that Florida Secretary of State and Jeb crony, Katherine Harris, was running a Bush campaign "war room" out of her Tallahassee office at the same time she was making crucial rulings about the election.
But you don't need to be Marcel Proust to know that memory is a very funny thing. So, to get to the bottom of things, I contacted a well-placed source at the National Security Agency who was able to provide me with the actual transcripts of some of Jeb's calls. Here, for instance, is an excerpt from a call to W:
JEB: How's it going, bro? You spoken to the folks? Dad's beside himself, keeps rambling on about Big Jim bringing home the bacon.
W: Heh-heh. That's ol' 41 for ya. So, Jeb, what's the deal with these overseas ballots? Are your people making real sure they count 'em all -- no postmark, no witness signature, mailed after Election Day, whatever?
JEB: Aw, W, you know I can't talk about that. I'm on the taxpayer's dime. I'm just giving you a ring to see if your team from Austin needs any recommendations for some good eats while they're in town. I know where they can get some killer barbecue.
Then there's this exchange from a conversation between Jeb and Karl Rove:
JEB: Hey, Karl, it's Jeb.
ROVE: Great, Jeb -- you're just the person I need to talk to. I'm having a helluva time getting ahold of Katherine in the "war room." I need to discuss that petition she's about to file with the Florida Supreme Court.
JEB: Wo, hold up there, Karl. I'm out of the loop on this stuff, remember?
ROVE: Oh, yeah, that's right. My bad.
JEB: No harm, no foul. Listen, Karl, Jeb Jr.'s school is holding "Career Day" next week, and I would love it if you could come and speak to them about what it's like to be in charge of a big presidential campaign.
ROVE: (LONG PAUSE) Uh, gee, Jeb. I'm kinda busy these days. We're in the middle of a battle that will determine the leadership of the free world.
JEB: I haven't really been paying attention. Anyway, c'mon -- it'll be fun. We can grab a bite afterwards. I know a place where we can get some killer barbecue.
As for the 34 calls from Jeb's office to the Bush for President campaign office in Miami -- six of which were made on the day GOP rioters forced the Miami-Dade canvassing board to shut down its manual recount -- this excerpt shows that nothing about those calls crossed the line.
MIAMI BUSH WORKER: (JUBILANT SCREAMING IS HEARD IN THE BACKGROUND) Woooo! We did it, we shut 'em down!
JEB: I have no idea what you're talking about. I was just sitting in my office, trying to think of what I could do for you folks, and it hit me: autographed pictures of me and my brother.
WORKER: Uh, who is this?
JEB: It's Jeb. The governor. George W's brother.
JEB: Absolutely. So how about them autographed pics? Interested?
WORKER: Sure. I guess ...
JEB: Fantastic. So who should we make them out to?
There you have it: proof positive that Jeb's phone calls were every bit as innocent as he claims. Only a cynic would suspect otherwise. And, after all, wasn't ending cynicism in politics what the 2000 election was all about?
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