Pubdate: Thu, 19 Aug 1999
Source: Associated Press
Copyright: 1999 Associated Press
Author: Michael Holmes, Associated Press Writer


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- George W. Bush tried Wednesday to dismiss questions
about whether he ever used illegal drugs as "ridiculous and absurd rumors"
but later elaborated that he hadn't used them in the past seven years.

"You know what happens? Somebody floats a rumor and that causes you to ask a
question," Bush said, interrupting a reporter who said she was trying to ask
who might be planting such rumors.

"And that's the game in American politics, and I refuse to play it," he
said. "That is a game. And you just fell for the trap. And I refuse to play."

Later, Bush changed his response after The Dallas Morning News questioned
him about the requirement that federal employees answer questions about drug
use to get high-level security clearances.

"As I understand it, the current form asks the question, 'Did somebody use
drugs within the last seven years?' and I will be glad to answer that
question, and the answer is 'No,'" the News, in a story for its Thursday
editions, quoted Bush as saying in New Orleans.

Bush, who is 53, would not elaborate beyond the seven-year time frame. He
said that if elected, he would make no change in the federal policy that
requires high-level presidential appointees to answer questions about drug
use in the standard FBI background check.

"It's a legitimate question to ask to make sure there are no drug users on
the White House staff," Bush told the newspaper. But, he added, "The
president should recognize that some people may have made mistakes when they
were younger, and the question the president must ask is did they learn from
those mistakes and will they not repeat them again."

Since his first campaign for Texas governor in 1994, Bush has declined to
answer some questions about his past.

"When I was young and irresponsible, I behaved young and irresponsibly," is
his oft-repeated answer.

Bush's refusal to directly answer the drug question has become the fodder
for jokes on late-night television. It continued to dog him as he campaigned
later Wednesday in Baton Rouge, La. "I made some mistakes years ago," he
said.  "But I learned from my mistakes."

Bush has said that, upon turning 40, he quit drinking alcohol. And in the
wake of the President Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, Bush has said he's
been faithful to his wife of more than 20 years.

But since launching his presidential bid, Bush has steered clear of the drug
question, saying he believes voters are weary of what he called "the
politics of personal destruction."

The Bush campaign says the governor believes there is a line to be drawn
between legitimate questions about his record and some other inquiries.

"Important facts that people deserve to know about are how he's fulfilled
his duties as governor, father, husband and employer. Those are relevant
questions," said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan.

"He is going to take this on and say 'enough is enough.' If that leads to
mistaken assumptions about his past, that's fine with him. He's not going to
itemize for the children of America and his daughters, who are watching,
everything he did or did not do in the past," McClellan said.

During Wednesday's exchange, Bush did not say who he thought was planting

"Do I think they're being planted? I know they're being planted. And they're
ridiculous and they're absurd and the people of America are sick and tired
of this kind of politics. And I'm not participating," he said.

Asked whether his campaign earlier had pointed to the campaign of
millionaire publisher Steve Forbes as a source of rumors, Bush replied, "I
don't remember, I don't remember that."

Forbes' political director, Bill Dal Col, said the campaign "never made the
accusation, and no we don't get involved in the rumor game." Asked whether
Forbes ever used illegal drugs, Dal Col said, "No."

Clinton, while seeking the White House in 1992, also faced questions about
drug use.

"When I was in England I experimented with marijuana a time or two and
didn't like it," Clinton said. "I didn't inhale and I didn't try it again."

It was Clinton's first direct public acknowledgment that he ever tried
illegal drugs. Before that, he'd always responded to questions about drug
use by saying that he never violated state or federal laws.

According to an opinion poll taken earlier this year, Americans are about
evenly divided on the question of whether the public needs to know about a
candidate's drug use in the past. Just over half said "yes" in the February
CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll.

Republican presidential rival John McCain says he has not used illegal
drugs. As to whether Bush or other candidates should answer questions about
any drug use in their past, McCain spokesman Howard Opinsky said, "The
question about what is appropriate or not is going to be made by the media
and the voters. He realizes it is part of running for office."

Gary Bauer, who also is seeking the GOP nomination, said Sunday on CNN: "We
ought to be able to say with no hesitation that 'No, we have not broken the
drug laws of the United States,' and 'No we have not used cocaine."'

Comedians have capitalized on Bush's refusal to answer the drug question.

An Aug. 11 monologue on "The Tonight Show": "Bush has come under fire lately
for not answering questions about possible cocaine use. Well, today, he came
out for mandatory drug testing. He says he is for it. In fact, he said,
'Look, whatever drugs you've got, bring them by. I will test them.'"

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