In examining Miers's tenure with Texas Lottery Commission, NY Times left out key link to Bush campaign

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER & ROB MORLINO

An October 7 New York Times article explored in detail Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers's tenure as chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission but failed to make a key connection between her dual roles with the lottery commission and with the re-election campaign of then-Gov. George W. Bush. While Miers was chairwoman of the commission, the former executive director filed suit, claiming that he was fired to ensure that allegations were not made public that then-Gov. Bush had gained acceptance into the Texas Air National Guard in 1968 as a result of political favors. At roughly the same time -- and also during her tenure as chairwoman -- Miers was paid by Bush's re-election campaign to investigate Bush's Guard record in order to deflect allegations that Bush received preferential treatment.

Allegations about political favors playing a role in Bush's National Guard career first arose in the midst of a lawsuit filed by Lawrence Littwin, the former executive director of the lottery commission who was both hired and fired during Miers's tenure. Littwin had reportedly been investigating what he considered improper political contributions made by Gtech, a company which had a contract to run the Texas lottery. In his lawsuit, Littwin claimed that Gtech pressured the commission to fire him by threatening to reveal that the company had paid lobbyist Ben Barnes $23 million to keep Barnes from publicly claiming that he pulled strings in order to get Bush into the Guard.

In her capacity at the commission, Miers was directly involved with Littwin's dismissal in October 1997. Littwin's lawsuit claimed that after he began looking into financial ties between the company and Texas lawmakers, Gtech pushed Miers to fire him [Houston Chronicle, January 6, 2001]. After a federal judge in Texas ruled that Miers did not have to testify in Littwin's lawsuit to provide an explanation for why Littwin was fired, Gtech settled Littwin's lawsuit for $300,000.

Subsequently -- and while still serving on the commission -- Miers was paid $19,000 by Bush's re-election campaign to investigate his National Guard record in order to "identify potential vulnerabilities early on and deflect any charges that Bush got favorable treatment," according to a July 17, 2000, Newsweek article. Newsweek reported that Barnes's allegations were a key part of Miers's investigation. That would mean that the Miers investigation -- and therefore Bush himself -- potentially benefited from Miers's knowledge of and involvement in the lottery commission.

From the July 17, 2000, Newsweek article:

Bush's advisers had anticipated that his military record would be scrutinized closely, but they didn't foresee this curve ball. More than two years ago the Bush camp launched a secretive research operation designed to scour all records relating to his Vietnam-era service as a pilot in the 111th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron of the Texas Air National Guard. The goal was to identify potential vulnerabilities early on and deflect any charges that Bush got favorable treatment. Until recently, the campaign was confident that this worked. But as the latest flap shows, questions about Bush's military service haven't entirely disappeared.

The Bushies' concern began while he was running for a second term as governor. A hard-nosed Dallas lawyer named Harriet Miers was retained to investigate the issue; state records show Miers was paid $19,000 by the Bush gubernatorial campaign. She and other aides quickly identified a problem--rumors that Bush had help from his father in getting into the National Guard back in 1968. Ben Barnes, a prominent Texas Democrat and a former speaker of the House in the state legislature, told friends he used his influence to get George W a guard slot after receiving a request from Houston oilman Sid Adger. Barnes said Adger told him he was calling on behalf of the elder George Bush, then a Texas congressman. Both Bushes deny seeking any help from Barnes or Adger, who has since passed away. Concerned that Barnes might go public with his allegations, the Bush campaign sent Don Evans, a friend of W's, to hear Barnes's story. Barnes acknowledged that he hadn't actually spoken directly to Bush Sr. and had no documents to back up his story. As the Bush campaign saw it, that let both Bushes off the hook. And the National Guard question seemed under control.

Media Matters has previously documented that many news stories published immediately following her nomination to the Supreme Court by President Bush, including one published by the Times, neglected to adequately explore Miers's record at the commission; instead, they uncritically repeated the White House claim that Miers "cleaned up" an ethically troubled agency. Media Matters also noted that major news outlets initially failed to connect details of Miers's career and place them into a broader political context of ethical questions currently surrounding national GOP leaders.

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