Bush admits drink-driving conviction

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The Independent US

The agonisingly close US presidential election was plunged into new uncertainty yesterday after the bombshell revelation that the Republican candidate, George W Bush, had hushed up a 24-year-old conviction for drink-driving.

The agonisingly close US presidential election was plunged into new uncertainty yesterday after the bombshell revelation that the Republican candidate, George W Bush, had hushed up a 24-year-old conviction for drink-driving.

Coming less than five days before polling day, the disclosure threw the smooth-running Bush machine off balance with little time to recover and threatened Mr Bush's chances, just as his slender lead in the polls looked ready to solidify.

Last night, damaging evidence emerged that Mr Bush had lied about his drink-driving arrest at least once. Wayne Slater, a reporter with the Dallas Morning News, said he had raised the candidate's arrest record two years ago.

"I asked him if he'd been arrested after 1968," said Mr Slater, referring to the year Mr Bush was apprehended for stealing a Christmas wreath from a Connecticut hotel. "And he said 'No'." He added: "When he said the word 'No,' clearly he wasn't telling the truth. I felt he may have been ready to correct what he had said, but [Bush spokeswoman] Karen Hughes stepped in and stopped the interview."

Gore campaign managers categorically denied leaking the Bush arrest record and said the Bush entourage "should stop making these charges".

The Bush campaign is in full damage-control mode, lashing out at what it said were Democrats' dirty tricks, while defending Mr Bush's decision to keep the episode quiet. Mr Bush, who confirmed details of the offence to reporters within hours of the report airing on Thursday night, diverted from his standard stump speech yesterday to put his case.

"It's become clear to America in the course of this campaign," he said to the warmest cheers of the day, "that I have made mistakes in my life; but I'm proud to tell you that I've learnt from those mistakes, and that's the role of a leader, to share wisdom, experience."

He was at a Baptist Christian college in Grand Rapids, the most entrenched Republican region of the bellwether state of Michigan, where he and Al Gore are running neck and neck in the polls.

Mr Bush has made no secret of his rakish past, including an alcohol abuse problem, but had made no mention of a conviction. He has been teetotal since 1986, when he was 40.

Ms Hughes accused the Democrats of an 11th-hour smear. "I think the American people are tired of this kind of 'gotcha' politics," she said. "They're tired of this kind of last-minute dirty tricks, and I think the Democrats owe the American people an explanation."

Mr Gore's spokesman, Chris Lehane, denied any involvement in the disclosure, which concerned a 1976 conviction in the state of Maine, not far from the Bush family's Kennebunkport estate.

The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, defended Mr Bush, calling the revelation "a last desperate attempt by someone who is losing the election".

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