Bush: I've had no drug for 15 years

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The Independent Online
THE REPUBLICAN presidential hopeful George W Bush Jnr suggested yesterday he might withdraw from the race for the White House if questioning continued about his use of drugs. Pressed for the third day to answer allegations that he once took drugs, including cocaine, the favoured contender for the Republican nomination maintained he had not touched drugs for at least 15 years.

Mr Bush told an audience in Ohio: "I don't want to participate in American politics if that's what it takes." At an earlier engagement, in Virginia, he had tackled the drug issue unprompted for the first time, opening a press conference with a two-paragraph statement in which he insisted he would pass the standard background check for White House employees. This requires disclosure of any drug use in the past seven years.

"Not only could I pass the challenge of a background check and the standards applied to today's White House," he said, "but I could have passed the background check and the standards applied on the most stringent conditions when my dad was President - a 15-year drug-free period."

He continued: "Two decades ago I made some mistakes, when I was younger. I have learnt from those mistakes. Should I become the President, my pledge ... is that I will uphold the honour and dignity of the office."

Mr Bush's statement was part of a scramble to limit the damage after he came close to losing his temper with reporters the previous day in the face of a volley of questions about his alleged drug usage.

Asked by the Dallas Morning News whether, as President, he would insist White House employees underwent background checks - and whether he would pass - Mr Bush replied: "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 ... `No'."

The paper printed his response yesterday. Apparently concerned his reply did not place his alleged drug usage far enough in the past, however, Mr Bush made his later statement, expanding the denial to cover a full 15 years. It remained unclear whether the period he was referring to meant 15 years from when he might become President (ie January 2001), 15 years from now, or 15 years before the date of his father's inauguration, January 1989. That interpretation, subsequently embraced by his spokeswoman, would take his denial back to 1974, when he was 28.