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Laura Bush in memoir: George and I may have been poisoned

By Alex Mooney and Charles Riley, CNN
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Laura Bush thinks she was poisoned
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New York Times: Book says she and husband became ill, husband bedridden, in Germany
  • Laura Bush says 1963 car crash in Texas that killed schoolmate caused loss of faith
  • Criticism of president from Senate majority leader, House speaker graceless, she says
  • Mrs. Bush says her mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, can be "ferociously tart-tongued"
RELATED TOPICS
  • Laura Bush
  • George W. Bush
  • Books

(CNN) -- Laura Bush is suggesting she, her husband and several aides were poisoned during a 2007 visit to Germany for the G8 summit, one of several new details in the former first lady's forthcoming memoir, "Spoken From the Heart."

Due to hit bookshelves May 4 but purchased by CNN at a Washington-area bookstore, Mrs. Bush says she and former President George W. Bush became mysteriously sick on the Germany trip to such a degree that the president became bedridden.

According to Mrs. Bush, doctors and the Secret Service investigated the possibility a poisoning had occurred but were unable to make a definitive conclusion.

News reports filed during the event show the White House did disclose Bush missed a series of morning sessions at the summit because he had contracted an apparent virus, but White House officials did not provide further details at that time.

Townsend: Bush illness investigated, poisoning unlikely

"Nearly a dozen members of our delegation were stricken, even George, who started to feel sick during an early morning staff briefing," Mrs. Bush writes. "[O]ne of our military aides had difficulty walking and a White House staffer lost all hearing in one ear. Exceedingly alarmed, the Secret Service went on full alert, combing the resort for potential poisons."

"George felt so ill that he met with [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy and did not even stand up to greet him," she continues, adding later, "We never learned if any other delegations became ill, or if ours, mysteriously, was the only one."

Excerpts of the book were first published by The New York Times on Tuesday.

The 432-page memoir is both a recount of the rare experience of being a first lady and a reflection of the eight years she spent in the White House as her husband's popularity gradually declined.

Among the book's most poignant passages are those that delve into Mrs. Bush's involvement in a 1963 car collision in Midland, Texas, that killed her good friend who happened to be driving the other car.

The spotty details surrounding the accident became fodder for Bush's opponents during his first run for the White House, and Mrs. Bush rarely addressed the matter in public.

Mrs. Bush covers the accident extensively in the memoir, revealing it occurred after she ran a stop sign in a rush to a drive-in theater. Then 17, Mrs. Bush was driving a car that collided with that of Mike Douglas, a fellow student at Mrs. Bush's school. Douglas was pronounced dead when he arrived at the hospital.

"In the aftermath, all I felt was guilty, very guilty. In fact, I still do. It is a guilt I will carry for the rest of my life, far more visible to me than the scar etched in the bump of my knee," Mrs. Bush writes.

"The whole time I was praying that the person in the other car was alive. In my mind, I was calling 'Please, God. Please, God. Please, God,' over and over and over again."

Mrs. Bush writes she and a friend were talking when she ran the stop sign but also says the intersection was highly dangerous, the road was dark, and she could barely see the stop sign.

Guilt-ridden, Mrs. Bush says she lost her faith for "many, many years."

"It was the first time that I had prayed to God for something, begged him for something, not the simple childhood wishing on a star but humbly begging for another human life. And it was as if no one heard. My begging, to my seventeen-year-old mind, had made no difference. The only answer was the sound of Mrs. Douglas's sobs on the other side of that thin emergency room curtain."

Much of the book's early chapters are devoted to a recounting of family history, with a special emphasis on the tragedies faced by her family as they weathered the Great Depression and her own personal beginnings as a young woman coming of age in Midland, Texas.

Mrs. Bush writes passionately about the time she spent after college teaching minority students in the large cities of Texas, before she met her future husband.

Mrs. Bush also reveals that she initially received a cold reception from Barbara Bush after marrying her son.

"[F]rom the start, she was ferociously tart-tongued. She's never shied away from saying what she thinks," Bush writes. "She's managed to insult nearly all of my friends with one or another perfectly-timed acerbic comment."

The relationship improved, however, when Laura and George moved to Washington to be closer to his parents, she writes.

The memoir covers in detail many of the policy initiatives that the first lady undertook while in office, including her efforts to promote women's rights in Afghanistan and childhood literacy in the United States.

The first lady also acknowledges a misstep made by her twin daughters, who were caught trying to order alcoholic drinks in Austin, Texas, before their 21st birthday.

"That night in Austin was just dumb, in the way that so many nineteen-year-olds are dumb," Mrs. Bush writes.

"But what bothered me long after the incident was over was the image left behind in the public mind, that Barbara and Jenna were party girls."

Much as she did during her time as first lady, Mrs. Bush for the most part avoids commenting on politics. But she does point to the 1992 presidential campaign of Bush senior as being particularly nasty. Mrs. Bush writes that during the campaign, critics created "the most hideous caricatures of George H.W. Bush until I barely recognized my own father-in-law."

Bush also criticizes former presidential candidate John Kerry for mentioning the sexual orientation of Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter during a 2004 debate, calling the move "cheap and tawdry" and suggests the campaign opened the door to a more hostile atmosphere for political candidates and their families.

"The strategy of making Mary Cheney's private life an issue failed with the voters in November of 2004," Bush writes. "But in the years since, it has become acceptable to mock candidates and their families, and other elected officeholders, in highly personal ways; David Letterman feels free to ridicule Sarah Palin's teenage daughters, and the audience laughs. That is the legacy of the 2004 campaign."

Mrs. Bush also uses the memoir to air a few gripes against her husband's most vocal congressional critics, specifically Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Reid once called Bush a "loser," while Pelosi said he was an "incompetent leader."

"The comments were uncalled for and graceless," Bush writes. "While a president's political opponents, as well as his supporters, are entitled to make what they see as legitimate criticisms, and while our national debates should be spirited, these particular worlds revealed the petty and parochial nature of some who serve in Congress."

"George, as president, would never have used such language about them," she adds.

President George W. Bush's own memoir, "Decision Points," is set for a November 2010 release.

 
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