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Campaign Investigation

The Tape Tale Gets More Tangled

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Long before she became the focus of an FBI investigation into the mysterious mailing of GEORGE W. BUSH's confidential debate materials, YVETTE LOZANO knew her job working for the Bush campaign might raise a few eyebrows. "It's kind of weird," she told an acquaintance as she drove down a street in Austin, Texas, a few months ago, "because we're all Democrats." For that reason and others, Lozano, an assistant to MARK MCKINNON, Bush's chief media adviser, was under a cloud of suspicion last week in a scandal that has become a major distraction for the Bush campaign less than six weeks before Election Day.

Like McKinnon, Lozano is a lifelong Democrat, who once worked for Ann Richards, the Democratic Governor Bush ousted from office in 1994. After falling hard for Bush, McKinnon helped re-elect the Republican Governor in 1998, becoming one of his closest advisers. Then, in 1999, McKinnon set up a company, Maverick Media, dedicated solely to Bush's presidential campaign. And when he needed someone to answer the phones and handle administrative work, he turned to Lozano, 30, a friend since 1990 who had become close to his family. Although Lozano had worked for a Democratic state legislator as recently as 1997 (a job from which, the legislator says, she was fired for lying), McKinnon never doubted her loyalty--to him or to Bush. "I trusted this woman with my children," McKinnon told TIME.

That faith was placed under severe strain last week as FBI agents concentrated on Lozano and Maverick Media in their investigation of how a videotape and briefing book of Bush's debate preparations were mailed from Austin to an AL GORE confidant on Sept. 13. The confidant, TOM DOWNEY, turned the package over to the FBI immediately. Last week officials revealed that an Austin post-office security camera showed Lozano mailing a package two days before the debate materials arrived at Downey's office. The time of Lozano's visit corresponds to the postage stamp on the package sent to Downey. Lozano denied involvement, saying she had been returning a pair of her boss's khakis to the Gap, an alibi McKinnon backed up.

Agents took Lozano's fingerprints--twice--as well as those of the other five employees at Maverick. And they shipped two computers Lozano had used to the FBI labs in Washington. They interrogated McKinnon and other top Bush officials and suggested in those sessions that the sender of the package might have been working for Bush rather than against him, as part of a conspiracy to sabotage debate negotiations between the Gore and Bush campaigns. "They have a number of theories," said an exasperated McKinnon, "and that's one of them."

As all this swirled around them last Saturday, Bush and his top aides huddled at the Governor's ranch outside Waco trying to prepare for Tuesday's first debate. Spokeswoman Karen Hughes attempted to distance Lozano from Bush, saying she worked for Maverick Media and not the Governor. Bush said he would fire anyone caught "stealing from my campaign." And McKinnon, while still insisting he was "confident" of Lozano's innocence, spoke in a voice laced with uncertainty: "I don't know what to think."

--By James Carney. With reporting by John F. Dickerson/Austin and Elaine Shannon and Mark Thompson/Washington


Cover Date: October 9, 2000



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