The Sex Scandal That Put Bush in the White House

How GOP operative Roger Stone destroyed the Reform Party in the 2000 presidential campaign

Pat Buchanan is on the tube again, co-hosting a Crossfire facsimile on MSNBC. Just a celebrity commentator now, he changed the face of American politics in 2000—unnoticed by a recount-focused media. First, he seized control of the most successful third party in half a century, the Reform Party, whose founder, Ross Perot, cost Bush I the presidency in 1992. Once Buchanan became the party's presidential nominee, he mysteriously disappeared, getting 2.4 million votes less than Ralph Nader, 80,000 less in Florida alone. The Buchanan saga remains important not only because it reveals the seamy underside of Bush II's ascent to power, but because it shows how the GOP virtually eliminated a national centrist party that could've altered the 2004 race.

Alive now in only seven states, the party's remnants just offered their ballot line to Nader, which could also wind up benefiting Bush. The saga begins with a baby, allegedly born more than four decades ago. Incredibly, just as Bush backers in 2000 used an illegitimate-child scandal in South Carolina to smear John McCain, longtime Republican dirty-tricks operative Roger Stone was simultaneously using just such a scandal to undermine Buchanan.

Stone, who also spearheaded the pro-Bush mob shutdown of the Miami/Dade recount in 2000, says now that he "has no specific recollection" of strategically employing the Buchanan baby story. But a Voice investigation reveals that he pushed it aggressively on reporters early in the 2000 campaign, then just let it hover over Buchanan, who was nose-diving so badly toward November that no explicit threat of a scandal story was even needed.

"Everyone who worked for Nixon knew about" the alleged Buchanan baby, says Stone, adding that he "lived with it through two Reagan campaigns." Stone and Buchanan were aides to Nixon and Reagan, and Stone, also a Bush I campaign veteran, was rewarded for his subterranean 2000 efforts with an appointment to the Department of Interior transition team, which he parlayed into a multimillion dollar business as an Indian gaming consultant (see Voice, April 19).

The Stone-inspired Reform infighting served multiple Bush interests: It killed any possibility of a third Perot run, blocked the candidacy of former Connecticut governor Lowell Weicker, and forced out the party's only elected official, Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura. Buchanan's vanishing act—after Stone cajoled him to run Reform—left nearly a dozen party leaders contacted by the Voice convinced that he and Stone were conscious agents of doom.

The trail starts in June 1999 at a lunch at The Palm in Washington. Bay Buchanan, the sister who ran all three of Buchanan's presidential runs, brought her mentor from the Reagan days, Lyn Nofziger, to a lunch requested by Stone, the scheme-a-day consultant who used to rent her his summer beach home. The Buchanans had already started another Republican run, but "it was Roger's brilliant idea," recalls Nofziger, "that Pat ought to leave the party and become the candidate of the Reform Party." Stone talked about the $13 million in automatic federal matching funds that came with the Reform nomination and "said he knew what to do to get it," says Nofziger.

Stone also began talking to William Von Raab, the customs commissioner under Reagan who'd been co-finance chair of the 1992 Buchanan campaign. Stone had already recruited Von Raab as a partner in a small Washington-based lobbying and consulting firm, Ikon Holdings, that listed Stone as its president and Von Raab as its chairman. "Roger asked me if I wanted to go to the Reform convention in July and try to promote a Buchanan candidacy," Von Raab recalls. Stone told Von Raab that Donald Trump, Stone's longtime top client, was thinking about seeking the Reform line and that Von Raab's efforts for Buchanan would help Stone "see what the makeup of the convention was."

Incredibly, Von Raab says, his "Buchanan hospitality suite" at the Dearborn, Michigan, convention hotel—with soda and hamburgers and occasional champagne—"was paid for by Roger, who, in turn, said he was covering it with Trump's money." Stone insists the suite was not just for Buchanan, but for "a committee seeking an alternative" to Perot—a contention Von Raab dismisses. News stories noted that Von Raab was also circulating flyers attacking Weicker that Stone takes credit for now.

At the same time, Michael Niebauer, a New York Independence Party activist tied to the Reform Party, who arrived in a rented Trumpmobile, says he collected campaign posters from Stone, set up a Trump hospitality suite at Stone's behest, and met secretly with Stone in his hotel war room. "Stone asked me not to say anything. He didn't want his presence known," says Niebauer.

Buchanan, who says he did not know about Von Raab's ties to Stone, did well in an unofficial convention tally, but decided to continue on the Republican primary trail. He was demolished, though, in the August 14 Iowa straw poll, coming in behind Gary Bauer. The next day, Washington pollster Robert Schroth started doing a poll for Stone that showed Buchanan running strongly on the Reform line. Bay Buchanan says Stone sent her the results, which he also dropped in a September news story. Schroth would later do another poll for Stone trumpeting Trump, who, like Buchanan, announced on October 25 that he was changing his registration to Reform and seeking the party's nod.

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