Bush acknowledges 1976 DUI charge
From staff and wire reports
WEST ALLIS, Wisconsin -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush acknowledged Thursday that in 1976 he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol near his parents' home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Bush, who was 30 at the time, pleaded guilty, paid a $150 fine and his driving privileges were temporarily suspended in Maine.
Late Thursday evening, following a campaign rally in this tightly contested Midwestern state, Bush--with his wife, Laura, at his side -- told reporters news accounts of the incident were accurate, that he had been drinking in a bar with Australian tennis pro John Newcombe and others.
"I'm not proud of that. I made some mistakes. I occasionally drank too much, and I did that night. I learned my lesson." Bush said he was not jailed after the arrest. "I told the guy (the arresting officer) I had been drinking, what do I need to do? He said, 'here's the fine.' I paid the fine."
Bush said the timing of the initial news report, just days before Americans elect a new president, was "interesting." When asked where the story may have originated, he said, "I've got my suspicions."
Campaign aides of Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore and officials with the Democratic National Committee both said they first learned of the arrest from news reports Thursday and said it would be inappropriate to comment on the matter.
Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said the vice president learned of the story while flying from Chicago to a campaign event in El Paso, Texas.
Kevin Kelly, news director of WPXT, a Fox television affiliate station in Portland, Maine, said his station broke the story after one of its reporters learned of the arrest while covering an unrelated matter at the local courthouse.
"Somebody made a reference to it," Kelly said. The reporter followed up with phone calls, including one to the Maine Department of Secretary of State. Kelly said the department responded with a fax that detailed the 1976 arrest. Kelly said the reporter also talked to the arresting officer, who verified the incident.
Kennebunkport Police told CNN on Thursday night that the charge against Bush -- operating under the influence of intoxicating liquor -- was a Class D misdemeanor.
Karen Hughes, Bush's spokeswomen said the 54-year-old Texas governor, who has been open about his past drinking problems, had not publicly disclosed the arrest because not even his 18-year-old twin daughters were aware of it. He has said he gave up drinking the day after his 40th birthday.
At a campaign appearance Tuesday at a charity center in San Jose, California, that helps people deal with addictions, Bush said, "I was able to share with some of the men and women here that I quit drinking in 1986 and haven't had a drop since then.
"And it wasn't because of a government program, by the way -- in my particular case, because I had a higher call."
Hughes told reporters that on the night of the arrest, Bush had been at a bar in Kennebunkport with three friends and his sister, Dora. After he left, she said, he was pulled over by police about a mile away from his parents' home -- apparently because he was driving so slowly.
Hughes said Bush now believes drinking and driving is wrong and has acknowledged, as he did at the time, that what he did that night was a mistake.
Hughes said she has known about the incident for a while but Bush's daughters found out Thursday evening.
Hughes noted that Bush has admitted to past irresponsible behavior which he does not consider a good example to set for children.
"The timing of an announcement like this, four or five days away from the election about an incident 24 years ago, which the governor's daughters don't even know about, is certainly questionable," Hughes said.
CNN Correspondent Candy Crowley and contributed to this report.