Bush calls, writes letter to Governor Keating

Saturday, February 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - President Bush has reassured Frank Keating that he holds the Oklahoma governor in high esteem and didn't hold Keating's controversial acceptance of nearly $250,000 in gifts from a financier against him when Bush made political appointments.

Bush contacted Keating by telephone and wrote a letter to him this week. Bush told Keating in a telephone conversation on Sunday that if he hadn't chosen Richard Cheney as his running mate, he would have picked him, Dan Mahoney, Keating's communications director, said Friday.

Keating was not available for comment.

In that same phone conversation, Bush said the gifts from retired financier Jack Dreyfus were not a factor in the selection of vice president or attorney general _ both jobs for which Keating appeared at times to be the front-runner.

Keating was ``flattered and appreciative'' that Bush called and wrote him, Mahoney said.

Critics say Keating should not have taken the money from Dreyfus, who after making a fortune on Wall Street became a champion of an anti-seizure medication he took for depression.

Keating met Dreyfus in 1988 and has said that he helped set up meetings for him with federal and state prison officials. Dreyfus wanted to persuade the officials to use Dilantin to keep inmates calm. Keating said the money Dreyfus gave him was not a payment of any kind.

Keating disclosed the gifts while working for the federal government in the early 1990s, but not after taking office in Oklahoma. He mention them in a questionnaire he filled out last year for Bush while being considered for vice president.

Newsweek reported the gifts in early January. Keating supporters concluded that the Bush team had leaked the information to end speculation about why Keating was not chosen as attorney general.

They believed the information was intended to make it look like the Dreyfus gifts were a skeleton in Keating's closet that could hinder his confirmation.

Keating called Bush after the Newsweek story appeared but didn't talk to him then. He received a call on Sunday from Karl Rove, one of Bush's senior advisers. Rove arranged for Bush to send the follow-up letter.

``The president expressed disappointment that it was leaked, but he didn't finger anyone,'' Mahoney said. ``We don't know who it was. At this point, we don't care who it was.''

Keating first said the gifts were given to his children to pay for their education expenses, although financial disclosure forms released last week showed Dreyfus had also given Keating and his wife, Cathy, money.

The Keatings, who were worth at least $1.6 million when Dreyfus began giving them money, have said all the money went for educational expenses _ including cars and trips abroad _ for their three children.

Democrats have questioned whether Keating violated state ethics laws by accepting the gifts and disclosure laws by not reporting them. There were calls from the Oklahoma City chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People earlier this week for the state Ethics Commission to look into the matter.

Bush's letter, written the same day the ethics request was filed, says, ``I understand from friends in Oklahoma that your political opponents are raising questions about you and your integrity.

``From what I hear, they base some of their attacks on the fact that I selected John Ashcroft as attorney general. I selected John because of his previous experience as attorney general, and I considered you to be a strong candidate.

``You and everyone else should be assured I hold you in high esteem. You are a close friend, a good and honest man. I trust you and your judgment. Fight on, friend.''

Keating campaigned for Bush in 25 states and made a variety of television and other appearances. His friends have said that he felt betrayed when the Dreyfus information was leaked.