AUSTIN â€“ An employee of George W. Bush's media consultant, who was the focus of an FBI inquiry into leaked debate materials, said Tuesday that the package she was seen mailing in a security videotape contained a pair of pants.
Yvette Lozano, 30, of Austin said she told investigators that the package she was photographed sending Sept. 11 from an Austin post office contained a pair of khaki trousers being returned to the Gap clothing chain by her boss, Bush presidential campaign aide Mark McKinnon.
Ms. Lozano said two FBI agents questioned her Thursday and Friday, part of a federal review of how Bush debate preparation materials â€“ including a videotaped mock debate â€“ ended up being mailed to Gore confidant Tom Downey.
Mr. Downey, a former New York congressman who was helping the Gore camp get ready for the debates, said he received the Austin-postmarked package Sept. 13, recognized it as highly confidential and immediately turned it over to the FBI.
"They kept saying, 'Those weren't pants in that package,'" Ms. Lozano said of the agents who questioned her. She denied having any knowledge about the Bush debate package and said: "Absolutely, absolutely. I did not mail the package in question."
A person familiar with the FBI examination, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Ms. Lozano was suspected by the FBI of turning over the debate briefing materials to the Democrats.
The mysterious mailing of the debate tape has dogged the Bush campaign for two weeks, and Ms. Lozano's statements cast doubt on the only break reported in the investigation so far.
Federal law enforcement officials were quoted in news reports this weekend saying that they thought the mailing came from someone in the Bush camp. Bush aides bristled at that and suggested Tuesday that the FBI is not being aggressive enough in its investigation and possibly is showing some favoritism toward Mr. Gore.
FBI and Justice Department officials rejected that criticism. They said the bureau has not opened a full-blown investigation and is determining whether any laws were broken.
"It's at a preliminary inquiry stage," said FBI spokeswoman Tracey Silberling in Washington. "We, as far as I know, have not identified any target because it's still a preliminary inquiry as to whether or not there's actually a federal violation that we would investigate."
Ms. Lozano, an office administrator for Maverick Media since June 1999, said she was fingerprinted Friday and that she asked for the chance to take a lie-detector test, an offer she said the FBI has not responded to. She said she was interviewed voluntarily.
Ms. Lozano said the FBI agents who interrogated her offered leniency in exchange for her revealing who "put her up" to sending the tape and documents. She said the agents asked whether the delivery of the information was a Bush campaign trick designed to let the Bush camp cry foul and scrub the presidential debates.
Mr. McKinnon said reporters had been asking Monday and Tuesday about speculation that a woman in his office was the focus of the FBI inquiry. He confirmed Ms. Lozano's version of events and compared her situation to that of Richard Jewell, who, based on FBI leaks, was named â€“ then later cleared â€“ as a suspect in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing.
In response, Justice spokeswoman Carole Florman said, "We've tried to handle this very quietly ... I don't see how you could possibly compare this to the Richard Jewell investigation."
Mr. McKinnon, in an interview Tuesday with The Dallas Morning News, produced a sealed package from the Gap containing the $19.99 replacement khakis he said were mailed to him to substitute for the wrong-shade slacks returned by Ms. Lozano.
Mr. McKinnon displayed an invoice and said a customer service representative at the Gap confirmed that the replacement pants were mailed around Sept. 19, after the returned pair of trousers arrived at the company.
Mr. McKinnon said Ms. Lozano probably was sought for questioning because she was on the post office security tape, she had access to debate materials kept at the office and she had previously volunteered for Democrats, including Gov. Ann Richards. Mr. McKinnon said he met Ms. Lozano during his work on the 1990 Richards campaign.
He and Karen Hughes, who is Mr. Bush's chief spokeswoman, complained that the leaks and the focus on the Bush camp â€“ and Ms. Lozano in particular â€“ appeared to be political.
"They're doing this six weeks out from a presidential election," Mr. McKinnon said of federal officials.
Ms. Hughes said, "Any thorough investigation into how Bush campaign proprietary materials ended up in the hands of the Gore campaign involves not only the Bush campaign, but the Gore campaign."
She noted that the Gore campaign recently suspended a junior Gore aide, Michael Doyne, 28, after he acknowledged boasting in an e-mail of a "mole" planted in the Bush campaign. Mr. Doyne later said the mole was a product of his imagination.
In Nashville, Tenn., Gore spokeswoman Kym Spell said the debate tape inquiry was "in the hands of professional, experienced investigators. The Gore campaign is comfortable with that. For some reason, the Bush campaign is not."
Texas Democrats have seized on the debate tape episode, accusing chief Bush political strategist Karl Rove of arranging the mailing to stir up a debate flap and possibly make the Gore camp look bad.
Ms. Hughes called the accusations against Mr. Rove "ridiculous" and "absurd."
A Democratic Party spokesman this week distributed newspaper clippings that recount how, on the eve of a 1986 gubernatorial debate, Mr. Rove announced that a private investigator had discovered a listening device in his Austin office. Then working for former GOP Gov. Bill Clements, Mr. Rove argued that the bug probably was planted by the camp of incumbent Democratic Gov. Mark White.
In the 1986 incident, Mr. McKinnon, then working for Mr. White, suggested that the Republicans had bugged the office.
A Texas Department of Public Safety official who worked on that case said recently that the DPS' review was inconclusive.
Col. Tommy Davis, now director of the DPS, said investigators suspected that the private investigator had planted the bug himself, then "discovered" it to make himself look good. In recent interviews, the private investigator and his partner repeated their denials of any involvement in planting the bug.
Ms. Hughes said it made no sense to suggest that the Bush campaign tried to "set up" the Gore campaign by sending the debate materials, hoping they might use them unethically and be trapped in the process.
"What you are talking about here is the people who have worked tirelessly for years to elect Governor Bush as president," she said. "We are not interested in helping Al Gore with his debate preparation."