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WASHINGTON – Is it the revenge of Doug Wead? Or is it the self-immolation of Doug Wead.

Wead was an influential evangelical adviser to President George H.W. Bush until 1990 when he got the unceremonious heave-ho from Andrew Card, who told him to leave “sooner rather than later” for sending conservatives a letter faulting the White House for inviting homosexual activists to an event.

Beginning two years before George W. Bush took over the White House in 2000, Wead consulted with the candidate on ways he could attract evangelical voters. Wead secretly recorded those sessions and has now played some of them for the New York Times, which will publish an in-depth, front-page report in Sunday’s editions.

In the tapes, Bush is prickly toward Sen. John McCain, a rival for the Republican nomination in 2000. He is very high on Sen. John Ashcroft, another rival who the future president suggests would make a good Supreme Court justice or even a vice president.

Bush also appears to acknowledge marijuana use in his youth.

But many are wondering what Wead was doing then and why he is releasing the tapes now.

Wead said he recorded the conversations because he viewed Bush as a historic figure. But he also acknowledges to the Times that the president might regard his actions as a betrayal.

“As the author of a new book about presidential childhoods, Mr. Wead could benefit from any publicity, but he said that was not a motive in disclosing the tapes,” reports the Times.

In the transcripts included in the Times report, Bush appears clumsy about meeting with evangelical leaders back in 1998.

“As you said, there are some code words,” said Bush. “There are some proper ways to say things, and some improper ways. I am going to say that I’ve accepted Christ into my life. And that’s a true statement.”

Bush does not appear entirely comfortable about these meetings largely because he did not share their political agenda.

He worried, for instance, that prominent Christian leaders would not like his refusal “to kick gays.”

“At the same time, he was wary of unnerving secular voters by meeting publicly with evangelical leaders,” reports the Times. “When he thought his aides had agreed to such a meeting, Mr. Bush complained to Karl Rove, his political strategist, ‘What the hell is this about?’”

There appears to be no love lost between Bush and another Republican rival for the presidency in 2000 – Steve Forbes.

On the tapes, Bush threatens that if Forbes attacks him too hard during the campaign and wins, both Bush, then the Texas governor, and his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, would withhold their support.

“He can forget Texas,” said Bush. “And he can forget Florida. And I will sit on my hands.”

Wead first acknowledged the tapes to a reporter in December to defend the accuracy of a passage about Bush in his new book, “The Raising of a President.” He claims he made the tapes in states where it was legal to do so with only one party’s knowledge.

“I believe that, like him or not, he is going to be a huge historical figure,” Wead told the Times. “If I was on the telephone with Churchill or Gandhi, I would tape record them too.”

There’s a boastful side of Bush evident in the tapes. In 1998, he was running for re-election as Texas governor. On the eve of his re-election in November, he tells Wead: “I believe tomorrow is going to change Texas politics forever. The top three offices right below me will be the first time there has been a Republican in that slot since the Civil War. Isn’t that amazing? And I hate to be a braggart, but they are going to win for one reason: me.”

But Bush said he wouldn’t be corrupted by power because, “I have got a great wife. And I read the Bible daily. The Bible is pretty good about keeping your ego in check.”

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