For the moment, George Bush can stop worrying about where Harriet Miers stands on abortion. The larger question is soon about to be an even messier one: How exactly does Ms. Miers fit into the never-ending George Bush National Guard controversy and the Texas Lottery pay-off scandals? Here we go again.
Ms. Miers, it turns out, plays a questionable role in Texas Lottery scandal involving Rhode Island gaming company GTECH, at whose center was none other than consultant Ben Barnes, the man credited with getting George Bush into the Texas National Guard – the same Ben Barnes who figured prominently in the forged documents story that brought Dan Rather down from his lofty chair as CBS News anchor.
Worse yet, Ben Barnes turned on George Bush. Barnes and his network of cronies were reputed to be the third-largest campaign-contribution club backing John Kerry in his 2004 presidential run. So, by nominating Harriett Miers to the Supreme Court, President Bush has re-opened the Texas can of worms.
Let’s start here. As a young man, Ben Barnes was a rising star in Texas politics. A state representative at the age of 21, he was elected Texas lieutenant governor in 1969, a position he held until 1973. Fast forwarding, he served as a top Texas lobbyist for GTECH until January 1997, when GTECH bought out his contract for $23 million.
In 1995, the year George W. Bush beat out Democrat Ann Richards for governor of Texas, Barnes helped secure the Texas Lottery contract for GTECH, a prize which granted Barnes 4 percent of GTECH’s Texas revenue, as long as GTECH continued to hold the contract. Why did GTECH buy out Barnes? Texas was the largest lottery contract GTECH had managed to secure – a contract estimated to be worth some quarter of a billion dollars in revenue to GTECH in just two years (1995-1997). But by 1997, the Texas State Lottery was embroiled in controversy that involved allegations of political kickbacks, overcharges to the state, and under-performance by GTECH.
For a while after the payoff, Barnes stayed below the radar until he was forced to give a deposition in September 1999. The deposition was in a lawsuit filed by Lawrence Littwin, a fired Texas Lottery director who alleged he lost his job as a result of political influence wielded by GTECH. Littwin had charged that much of GTECH’s political clout came because Barnes was alleged to have helped get George Bush into the National Guard so he could avoid active duty during the Vietnam War – charges that Barnes affirmed under oath. Littwin was fired by the Texas Lottery Commission after only six months on the job. The Littwin lawsuit was settled out of court when GTECH agreed to pay him $300,000.
The chairman of the Texas Lottery from 1995-2000, as all this scandal was coming down, was none other than attorney Harriet Miers. If you think that GTECH lost the Texas Lottery contract after the Littwin lawsuit, think again. Miers made sure an audit of GTECH was halted and a lower-bidding contractor alternative was dismissed. GTECH retained the lucrative deal and life in Texas remained good for everybody involved – even for Littwin who now reportedly had some $300,000 of GTECH’s money to ease his pain.
For the Bush family, in year 2000, all seemed well that ends well. George Bush Sr. denied he had ever asked Barnes to intervene with the National Guard on behalf of his son. George W. Bush was inaugurated president and Harriet Miers followed him to Washington as White House counsel.
Again Barnes dropped below the radar screen until CBS taped him during Dan Rather’s infamous vendetta to get George Bush on the National Guard issue. Surely you remember Ben Barnes on camera, reduced to tears, claiming he held the power of life or death over young George and he chose life, by making sure George got into the National Guard and stayed out of combat in Vietnam.
The Barnes melodrama got drowned out by the forged document saga, but to this day nobody has disproved Barnes played the role he said he did. Nor was CBS forthcoming when they taped Barnes, making sure we all realized that Barnes was then serving as a major Kerry fund-raiser.
Why did Barnes turn on Bush? We’re not sure, but if GTECH was projected to earn $250 million from the Texas Lottery contract in 2 years, 4 percent of the contract should have been worth some $40 or $50 million to Barnes had he not been forced out.
Was Littwin right in asserting that GTECH’s ability to throw around cash had bought them the governor’s influence needed to hold their contract while Bush was at the helm in Texas? What role did attorney Miers play as Bush’s attorney in place at the helm of the Texas Lottery when GTECH was fighting for its life amid controversy and lawsuits? We probably will never know since Littwin’s case was settled out of court and much remains undisclosed.
I doubt if the Swift Boat Vets will come back together to pursue this one – the only complaint the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ever agreed on was that John Kerry was “Unfit for Command,” not that George W. Bush was. Just writing this article should dismiss some of the urban legend that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were just a Bush campaign surrogate. There’s plenty here for the blogosphere, even if the mainstream media doesn’t bite into investigating Texas Lottery corruption during the Bush years. Is Harriet Miers “Unfit for Judging”? We shall soon see.