The White House has dismissed it as garbage, but it's already generating incredible media attention in this divisive presidential campaign. Controversial celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley's new book called "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty," hits bookstores Tuesday. It's already number two on Amazon.com's Best-seller's list. We begin with a look at the author in the center of the firestorm: Kitty Kelley.
From Frank Sinatra to Jackie O., Liz Taylor to the British royal family, author Kitty Kelley has broken publishing records and topped best-seller lists time and again with her unauthorized biographies about these rich and famous subjects.
Her often unflattering accounts of these celebrities have made her a phenomenon, but her credibility has often been called into question, critics accusing her of shoddy reporting and wholly inaccurate accounts of the subject she covers.
And for those who've pursued their complaints in court, they've lost time and time again. Every libel lawsuit filed against Kelley has been dismissed.
She last caused a commotion with her biography on a royal family. And now right in the middle of an election year she's stirring things up again with her unauthorized biography about the Bush family. And for the few that have actually seen it, they say it's what Kelley's best known for: another controversial and damning look at a high-profile family. The book is called "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty.”
Kitty Kelley, good morning.
Ms. Kitty Kelley: “Good morning, Matt.”
Lauer: "How does it feel...”
Kelley: "Thanks for having me."
Kelley: "I really appreciate this because I know that the White House put great pressure on NBC not to have me and I commend the president of your network and you for not caving."
Lauer: "Clearly the White House is not pleased at all with this book?"
Kelley: "No, they're not."
Lauer: "And there's a reason for that. It's an extremely, extremely unflattering look at the Bush family. Let me start by..."
Kelley: "I think it's realistic. It's, I mean..."
Lauer: "I'm not, I don't think I'm misstating anything to say it's about 99 percent negative."
Kelley: "No, I think you are. I think it's 99 percent realistic. Up to this point we have had almost a Hallmark card image of the Bush family. All this does is lift the blinders and you see another side."
Lauer: "Let's talk about you first. Let's, so that people have the right perspective."
Lauer: "Who'd you vote for in 2000?"
Kelley: "I voted in 2000. I'm registered in the District of Columbia. I vote for Republicans, I vote for Democrats. And I used to give money to both. In fact, probably, the last campaign contribution I made was to the Republican Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison."
Lauer: "Whom might you vote for in 2004? Who are you thinking of?"
Kelley: "It's not so much I'm going to vote for the person as I'm going to vote for principles that I believe in."
Lauer: "Who are you going to vote for?"
Kelley: "Is that relevant to this book?"
Lauer: "I think it at least gives people some... "
Kelley: "Who are you — tell me something, who are you going to vote for?"
Lauer: "...it gives some people some information or some perspective as to what's contained in the 600-plus pages."
Kelley: "I think that your viewers need to know that this is not a partisan book. I come from a red, white and blue Republican family. My father was behind George Bush, Sr. and behind George Bush, Jr. Now he has a little problem with Barbara after she took the Smithsonian exhibit out."
Lauer: "What about the timing of this book? You've been working on it for four years."
Kelley: "I have."
Lauer: "Why release it 50 days before what is a hotly contested, incredibly divided election?"
Kelley: "Why not?"
Lauer: "Well, I'm asking why?"
Kelley: "I mean, why not? It's relevant."
Lauer: "Do you want people to read this and do you want it to influence their choices as they go to the polls on November 2nd?"
Kelley: "Matt, I want them to read this book. It's an important book. There are relevant themes here. Is it going to change an election? No. I wrote a book about Frank Sinatra; I still love his singing."
Lauer: "He's an entertainer."
Kelley: "I wrote a book about the British royal family. The queen still sits."
Lauer: "Nobody goes to the polls to vote for them."
Kelley: "I wrote a book about the Kennedy family. There's no more revered family..."
Lauer: "They weren't in office at the time."
Kelley: "...in the country. No, they weren't in office."
Lauer: "Ronald Reagan was out of office when you wrote about him."
Lauer: "Let me ask you this: Do you think the level, your standards for making accusations for proof for sources needs to rise?"
Kelley: "Excuse — no — no — no I won't."
Lauer: "Wait — wait, excuse me. When you're dealing with the sitting president of the United States."
Kelley: "My standards are my standards. I write books the same way every good reporter writes books and that is to abide by the laws of libel and the laws of invasion of privacy. I only write about people who are alive. I only write about people who are powerful."
Lauer: "Let me put up a quote from Time magazine. Here's what they put and they wrote after your book on Ronald Reagan hit the stands. They wrote this about Kitty Kelley. They said, "For Kelley or — all sources are treated as equal. The recollections of an unnamed secretary repeating third-hand gossip are given the same weight as on-the-record comments from actual witnesses, and sometimes more weight. This ascribes far too much authority to what may be nothing more than idle gossip or office chitchat. It also fails to account for sources who may have their axes to grind."
Kelley: "Matt, what did Time magazine say about "Deep Throat?" And what do you think Time magazine will say about my source in this book who is unnamed, a New York City attorney who tells us that George Herbert Walker Bush, Sr. had a love affair with a woman during the early '60s and was going to divorce Barbara? Lived with her when he was in New York? What do you think they're going to say about that source?"
Lauer: "Let me turn to what I think is going to be the headline that comes out of this book today."
Lauer: "OK? And it is a story in your book on page 266, I believe, that you say that George W. Bush, while his father was in the White House, so the years between 1988 to 1992, did cocaine with his brother at Camp David. I mean, you have to know that is an extraordinarily serious accusation."
Kelley: "It is. It's serious only because the president has told us he wasn't doing drugs at that time. George W. Bush has never, ever denied using, buying or selling cocaine. He has restricted it to a certain time period. And you're right, I do say that in the book. And that is..."
Lauer: "He says he gave up drinking in 1986 and became much more religious, embraced religion, so you want us to believe that two years after that change in his life, he's doing cocaine at Camp David? How many sources do you have on that story?"
Lauer: "One is unnamed?"
Kelley: "One is unnamed. The lawyers have it."
Lauer: "The other?"
Kelley: "By the way, this book has been vetted by four sets of lawyers, including the chief counsel of Random House."
Lauer: "The second source on this is Sharon Bush?"
Kelley: "She's not a source. She confirmed it for me."
Lauer: "OK, so do you have two sources other than Sharon Bush?"
Kelley: "Sharon Bush and an unnamed source?"
Lauer: "OK, so she's a source. You said, I asked you how many sources you had and you said two. Sharon Bush and a source."
Lauer: "You had lunch with her."
Kelley: "I did."
Lauer: "How did the subject come up?"
Kelley: "I brought it up because I knew the story. She asked me to have lunch with her in April of 2003. I came to New York, we sat down, we had lunch. It was a four-hour lunch. It was witnessed by another person. Lou Colasuonno."
Lauer: "Who is a publicity person working for Sharon Bush at the time."
Kelley: "That's right."
Lauer: "From what I understand Mr. Coasuonno has not — has said, 'I will not deny what I read in this book, the version — Kitty Kelley's version of this event.' Sharon Bush has categorically denied it. Let me put up what she said about this particular quote in the book.
She says, "I categorically deny that I ever told Kitty Kelley that George W. Bush used cocaine at Camp David or that I ever saw him use cocaine at Camp David. When Kitty Kelley raised drug use at Camp David I responded by saying something along the lines of, `Who would say such a thing?' Although there have been tensions between me and various members of the Bush family I cannot allow this falsehood to go unchallenged. I can only repeat that I never said what Ms. Kelley has written, I said, and I never saw activities that she describes."
Kelley: "I never said that she saw it, Matt. But she did confirm it over lunch. She did it front of Lou Colasuonno. The next day my editor, who's the vice-president of Random House, Peter Gethers, sat down with me and I went over the notes and I called her again. And I..."
Lauer: "Did you tape that conversation?"
Kelley: "No, I didn't tape it at lunch. I do have notes."
Lauer: "You did 988 interviews for this book."
Kelley: "That's right."
Lauer: "You told our producer you taped most of those?"
Kelley: "That's right. I have 10..."
Lauer: "Why would you go into a lunch with Sharon Bush, who is a, quote, unquote, "scorned woman," a major nasty divorce from the president's brother, and not tape record that conversation?"
Kelley: "It's a restaurant. I mean, it's really har — have you ever done that?"
Lauer: "But this is, someone like that is red meat for what you do."
Kelley: "Tell me something. What better than to have a witness that day, to have a witness the next day and then that afternoon I took her into William Morris and I had yet another witness."
Lauer: "OK, but when you confirmed these quotes with her on the phone the next day, knowing what you've got now, you've got confirmation, according to you, of a major allegation. Why wouldn't you tape record that conversation to eliminate all questions about it?"
Kelley: "I had Peter there. I had Lou Coasuonno there. I had my notes. What better than witnesses?"
Lauer: "But you're someone who tape records a lot of interviews?
Kelley: "I do tape record and I have 10,000 pages of transcripts."
Lauer: "You get one, you get one this important, Kitty, it just baffles me that this wouldn't be one on the very beginning of an audiotape. The president — actually, I spoke to the White House over the weekend."
Kelley: "You know, I have to tell you something."
Kelley: "I feel sorry for Sharon Bush in a sense. And I have to tell you over that lunch, we knew the next day that Sharon was going to be frightened over this. She was hysterical at the time, and she said herself that Neil Bush left a message on her tape machine saying that if she didn't stop what she was doing she'd find herself in a dark alley."
Lauer: "So you — you say that right — you say right now that she's lying."
Kelley: "No, I do not say she's lying."
Lauer: "Well she's categorically denied saying it."
Kelley: "I mean on this she is, yeah."
Lauer: "She's lying She's going to join me live in the next half hour..."
Lauer: "...right here in this studio and we'll get to ask for her version of this."
The White House, when I spoke to them over the weekend, Dan Bartlett said, 'speaking on behalf of the president this is an outright lie.' Anything coming out of the White House right now surprise you regarding this book?"
Kelley: "No, no. Look what they tried to do to Richard Clark. Look what they did to Paul O'Neil. Look what they did to Ambassador Joe Wilson. If they don't like the message, beat up on the messenger."
Lauer: "Tomorrow we're going to talk about some accusations you make in the book concerning George W. Bush's national guard service, and also a situation involving the former President Bush, 41, and a meeting he had with Saudi officials prior to the first Gulf War when you join us Tuesday morning."
Lauer: "All right, Kitty Kelley, thanks."
Kelley: "Thanks, Matt."
Lauer: “Kitty Kelley's controversial biography on the Bush family has only been on store shelves for a few hours now, but it's already drawn a fierce response. The White House issued this statement over the weekend. Quote, ‘This gossip writer's allegations are false and so trashy that even the tabloids should cringe. The politically motivated timing and lack of any credible sources and the writer's long history of making similar false allegations against great Americans, including President and Mrs. Reagan, should cause all Americans and credible news organizations to place this book and its lies where it belongs: in the garbage. The book is called "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty." Kitty Kelley, welcome back for day two. How is that for an introduction?”
Kitty Kelley: “How's that? You know, there's an old southern expression that when you throw a rock at a pack of dogs, the one that's hit is the one that barks. And there's an awful lot of barking on this book. I'm so glad that it's out now, so that people can make up their mind.”
Lauer: “Yesterday after we spoke, we had Sharon Bush on the air. She is a person that you say confirmed one of the salacious claims in this book that then George W. Bush did cocaine at Camp David while his father was president. Let me play you a portion of our exchange and let you comment on it.”
(Beginning of video clip)
Lauer: “You have never seen George W. Bush do drugs.”
Sharon Bush: “Never.”
Lauer: “And prior to Kitty Kelley bringing it up, you had never heard of an alleged instance where he did drugs at Camp David during his father's presidency?”
Sharon Bush: “Well you – always –no. I – I – you hear it. Kitty's written it.”
Lauer: “Specifically the Camp David accusation?”
Sharon Bush: “No, I'd never heard it. That's why I was so stunned when she referenced me on that. No, I'd never heard that about Camp David.”
(End of clip)
Lauer: “Who's telling the truth?”
Kelley: “Matt, I have three independent witnesses to what was said between me and Sharon Bush. That's good enough for a court of law. It should be good enough for you and me. It certainly was good enough for the four sets of lawyers who vetted this book. Now there's more to this book than George W. Bush's drug use.”
Lauer: “All right, let's move on to some of those topics, OK? One of the issues in this campaign has been military service during the Vietnam era and questions have came up about George W. Bush's National Guard service in Texas. After four years of investigation, did you find any concrete new evidence that would indicate that George W. Bush did not fulfill his obligations to the Texas National Guard?”
Kelley: “The answer to that question is yes, I did.”
Lauer: “What did you find?”
Kelley: “I took public records and I combined it with interviews. First of all, what this book shows you is the pattern of connections that the family has used. George W. Bush admitted to his macro-economics professor at Yale, Yoshi Tsurumi – I hope I'm pronouncing that right...”
Kelley: “...that his father used pull to get him into the National Guard.”
Lauer: “I'm talking about fulfilling his obligation in the National Guard.”
Kelley: “And I'm answering the question. For the first four years he had a solid, good record. Starting in April of 1972, no record. There is a huge gap. He made his last flight in – in April of 1972. And Lt. Col. Roger … Robert Rogers told me that the reason for that gap, that's when the Air Force and the National Guard started random drug testing.”
Lauer: “But you have no evidence of any positive drug test for George W. Bush in the Texas National Guard?”
Kelley: “Didn't say that. No, I don't.”
Kelley: “But all he has to do is release the flight board inquiry record, because those are the medical records. They have not been released.”
Lauer: “You allege that people surrounding then Governor George W. Bush went to great lengths and scrubbed his National Guard service record...”
Kelley: “They call it the tidy-up team.”
Lauer: “...to remove embarrassing details. Let me read you a quote from your book and you're quoting — relating a story from a retired Texas Guard officer named Bill Burkett. "Burkett said he was present when certain members of the Bush staff contacted the Guard. One he specifically identified was Dan Bartlett, then the governor's liaison to the Texas National Guard. Burkett said that after Bartlett's call to Maj. Gen. Daniel James III the documents were shredded. James was the Adjutant General for the state of Texas at the time and denied Burkett's allegations. Do you have specific proof of any documents being shredded?”
Kelley: “Go to the next sentence which is, someone that Burkett told at the time who swears that he believes him. Do I have evidence, did I see them shred it? No. I take this man at his word and...”
Lauer: “A guy named Dennis Adams.”
Lauer: “Right. Now Dan Bartlett, the man mentioned in that paragraph who's now the White House communications director, said, quote, ‘His claims are a complete fabrication,’ end quote. He went on to say, quote, ‘He's a person who has a grudge against the Texas National Guard and the governor's office which was occupied by President Bush at the time. Do you think Bill Burkett is a guy with a grudge?”
Kelley: “No. I don't. But what I think is so amazing, what do we expect the White House director of communications to say? ‘Yes, that's really true. I did go in with the tidy-up team to…”
Lauer: “Well let me read you something from the Houston Chronicle in February of 2004. This is about the credibility of this guy, Bill Burkett. Quote, ‘Burkett sued three officers in the Texas Guard in the late 1990s, claiming that they blocked him from receiving medical support after he went to Panama on a Guard-related mission and contracted a debilitating disease. Does that sound like he's a guy with an axe to grind?”
Kelley: “Does that sound like he's lying. What does one have to do with the other?”
Lauer: “Did you read this article in the Houston Chronicle in 2004?”
Kelley: “It's in the back of my book...”
Lauer: “Right, so...”
Kelley: “...as part of the documentation. But that does not mean that the man is lying.”
Lauer: “However, you know, it does cast doubt on the fact that he may have had a grudge against the Texas National Guard and the governor's office at the time which handled his complaints.”
Kelley: “Gee, what a surprise, Matt. This isn't the first time that the White House, the Bush White House has tried to trash the messenger whose bringing the message. Just read the book, look at the documentation and you know what, the American people are going to have to make up their own mind on this, because not all of the records are available.”
Lauer: “By the way, Bill Burkett's name is now come up with possibly being connected to the ‘60 Minutes’ report that aired last week where some of the documents' authenticity are now in question. Let me move on [to] page 496 in the book. This is a story about former President Bush, number 41, and meetings he held before the first Gulf War to gain permission to deploy American troops on foreign soil, in particular in Saudi Arabia. Quote, ‘The President also met with Prince Bandar, the Saudi Arabian ambassador, a member of the Saudi royal family. Bush told him the Pentagon had satellite photos showing Iraqi troops amassing on the Saudi border. This was false. The photos did not show what the president claimed, but Bush felt he needed to exaggerate the danger of an Iraqi invasion to obtain consent to deploy American troops on Saudi soil. You think that's accurate?”
Kelley: “You don't? That's public record.”
Lauer: “We spoke to Adel Al-Jubeir...”
Kelley: “That is...”
Lauer: “...who was the special assistant to Prince Bandar at the time, who's now the foreign affairs ad – foreign affairs adviser to the Saudi Crown Prince. He said, quote, ‘This is not correct. We saw the pictures, we saw the dangers, we knew what the consequences would be.’”
Kelley: “There were no satellite pictures.”
Lauer: “There were CIA satellite photos and they said they saw them.”
Kelley: “They said they saw them. There weren't any. It was later admitted in the St. Petersburg Times. It is cited in my sources. President George Herbert Walker Bush then exaggerated the number of troops that were going to be deployed. He told Prince Bandar that there would be 100,000. Wrong.”
Lauer: “Here's what you say in the book.”
Lauer: “Here's what you say in the book about that. Quote, “Once he had Saudi consent, the president understated the number of troops he intended to deploy in Saudi Arabia. He told Prince Bandar he would send 100,000 troops when he planned to send 250." Again, here's what Adel Al-Jubeir says. ‘We’ quote, "We knew from the get-go how many troops were coming, where they were coming from and when they would be arriving. And that number was well over 200,000."
Kelley: “I stand by what's in the book. I stand by the public record. I stand by absolutely everybody I interviewed. Also, that was reported by Bob Woodward in the Washington Post. It was reported in the St. Petersburg Times. This is all a matter of public record. Go back to the public record and see what George Herbert Walker Bush said at the time, and then when he was asked about it in a press conference, he declined to give the number of the troops deployed.”
Lauer: “You spent four years interviewing 988 people for this book, and you said to me yesterday, ‘It's not a negative account, it's a realistic account.’”
Kelley: “It is.”
Lauer: “Most people, no matter what their politics, would say that if a family has three generations of public service, the reality has to be that there are some nice things that need to be said about them, and why aren't they in this book?”
Kelley: “Matt, you play golf with the former President Bush?”
Lauer: “I have never played golf with him.”
Kelley: “You know that he's is a gregarious man. He's gracious. That's a very, very nice thing. That's in the book. The reason this looks so negative to people is that for years and years and years, we've had a very crafted public image. It looks like ‘The Donna Reed Show.’ Now we've got a little bit of ‘The Sopranos.’ Every family has got negatives and positives.”
Lauer: “But every – but where are the positives, Kitty?”
Kelley: “Well start – Matt, start with the first page. Don't you fall in love with Flora Sheldon Bush? Didn't you – weren't you impressed with Prescott Bush and the way he grew into his role? Didn't you...”
Lauer: “When – when your publishing company sent us the book last Thursday, they also sent us what they felt are the highlights of the book, the things that needed to be talked about. It's 22 pages long, Kitty. It covers 39 topics. Of those topics how many are positive, do you think?”
Kelley: “I don't know. I have...”
Lauer: “Zero. Not one. Twenty-two pages, 39 topics, not one positive topic that the publishing company feels that people should know about.”
Kelley: “Well, I want people to know the positives and the negatives. I want them to know the light and the dark side. It is all there, both of them.
Lauer: “Going to come back tomorrow for a third part of this?”
Kelley: “I think I'm going in the federal witness protection program.”
Lauer: “I want – I want to read you tomorrow. I want to read you some comments we're getting on our e-mails, on our phone systems and some other response in the press.”
Lauer: “All right?
Kelley: “I look forward to it.”
Lauer: “Kitty Kelley, thanks.”