Jennifer Fitzgerald (born Jennifer Ann Isobel Patteson-Knight in 1932) is a British-born retired U.S. diplomat who allegedly had a long-term affair with President George H.W. Bush from the time he was United States ambassador to China which continued while he was Vice President and then President. During her career, she worked for Bush in several different capacities, and her influence on him has in turn reportedly caused friction between her and others working for him. She has never spoken about this allegation. Bush has denied it.
Rumors of the affair, and Fitzgerald's full name, were often well-known to members of the media who had covered Bush and his career but for many years were not discussed on the record. Veteran New York Times reporter R.W. Apple said her name was "known everywhere, and it is not used". The affair was first publicly reported by LA Weekly in 1988. During the 1988 presidential campaign, Donna Brazile, a campaign aide to Bush's opponent Michael Dukakis, was asked to resign after she told reporters that George H.W. Bush needed to "'fess up" about unsubstantiated rumors of an extramarital affair. Said Brazile, "The American people have every right to know if Barbara Bush will share that bed with him in the White House."
However, the alleged affair did not come to the full attention of the public until the next presidential campaign in 1992, after Bush's opponent, Bill Clinton, had to deal with disclosures of his own sexual infidelity. That August, Spy magazine made her the centerpiece of a story suggesting she was but one of many Bush paramours, and then other stories forced the media to address the issue. As a result Bush was personally confronted about it by NBC and CNN, and a front page story in the Washington Post. Bush did not give a direct answer to the question of an affair on these occasions. In a White House press conference he called the allegations "a lie".
Fitzgerald was born in England and came to the U.S. with her parents as a child. She has been married twice.
Fitzgerald and Bush meet
The newly divorced Fitzgerald first met Bush in 1974. She had left a White House position to become Bush's secretary after he was appointed U.S. ambassador to China. Years later, Barbara Bush was still bitter when she complained to author Gail Sheehy that her husband had not even noticed that she had stopped coloring her hair. Bush's later autobiography, Looking Forward, suggests his wife was constantly at his side, but it was reported later that she spent much of that time back in the U.S.
She resented Fitzgerald because of the considerable influence she came to have over her husband. Some who knew both Bush and Fitzgerald called her his "office wife."
When Bush left his ambassadorial post to become Director of Central Intelligence, Fitzgerald went to Langley as his assistant. During this time, Barbara Bush was suffering—she said later—from depression so severe she contemplated suicide on several occasions.
Bush and Fitzgerald parted professional company the next year when Bush left the CIA following the change of administration and returned, temporarily, to the private sector. He arranged for Fitzgerald to stay in public service, however, as a special assistant to former Yale University president Kingman Brewster, then serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. Conveniently, according to Kitty Kelley, Bush's private-sector post as a corporate director required him to travel to London frequently. Fitzgerald also took frequent vacations back to the U.S., which led to her departure from the post after a year.
1980 presidential campaign
Bush aide and longtime confidant James Baker reportedly threatened to resign from Bush's 1980 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination if Fitzgerald was in any way involved, due to the strong influence she had on him. In turn, Bush reluctantly let her go, but set her up with an office job in New York where he personally paid her salary. Fitzgerald returned as a Bush staff member once he became Ronald Reagan's running mate and the election had been won.
According to Kelley, Nancy Reagan, who disliked the Bushes, liked to tell the story of a 1981 incident involving the then-Vice President and Fitzgerald. That night, security men suddenly went up to Alexander Haig and William French Smith, then Attorney General, while they were having dinner at the Lion d'Or restaurant in Washington with friends and family. The pair departed hastily, then returned after 45 minutes laughing and shaking their heads. Asked what had happened, they explained that Bush had gotten into a car accident while out with Fitzgerald and needed their help keeping the incident off the record. Kelley's publisher's fact checkers went to the extent of contacting someone else who attended that dinner, and confirmed the account. The incident later gave rise to a rumor that Bush had been shot on her doorstep, which the Post ran a lengthy article four days later debunking but without mentioning the allegations that she was his mistress.
Other Washington gossip circulated during the 1980s about Bush and Fitzgerald (briefly married to an older man during this period), who served as "executive assistant" to the Vice President. In one widely-told story, Bush had been visiting Fitzgerald one night at her home near the Chinese embassy, when the building she lived in caught fire. The Secret Service refused to even let city firefighters in the building until Bush's departure via a secluded rear exit could be assured.
In 1984, Bush went to Geneva for disarmament talks. Fitzgerald was one of the accompanying staff. A lawyer from the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency went to her room with some papers for her signature and Bush answered the door. After the talks, it was later claimed that the two shared a cottage on Lake Geneva for several days.
1988 presidential campaign
Bush reassigned Fitzgerald to be his chief lobbyist to Congress as he prepared to run to succeed Reagan. Her influence persisted after her transfer to Capitol Hill, much to the annoyance of other staffers. As the campaign neared, other Republican candidates' operations started whispering about the affair. Lee Atwater was so worried that Newsweek was planning a major story on the affair that he had a special lunch with Evan Thomas and Howard Fineman of the magazine's Washington bureau. Thomas recalls that a nervous Atwater chain smoked throughout and worried about the effect the story would have on the Bush campaign, but did not deny anything. That was left to George W. Bush, who called Fineman up several days later and said "The answer to the big 'A' question is N-O".
On October 20, 1988, Dukakis campaign field director Donna Brazile told a group of reporters that Bush needed to "fess up" about rumors of an extramarital liaison. She resigned from the campaign the following day and Dukakis subsequently made a personal apology to Bush for the remark. Journalists who were aware of the rumors often dealt with them simply by calling Fitzgerald, who never returned the calls. Thus, there was never enough for a story.
After Bush won election, Fitzgerald was transferred to the State Department as deputy chief of protocol. Barbara Bush did not want her in the White House.<ref name="Kelley" /> Because James Baker, the new Secretary of State, was the only one who could equal her influence on Bush, the administration decided to put her under his supervision.
In 1990, Fitzgerald, upon her return from an official trip to Argentina for the inauguration of President Carlos Menem, was found by the U.S. Customs Service to have underdeclared the value of a $1,100 fur-lined raincoat and failed completely to declare a $1,300 silver fox cape she had bought there. She was fined $648.
As the Post later reported, the State Department disciplined her with a two-week unpaid suspension. Normally such abuse of diplomatic privilege costs the offenders their jobs. Other State employees believed that Fitzgerald earned a comparative slap on the wrist only by virtue of her relationship with the President. Even that slap was further softened as Fitzgerald reportedly never served the suspension.
1992 presidential campaign
After Bill Clinton clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, Republicans made much of disclosures about Clinton's affair with Gennifer Flowers. But Democrats were aware of the Fitzgerald rumors, and dropped hints they might bring them up. In an interview with the Boston Globe on May 14, 1992, Michael Dukakis' mother, Euterpe Dukakis, alleged that Bush had committed adultery, but did not name with whom. Hillary Clinton mentioned Fitzgerald in an interview with Vanity Fair, but her last name was not used.
CNN's Mary Tillotson asked Bush the question directly. "I'm not going to take any sleazy questions like that from CNN," he responded, visibly agitated. Later Marlin Fitzwater, his press secretary, told other White House reporters that Tillotson would never work there again.<ref name="LeBoutilier">LeBoutillier, John (February 12, 2001) (see ) "Why the Bushes Will Never Hire Linda Tripp."
Spy came out with its long report in its August 1992 issue, a free copy of which was placed on the seat of every delegate at the Democratic convention in New York. A cover story by Joe Conason giving a thousand reasons not to re-elect Bush had as number one, "He cheats on his wife." It named Fitzgerald and singer Jane Morgan, wife of movie producer Jerry Weintraub, as present and past dalliances of the President, as well as discussing other women—without using their names, but giving circumstantial evidence.
One of Conason's sources was allegedly Linda Tripp. Her concerns about presidential infidelity would come to haunt the next administration as well. Seven years later, during Clinton's impeachment trial, she told Larry King the allegations of a Bush affair were "ludicrous" and accused vengeful Clinton staffers of spreading rumors about her in retribution. She said simply "No" when King asked her if she had "anything to do" with any discussion of Bush's infidelity. Other than that she has never made any more explicit statement about her claimed involvement.
Years later, Conason said that although the headline "oversold" the story, the reporting still held up well.<ref name="Salon">Conason, Joe (February 17, 2004). Opinion Column. Salon.</ref>
On August 11, the New York Post published a front-page story called "The Bush Affair," reporting on a footnote in The Power House by Susan B. Trento (a biography of Washington lobbyist and publicist Robert Gray). The footnote discussed Gray's involvement in Bush's efforts to keep the affair quiet and his presidential hopes alive. It mentioned the late ambassador to Switzerland, Louis Fields, and his awareness of the 1984 lakeside cottage stay in that country. It was the first time that a photograph of Fitzgerald ran next to a story about the alleged affair.
For a short time it became a topic of national discussion. The next day, at a White House press conference, surrounded by his family and his 91-year-old mother, President Bush said "I will not respond to it. I have not responded to it in the past." He then continued: "Except to say, it's a lie." This is the only time Bush has directly denied the allegations.
Fitzgerald's mother, Frances Patteson-Knight, defended her daughter, who was reported to have had a nervous breakdown after the story was published. "Jennifer is completely tortured by this whole business”, she said. She doesn't know what to do. She thinks it is all just horrible, horrible." She also criticized Bush, saying that Fitzgerald had been "very hurt by his lack of support" and "[didn't think he'd]...acted like a man here."
Two Clinton appointees lost their jobs at State in September 1993 as a result of sharing information from the personnel files of Fitzgerald and fellow Bush appointee Elizabeth Tamposi, who, ironically, had lost her own position as the result of a controversial search through Bill Clinton's passport files.
Since Bush lost his re-election bid, there have been no allegations about a continuing affair. The only public reference made by Barbara Bush to Fitzgerald came in 1984 in her best-selling C. Fred's Story, a lighthearted account of the family travels over the years from the perspective of "C. Fred Bush", their pet cocker spaniel (a predecessor to her later, better-known Millie's Book). It contains an anecdote in which Fitzgerald was sitting the Bush's apartment while she and George were away. Fitzgerald was entertaining a date in it, and C. Fred surprised her and him by walking in carrying her pantyhose in her mouth. C. Fred also recalls Fitzgerald taking him for walks on the Great Wall of China, something she and her husband never did.
However, the 1992 media coverage played a part in his son's administration. After winning the presidency in 2000, some of his conservative supporters called on him to reinstate Tripp to her previous position as a reward for what they believed to be her whistleblowing. This was not done, because the Bush family is convinced, her denials notwithstanding, that she leaked details about Fitzgerald to Conason. They will never forgive her, according to former New York Republican congressman, John LeBoutillier, who travels in many of the same social circles.
Fitzgerald has never spoken to the media. She has retired and lives a secluded life.
Complaints of media conspiracy of silence
Gossip about the affair had circulated for some time, to the point that the Washington Post, when reporting her appointment as protocol chief, described Fitzgerald as having served Bush "in a variety of positions". After the media frenzies over Gary Hart's apparent dalliance with Donna Rice during the 1988 Democratic primaries, and even more so after Flowers' revelations in 1992, Democrats began to grumble that reporters weren't being fair by holding Hart and Clinton up to such scrutiny yet never even mentioning Fitzgerald and Bush. Media spokesmen and reporters responded that those incidents had involved more solid evidence than anything alleged to have gone on between the president and her. "All you've got is sordid gossipy bits", Conason quoted one Times reporter as saying. While the media lapped up Kitty Kelley's reports that Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer to help her husband make political decisions, they never mentioned the former First Lady's willingness to spread the story of the 1981 incident.
On the rare occasions when the subject came up on the record, reporters and pundits were often quick to minimize it and change the subject. In March 1992, the rumors came up during an episode of The McLaughlin Group. Panelists Fred Barnes and Jack Germond were in rare agreement when they said the Washington press had looked into them and found nothing substantial. They both shouted down Eleanor Clift when she tried to counter that no media outlet had ever seriously investigated the story. Germond later explained that the Washington Star had put some of its best investigative reporters on it and come up empty; however, that paper went out of business early in the Reagan presidency and was known for its Republican leanings.
But other reporters and editors suggested to Conason that their outlets had never shown a serious interest in developing the story beyond that level. Thomas admitted to him that Newsweek had never seriously looked into the story. "It's a story that everyone wishes someone else would do first", a source identified as a prominent media critic told Conason.
When veteran Post reporter Walter Pincus, said by his peers to be an "expert" on the affair, was assigned along with Bob Woodward to write a lengthy profile of Bush prior to the 1988 elections, fears that it would reveal the liaison caused a 43-point drop in the stock market. However, it did not, and Pincus said he and his partner found "no reason to ask Bush about adultery".
A list of six women believed to have had sexual relations with Bush, Fitzgerald included, circulated widely among magazine and newspaper editors in Washington but was never further developed.
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