Daily Kos: Balancing Truth and Loyalty: Portrait of a Grand Jury Witness

Balancing Truth and Loyalty: Portrait of a Grand Jury Witness
by ePluribus Media [Subscribe]
Thu Aug 11th, 2005 at 19:23:08 CDT

by Philip Curtis
ePluribus Media

Two aides to Karl Rove [Susan B. Ralston and Israel Hernandez] testified last Friday before a federal grand jury... At one point, the aides were asked why Mr. Cooper's call to Mr. Rove was not entered in Mr. Rove's office telephone logs.
New York Times, 08/03/05

When two seemingly obscure White House officials were called to appear before the grand jury in the Valerie Plame/CIA leak investigation and asked to recall details of a mundane clerical task, Washington insiders considered it to be a minor footnote in a high-profile case. To the Bush family, however, Assistant Secretary of Commerce Israel Hernandez is far from obscure and, for him, the stakes could not have been any higher. More than a decade of tightly interwoven personal and professional bonds with the President, his family and administration preceded Hernandez's appearance in Fitzgerald's courtroom. Because of his long, close relationship to the President and knowledge of the workings of the administration's inner circle, the stakes were high for the White House as well.

* ePluribus Media's diary :: ::

Hernandez began serving the Bush family in the early 1990's, first as traveling personal secretary of sorts to gubernatorial candidate Bush, next as a live-in aide who often tended to the teenage twin daughters and then as a loyal "foot soldier" who assumed full responsibility for an incomplete jury questionnaire that helped suppress the revelation of then Governor Bush's 1976 DUI offense.

The Bush confidante was a long time beneficiary of the President's almost unprecedented adherence to the value of loyalty. At the same time, as Hernandez testified before the grand jury, he was likely well aware of the administration's frequently repeated vow to restore honesty and integrity to the executive branch.

Becoming Bush's Altoid Boy

Hernandez' initial employment with Bush did not result from a chance encounter. As an undergraduate, he closely followed the future president's early political aspirations and hoped he would be able to secure a role for himself. The Austin American Statesman1 reported:

Hernandez first nosed around for a job with Bush in 1990 when the rumor mill said he might seek the Texas governor's office that year. That race never happened, so Hernandez, of Eagle Pass, continued at the University of Texas and picked up a degree in philosophy and government.

In 1993, as Bush prepared for the 1994 gubernatorial race, Hernandez worked his way in for an interview with him in Dallas. The two clicked, as Bush recalled in his book "A Charge to Keep." Hernandez scored big points by showing up early for the interview that led to his being one of the campaign's first employees." By showing up early, Israel Hernandez aced an important test," Bush wrote, adding that the young man was always "loyal and good- humored and professional and on time."

The ambitious young man's calculated perseverance was well-rewarded. The Associated Press reported that Hernandez became Bush's initial campaign hire:

When George W. Bush got the itch to run for Texas governor, 22-year-old Israel Hernandez was the first guy he hired - to tote his bags, keep his Sharpie pen and dole out a steady supply of Altoid mints.

For years to follow, Hernandez's name was to become inextricably linked with Altoid mints. The Statesman2 noted:

Hernandez was, in Bush's world of nicknames, "Altoid boy," bearer and dispenser of the curiously strong breath mints so crucial to a hand-to-hand politician like Bush.

Forging a Close Bond

Hernandez was hired by the Bush campaign in the role of personal travel aide. The newly elected governor, clearly pleased with the performance of his young aide, continued to retain Hernandez in a similar capacity. News accounts of this period often referenced the close ties that developed between the two men who frequently spent hours travelling alone together. The Texas Monthly described the pair's standard campaign trail routine:

Often he travels with only one young aide, Israel Hernandez, who gives him a schedule of the day's events and hands him breath mints--about a dozen a day. "Hand me a mint there, Israel," Bush says when he shows up at a campaign stop...

Moving in With the 'Waltons'

An unusual chain of events enabled Hernandez to extend the strong bonds he was developing to his employer's family. The Austin American Statesman3 described how a 1994 burglary prompted an immediate invitation to Hernandez to move into the Bush family home:

Israel Hernandez was living in Dallas, of course, as were the Bushes, and his place got burgled, and the next day he had to deal with cops and whatnot. And candidate Bush found Hernandez, told him: "You know, you shouldn't have to worry about things like that. You'd better come live with us.

The Statesman3 further related how Hernandez' experiences in the Bush household reminded him of a classic scene from the 1970's television drama chronicling Depression era Appalachia:

Hernandez recalls, it was like the Waltons at bedtime:

"Good night, George."

"Good night, Laura."

"Good night, Barb."

"Good night, Jenna."

"Good night, Izzy."

When Hernandez repeated the anecdote to the same newspaper2 nearly two years later, his recollection shifted the ritual from an evening to a morning activity:

"It was like the Waltons," he recalled. "I'd wake up in the morning, and it was, `Good morning, Laura. Good morning, Jenna, Barbara. Good morning, George.'

The Associated Press reported that Hernandez' duties at the Bush residence often included babysitting:

He quickly became a family confidant, even helping look after the Bushs' twin daughters when the parents were away, friends recall.

He informed the Statesman that:

The Bush daughters became like sisters to him.

Hernandez also accompanied the Bush family on official trips. Bill Minutaglio, a correspondent for the Dallas Morning News, reported in an online journal:

Dubya; his wife, Laura; their 13-year-old twin daughters (they're now 18); Bush's personal assistant, Israel Hernandez; and a handful of security men--spent the weekend in a Mexican government guest house tucked away in the pristine coastal jungle in Huatulco.

Hernandez, Gonzalez and Bush's DUI

In 1996, Governor Bush was called for jury service and faced an interview as a potential juror in a drunken-driving case. The jury selection process would have almost certainly revealed the governor's own 1976 arrest for drinking and driving. The New York Times reported that Alberto Gonzales, the governor's attorney, facilitated Bush's dismissal from jury service arguing:

"the governor could be asked someday to pardon the defendant."

Israel Hernandez filled out the jury questionnaire for his boss, skipping over a key question that would have acknowledged Bush's involvement in a criminal case. Slate summarized crucial details of Hernandez's involvement:

...Bush "was asked on at least one other occasion about whether he'd been arrested, when he was sent his 1996 jury questionnaire [in a drunken-driving case]. It contained 38 questions. Eleven were left blank, including one that asked: 'Have you ever been an accused or a complainant or a witness in a criminal case?' "According to the New York Times, "There was a space next to the word 'accused' that was to be checked if the answer was 'yes.' "

... the Bush campaign blamed Bush's personal assistant, Israel Hernandez, for neglecting to check the space on Bush's 1996 jury questionnaire where he was supposed to acknowledge having been "accused" in a criminal case. "The governor didn't focus on this document because he never even went into the courthouse in front of a judge," campaign spokesman Dan Bartlett told the Los Angeles Times. According to the New York Times, Bartlett said Hernandez "filled out" the questionnaire and "handed the form to the governor shortly before he arrived for jury duty."

On to the White HouseLeaving, Coming Back and Coming Out

After more than a decade of service and friendship with George W. Bush, Hernandez decided it was time to try something new. The Statesman1 reported Hernandez's thoughts as he prepared to leave the White House in January of this year:

"It's been amazing to be a part of this, but now it's time to step out," Hernandez said. "I've been in public service for 11 years. Now I'd like to get a feel for the private sector. I don't want to be in government all my life."

He has an idea of what he wants to do but is unsure whom he will do it for. "I love strategy communication. I love crisis management. I love theme development," he said, adding that he plans to stay in Washington.

Hernandez' departure for the private sector was curiously short-lived. A May 26, 2005, White House personnel announcement stated:

The President intends to nominate Israel Hernandez, of Texas, to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Director General of the United States and Foreign Commercial Service.

Around the time of his confirmation hearings, the New York Daily News made an unexpected revelation:

One source tells us Hernandez waited until Bush was sworn in for a second term to formally tell him he is gay. By then, says a source, he'd brought his partner to several official events.

Hernandez did not return calls from the New York Daily News seeking comment on the matter. ExpressGayNews.com reported that the new assistant secretary of commerce shares a Falls Church, Virginia, residence with another adult male.

In 2001, Hernandez discussed his "private-sector goals" with the Statesman2:

"I want to create a life. I would hope one day to be married, to have kids," he said, noting that his current schedule precludes the social life he knows he needs.

Among the Washington mysteries he is trying to decipher is the silence of passengers on the trains -- the unwritten rule that makes the subway a no-chat zone and frustrates the gregarious Hernandez. "There's a lot of cute girls on the train," he said.

If allegations regarding Hernandez' sexual orientation are accurate, they serve to demonstrate the strength of the loyalty that exists between Bush and his long-time aide. Bush's continued allegiance to Hernandez risks undermining the support he currently enjoys from the powerful social conservative portion of his political base. The Greensboro Times Record4 reported Bush's 1999 comments to the conservative Madison Project:

[Senator William] Armstrong asked the governor whether he thought it was OK for an ambassador and department heads to be openly homosexual. Bush told the group he would not "knowingly" appoint a practicing homosexual as an ambassador or department head, but neither would he dismiss anyone who was discovered to be a homosexual after being named to a position. The impression Armstrong received was that as long as someone kept his or her sexual orientation private and did not promote them to influence policy, Bush could live with such an arrangement.

The Advocate further explained:

In his six years as Texas governor he has rarely met an antigay measure he didn't like...

During the same year that Bush invited Hernandez to move in with his family and help care for his twin daughters, the governor voiced his support for preserving Texas' harsh sodomy law...

Hernandez is only one of many long-time Bush administration officials who have been called to testify. Each has brought with him a unique personal history of loyalty and the rewards that accompany it. For Hernandez, the ties are particularly strong. His entire adult life has been spent in close contact with a single employer who encouraged Hernandez to establish close bonds with his family. Hopefully, he has not been placed in the unenviable position of needing to weigh the value of loyalty with the value of telling the whole truth to a nation.

Daily Kos: Balancing Truth and Loyalty: Portrait of a Grand Jury Witness


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