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Bush camp irked by FBI suspicions about origin of wayward debate tape


AUSTIN, Texas - The George W. Bush presidential campaign, dissatisfied with the FBI investigation of the debate preparation tape that was shipped to the opposition, believes the feds suspect a Bush scheme to sabotage the upcoming presidential debates.

Mark McKinnon, whose firm Maverick Media does Bush's TV ads, said yesterday that questions asked of his staff by FBI agents show "they had a theory that somebody mailed this as a way to blow up the debates, which is a ridiculous notion."

Yvette Lozano, a Maverick Media employee questioned by the FBI, said the two agents who quizzed her for 90 minutes posited the sabotage theory based on the notion that a stolen tape might provide a convenient out for a candidate not eager to debate.

"One of the agents said, 'It could be that you sent this information because you didn't want the debates to happen,'" said Lozano, who denied having anything to do with the clandestine mailing of the debate preparation materials to the Al Gore camp.

In Washington, Justice Department spokesman Carole Florman offered no response yesterday.

The first of three presidential debates between Bush and Democratic foe Gore will be Tuesday in Boston.

On Sept. 13, Bush debate preparation material - including a videotape of a mock debate session - showed up in the mail at the office of former U.S. Rep. Thomas J. Downey of New York, who had been helping Gore in mock debates.

He turned the material over to the FBI. Last week, five people at Maverick Media were interviewed by federal agents. McKinnon said the line of questioning made it clear the agents think the Bush campaign orchestrated the mailing of the debate materials as part of a scheme to delay or cancel the debates.

The Bush campaign has made no such efforts, spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said yesterday.

Last week, the Gore campaign suspended a junior staffer, Michael Doyne, who had told a friend that the Democrats might have a "mole" at Bush headquarters.

"I hope the FBI and the federal law enforcement agencies would follow up on that boast by looking at computer hard drives [at Gore headquarters] to determine whether in fact there is any substance to those comments," said Karen Hughes, Bush's communications director.

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