HOW IT HAPPENED
This article was prepared by Jim McGee, Tom Fiedler and James Savage. It was first published in The Miami Herald on May 10, 1987. It is reprinted with permission of The Miami Herald.
The voice on the other end of the telephone was strained with a nervous jocularity.
“You know, you said in the paper that there were rumors that Gary Hart is a womanizer, ” he woman told Miami Herald Political Editor Tom Fiedler.
“Those aren't rumors. How much do you guys pay for pictures?”
Gary Hart, 50, announced his quest for the presidency April 13 at the foot of the Rocky Mountains with a promise as lofty as the backdrop: “All of us must try to hold ourselves to the very highest standards of integrity and ethics, and soundness of judgment... ”
He began as the front-runner with everything in his favor. Polls showed him not only winning the Democratic nomination, but handily beating George Bush -- the GOP’s early favorite -- in a theoretical matchup.
The former Colorado senator surrounded himself with the brightest minds in politics. He showed a new surefootedness, the product of having run the course once before, in 1984. The gold ring seemed within reach.
And the voice on the telephone was offering evidence to The Herald that could undo it all.
The call was the beginning of one of the fastest, most shocking unravelings of a presidential campaign in American history. The saga has elements of a prime-time soap opera: the Marlboro-man handsome candidate, the long-suffering wife, the lust for power, the blond poster model from Miami Vice, the overnight trip to Bimini --capped by a weekend in Washington.
The story also epitomized the painful collision between a person’s privacy and the voters' need to know. In following a tip, The Herald involved himself in a controversial stakeout. Later, while The Herald concentrated on reporting what it saw, Hart's followers focused on what the reporters might have missed. Even now, the newspaper concedes that the watch was not airtight (Story, Page 14A.).
When the end to Hart’s campaign came at noon Friday, there remained the elements of Greek tragedy. The gifted hero who had taunted the press to “follow me around . . . it will be boring” was felled by hubris.
“Gary Hart is having an affair with a friend of mine, ” the caller said,
leveling a charge that the pair has denied. “We don't need another
president who lies like that.”
RUMORS OF WOMANIZING
The story behind the story began two weeks before the call, on the day Hart formally announced that he was a candidate. A profile in Newsweek that week made passing reference to his troubled 28-year marriage to Lee and to rumors of infidelity. A former adviser was quoted as saying that Hart could have a problem in this campaign “if he can't keep his pants on. ”
The article triggered a barrage of similar stories in other newspapers. Suddenly, the candidate who promised to fashion a campaign on the power of his intellect was dealing with charges about the power of his libido.
Yet no article backed up the allegation with an accusation. “It's hard to disprove rumors if you don't know where they come from, ” Hart complained to Fiedler, who has covered him since 1984.
Fiedler, 41, is a 16-year veteran journalist who first tasted national politics when assigned to cover part of the 1972 George Wallace campaign. He dealt with both Hart's problem and the journalistic ethical questions it raised in a lengthy front- page article. On balance, the Monday, April 27, article was sympathetic to Hart’s plight:
“If I was editing Newsweek, ” it quoted journalism professor Bruce Swain as saying, “I might have put a reporter on (the womanizing rumors) for a week to see if we could either report it directly, or dispatch it.”
Fiedler wrote: “In a harsh light, the media reports themselves are rumor-mongering,
pure and simple. ”
Fiedler stayed later than normal that Monday wading through papers accumulated from a routine political reporting trip to several cities. He was about to leave about 8 p.m. when his telephone rang.
At first the caller seemed to be taunting him, refusing to give her name but hinting that she had a secret she might let him share. The caller had read the article and seemed alternately outraged and amused by Hart's statements of being an innocent victim of rumors.
She had proof that Hart was having an affair, she said. Then, with a nervous laugh, she asked how much The Herald was willing to pay for a picture. To Fiedler, this was just another crank call he was in no mood to take.
He told her he resented her mocking tone. If what she said was true, Fiedler said, then she had better pause and consider the gravity of her charge.
She asked whether Hart might win the nomination and the election. He told
her about the polls. She asked whether she could stay anonymous. He said
he saw no need to learn her name if she gave him information that he could
On Tuesday morning at 10:30, his telephone rang again. It was the caller. There was no jocularity. She was nervous but intent on helping. She was a “liberal Democrat, ” she said, but she couldn't tolerate someone who would say one thing publicly and do another privately. The nation had just seen that happen with President Reagan and the Iranian arms sales, she said.
The details of the alleged relationship emerged during that 90-minute call, terminated only because she had an appointment to keep. She placed Hart and an “older man named Bill who said he was Hart’s lawyer” at a yacht party several weeks before.
As many as 50 people -- most of them involved in acting, modeling or the music business - - partied on the yacht, she said. “They weren't the kind of people you would think a presidential candidate would want to be around, ” the caller said, admitting that she was among them.
Hart was initially attracted to her, the caller said, but she rebuffed him, disgusted by his demeanor. Her friend, however, seemed fascinated by him.
“They spent a lot of time together that day, and when we left she gave him her phone number, ” the caller said.
Hart acted on the gesture. He called and invited the friend out on “a cruise, ” she said. They went somewhere and stopped in a port overnight, but the caller didn't know where. She knew only that her friend was by then enthralled with Hart and in the weeks that followed eagerly displayed pictures of the pair together at that port.
These were the pictures she wanted to sell the night before, she said. Fiedler still declined. “Politicians have their pictures taken with strangers all the time, ” he said. “It proves nothing. ”
Then, the woman said, there were all the telephone calls. Hart called frequently from the campaign trail, saying each time where he was and where he was headed. The caller knew the places from which the calls came: Georgia, Alabama, Kansas. She knew the dates.
In the most recent calls, the woman said, Hart had invited her friend to spend the coming weekend with him at his townhouse in Washington. They were to meet Friday night.
The caller demanded to stay out of the story and continued to withhold her name. But she was sure that if Fiedler would only meet her friend and chat for about 20 minutes, the friend would tell him everything about her fling with Hart. “She's really outgoing, ” the callersaid. “Maybe you could fly to Washington on the plane and get the seat next to her? ”
Fine, Fiedler said. He asked for the flight information.
“I'll get it and call you back, ” she said. It was 12:15 p.m. Tuesday.
She didn't call back.
CHECKING IT OUT
Fiedler began checking the caller's information against Hart's schedule. Every date and place squared. Hart, indeed, had stayed in Miami the weekend of the yacht party following a fund- raiser at the home of Miami lawyer Joel Karp.
The caller fixed the date of the yacht party by remembering she had attended the movie premier of Making Mr. Right on Miami Beach the night before.
Fiedler was impressed with the accuracy of much of what he had been given. But he knew it remained conceivable that a campaign dirty trickster could have gotten Hart's schedule and elaborately fabricated the story.
There remained three points that seemed wrong to him.
First, the caller said Hart and her friend were to meet in Washington on Friday night and would be at Hart’s townhouse. The copy of Hart's schedule available to Fiedler showed that Hart was to be in Iowa on Friday and in Kentucky on Saturday for a Kentucky Derby party.
Second, Fiedler also thought Hart lived in Bethesda, Md., not in Washington.
And third, he was baffled by the caller's description of “Bill, ” the man with Hart. Normally, Hart travels with Bill Shore, a man in his mid-30s. The caller said this Bill was “really old looking. ”
Nonetheless, Fiedler informed City Editor John Bracer and Investigations Editor James Savage of the call. He let his doubts go, expecting another call.
By Friday, the continuing silence became tormenting. Fiedler was tethered to his phone, hoping it would ring. He decided to try to assuage his minor doubts. Fiedler telephoned Hart headquarters in Denver and asked for the candidate's weekend schedule, saying that he might want to go to the Kentucky event to cover Hart.
The Kentucky stop has been scrubbed, Hart’s scheduler said. “Where is he going to be this weekend?” Fiedler asked.
“He's going to take some time off in Washington, ” came the reply.
“Where does he stay in Washington? Does he still have his house in Bethesda? ” Fiedler asked.
“No. They've sold that. They have a townhouse on Capitol Hill.”
Fiedler's mind pictured a slot machine with everything lining up. He rushed
to pass the information on to Savage.
GO OR NO GO?
What Fiedler learned from the caller persuaded Savage, 47, that the tip was worth pursuing. But without a flight number - - indeed, without the address of Hart's townhouse -- it wasn't clear how to pursue it. There were five flights between Miami and Washington that Friday night. The woman was to be on one of them.
But which one? How do you spot her? The caller said she was blond, in her late 20s, with a rich Southern drawl. She was an actress with an appearance on Miami Vice to her credit. That was not enough to go on. And even if she is seen on the plane, what then?
Savage summoned investigative reporter Jim McGee, 34, into his office a few minutes before 5 p.m. that Friday. By then, Hart was in the air between Iowa to Washington. If the caller was right, the Miami woman would be leaving at any time to join him.
McGee asked Fiedler to describe the phone call again.
“Do you believe her? ” McGee asked.
“Yes, ” Fiedler said.
McGee went back to Savage.
“It feels right, ” McGee said. “I say let's do it.”
Savage said. “Let's go. ”
Of the five flights, only two were nonstop. McGee guessed that the woman would catch one of those, narrowing the odds. The first left Miami at 5:30; the next at 7:40. It was then 5 p.m.
With just a credit card and the clothes he wore, McGee ran out of the Herald building and, luckily, immediately saw an empty cab at the nearest intersection. “If there had been two red lights, he would have missed the plane,” Savage said later.
Meanwhile, Fiedler was coming up dry in finding Hart’s address. His calls kept coming back, "Bethesda. ” Then, as McGee raced to the airport, a Senate staff member called Fiedler on an unrelated matter.
“By the way, do you know where Gary Hart lives? ” Fiedler asked Ken Klein, press secretary to Sen. Bob Graham.
“Sure, ” Klieg said. “Buddy Shorestein (Graham's chief of staff) rents
the basement apartment from him. ”
FLIGHT TO WASHINGTON
McGee ran through Miami International Airport and reached the gate in time
to hear the final boarding call for Eastern Flight 996.
That's when he first saw the
woman with shoulder-length blond hair. She was standing at the ticket counter,
and she was stunning. Hanging from her arms was a bulky, distinctive purse,
On the airplane, McGee sat in seat 19D. Across the aisle and a few rows ahead sat the blond woman with the purse. Farther forward, near the bulkhead, sat her friend from the counter. McGee noticed a third blond woman on the plane who was also attractive, but seemed younger.
McGee figured that either the woman with the purse or the younger woman was most likely to be an actress. He wondered how he would decide which woman to follow.
During the flight, McGee walked up the aisle twice, passing each woman slowly to fix her face in his mind. At one point, the woman with the purse rose from her seat and walked toward her friend near the bulkhead. They arranged to sit next to each other and for the rest of the flight talked animatedly.
The jet landed at 8:01 p.m. at Washington's National Airport. McGee caught up with the blond woman with the purse as she reached the baggage claim area. She was greeted by a woman friend, a brunet.
The younger blond was met by a young man in his 20s. They joined in a passionate embrace.
There was no Gary Hart. No chauffeur. Nobody who looked like a campaign aide. McGee feared he had taken the wrong flight.
He walked to a pay telephone and dialed the Knight-Ridder Bureau in Washington.
He was put through to News Editor Douglas Clifton, 44, who had just transferred
to Washington from The Herald. Fiedler had given Clifton the Hart townhouse
address, and Clifton
McGee took a cab from the airport and got out at Sixth and E, SE. He walked around the block once and came up the back alley behind Hart's house.
From what he could see, it would not be easy to remain undetected while watching Hart's house. It sat in the middle of a dense row of townhouses that sat back from a picturesque, but intimate, residential street. It was brightly lit by streetlights. People walked their dogs at all hours. And there was a steady flow of car traffic.
There was a city park one block away with benches positioned so that McGee
could see whether anyone came or went from the front of Hart's townhouse.
Facing the park was a District of Columbia police station.
About 9:30 p.m., McGee was across the street and roughly six doors from Hart's home when he heard a sound. It might have been the front door opening.
From Hart's townhouse emerged a trim, well-built man with black hair. He wore a white long-sleeve dress shirt and dark slacks. With him was a blond woman.
McGee could see the woman clearly. She had the same blond hair he had seen up close at the ticket counter in Miami. She was wearing the same clothes he had seen on the plane. She was carrying the same purse.
The man was Gary Hart.
McGee, who had never expected to see the woman from the plane again, was stunned. He couldn't believe it was the same woman.
The anonymous tip was becoming a news story. And events were moving faster than anyone had anticipated.
McGee rushed toward a pay telephone a block away to call editors in Miami. It was 9:33 p.m.
McGee reached Executive Editor Heath Meriwether at home. The tip was checking out, McGee said. Was McGee sure? Yes, he said, he had just seen Hart with a woman who had flown from Miami on his flight. She fit the description given by the source. We need more reporters, McGee said; we need a photographer.
McGee called Savage, who wasn't home, and Fiedler, who was dumbfounded by the news. Fiedler said he’d get on the next plane out. But there were no more flights to Washington that night. There would be no additional help until the next day.
McGee returned to Hart's street. Clifton, the Knight-Ridder news editor, arrived about 10 p.m. and took up a position in the rear.
An hour passed. McGee and Clifton conferred and decided that two men hanging
McGee called Savage, who was arranging for photographer Brian Smith and Fiedler to join Savage on the first plane in the morning.
As he spoke on the telephone, McGee caught sight of something moving out of the corner of his eye. He glanced up the street, and the series of coincidences that drove the story, continued.
McGee spotted Hart's car driving slowly through the intersection.
“I think I see them again, ” he told Savage. He hung up the phone and ran back to the street.
McGee slowed to a quick stroll as he approached Hart’s house. It was 11:17 p.m.
Hart had parked his car around the corner and was walking toward the front door with the blond woman. McGee, walking toward him but on the other side of the street, could distinctly see Hart and the blond woman. The same purse glinted under the street light.
Hart said later that the woman left in 15 to 20 minutes. McGee was alone
outside. He did not see her leave from the front entrance. Clifton was
returning from the airport with the rental car.
Saturday dawned as a bright spring day, warm with the scent of flowers in the air. The neighborhood around Hart's townhouse awoke early.
In the early hours, Clifton watched the front while McGee watched the back street.
Investigations Editor Savage, photographer Smith and reporter Fiedler caught pre-dawn flights to Washington and discussed their objectives during the flight. Fiedler circled a passage in a New York Times Magazine article slated for Sunday publication and handed it to Savage.
“Follow me around, I don't care, ” Hart was quoted as saying. “I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'd be very, bored. ”
They arrived in Washington at 10:05 a.m. and reached the street in front of Hart's townhouse about 11. Smith and Savage parked on opposite corners with a clear view of Hart's car, but a partially obstructed view of the front door. Fiedler parked on the street behind the townhouse, where he could watch the alley entrance.
The reporters considered it crucial that at least one other staff member identify Hart and the woman to confirm what McGee had seen the night before.
Later, Hart denounced the watch as “spotty. ” McGee was alone while Clifton went for the car Friday night, no one was watching the townhouse from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m., the back entrance wasn't covered at all time, and the view of the front door was sometimes blocked.
The reporters never considered the stakeout airtight. The words “around the clock” surveillance were struck from the story’s initial draft.
“It’s possible” the woman could have slipped out of the house, Savage later told The New York Times.
In midafternoon, there was a flurry of activity outside the Hart townhouse involving a maroon sedan that double-parked in front. Smith hurriedly took up pursuit of the car.
It traveled a few blocks and parked in front of a church. A couple - -
definitely not Hart and the blond woman - - got out. “False alarm, ” Smith
At 8:40 p.m., the front of the townhouse was bathed in the orange glow of security lighting. The back street remained dark, shaded by large trees. McGee strolled toward the rear alley driveway.
He stopped in his tracks as he saw Hart and the blond woman emerge from the alley that led to Hart's garage entrance. McGee turned on his heels, picked up his pace, walked past the alley and headed toward the corner where Hart's car was parked.
As he rounded the corner, Fiedler, who had changed into a running outfit, jogged by him. “He's right behind me, ” McGee whispered hoarsely. Fiedler, who knows Hart from the campaign trail, crossed the street to the park to avoid recognition.
Hart's hands were thrust in his pockets, and he looked rapidly about the neighborhood. The blond woman clutched his right arm as they walked.
Hart appeared on guard. He walked a few feet, stopped, then walked on. When he and the woman reached his car, instead of getting inside, they turned and retreated down the block and into the front entrance.
“He might have recognized me from last night, ” McGee told Savage.
Minutes later, Hart emerged alone, strode directly to his car, got in and pulled into traffic. Smith, the photographer, followed Hart in his car.
Hart went only a few blocks more before parking and walking back toward his block, although not directly. He walked down a side street, turned a corner and promptly sat down. Clifton, following about 50 feet behind him, turned the corner and encountered Hart looking directly at him. Clifton continued on.
Hart again circled the block, this time approaching his townhouse toward his front door. He walked directly past the car in which McGee and Savage sat. To them, he seemed agitated. He appeared to yell over his shoulder toward someone on the other side of the street.
When Hart entered the alley behind his townhouse, Savage turned to McGee. “I think we should talk to him right now. ” Hart clearly knew he was being watched.
“It's your call, ” Savage said.
“Let's do it, ” said McGee.
McGee and Savage walked up the dark alley following Hart. McGee turned the corner at the end of the alley and flinched in surprise. Gary Hart stood directly around the corner, leaning against a brick fence. Both men were startled.
“Good evening, Senator, ” McGee said. “I'm a reporter from The Miami Herald. We'd like to talk to you. ” Savage introduced himself.
Hart said nothing. He held his arms around his midsection and leaned forward slightly with his back against the brick wall. He was wearing a white sweater jacket and slacks.
We’d like to ask you about the young woman staying in your house, McGee said.
“No one is staying in my house, ” Hart said.
We saw a woman go in your house at 8:40 p.m. You passed me on the street here, McGee said.
“I may or may not have, ” Hart said.
What is your relationship with the woman in your townhouse? McGee asked.
“I'm not involved in any relationship, ” Hart said.
So why did we just see her and you go back into the townhouse?
“The obvious reason is I'm being set up, ” Hart said. His voice quivered.
“She may or may not be,” Hart said.
Savage asked whether they could go to his house to meet the young woman and continue the interview. Hart refused.
If she is not in your house, how did she leave? Is she staying with you?
“She's been here in Washington over the weekend, ” Hart said.
Senator, let me explain, McGee said. We've had your house under surveillance since early last evening. I was standing near the front of your house last night at 9:30 p.m. I saw you come out of your house with a blond woman. You got into your car, you drove up the street, you got stopped at the red light. I walked alongside your car.
Hart listened, occasionally nodding his head.
Senator, where were you going?
“I was on my way to take her to a place where she was staying, ” Hart said.
Savage cut in: How long have you known her?
“Several months, ” Hart said.
What is her name?
“I would suppose you would find that out. ”
McGee: Senator, at 11:17 p.m. I was again directly across from the front of your house and I saw you come walking up the street with the blond woman. You had parked your car at the corner and you walked up the street and entered your house.
“She came back to pick up some things that she had left, ” Hart said.
How long did she stay?
“Ten or 15 minutes,” Hart said.
How did she leave? Savage asked.
Senator, this is important. Can you remember how she left? Is it possible you called a cab for her? Savage asked.
“I don't remember, ” Hart said.
Who is this woman? McGee asked.
“She is a friend of a friend of mine, ” Hart said. “ . . . A guest of a friend of mine.”
McGee said he didn't understand. He went over the last observation again. Tell us again why they returned together.
“She left some things in the house, ” Hart said.
Savage broke in: What is the nature of your relationship? “I have no relationship with the woman, ” Hart said. “She is not staying with me.” It was, he said, “nothing personal. ”
Hart seemed to gain composure as he spoke. Fiedler joined the interview.
“Hi, Tom,” Hart said.
We know you made telephone calls to this woman from around the country, McGee said, from various campaign stops.
What did you talk about?
“Nothing, ” Hart said.
Were they political? McGee asked.
“It was casual, political, ” Hart said. "General conversation. ”
Savage asked when he first met her.
“To my recollection I don't remember where I met her, ” Hart said.
Did he know her occupation?
“I don't know that, either. ”
Fiedler said the reporters knew that he was with her on a yacht, a trip he took after a campaign stop in Gainesville.
“I don't remember, ” Hart said.
You have never been on that yacht then? McGee asked.
“I didn't say that, ” Hart said.
During the next few minutes, first Fiedler and then McGee reminded Hart of his challenge to the press to follow him around. They pointed out that after the Newsweek article he had said he could only respond to specifics, not rumors. The reporters were now asking about a specific incident. Fiedler, who had covered the opening of his campaign in Colorado, reminded him that he had promised to conduct his campaign on the highest moral plane.
He implored Hart to offer evidence that would clarify the situation. He said, “You, of all people, know the sensitivity of this. ” And he told Hart that The Herald intended to publish an account of what the reporters had witnessed and what Hart had confirmed. Please be forthcoming, Fiedler said.
“I've been very forthcoming, ” Hart said.
What is your relationship with the blond woman?
“I have no personal relationship with the individual you are following, ” Hart said.
Are you denying that you met her on the yacht? McGee asked.
“I’m not denying anything, ” Hart said heatedly.
Savage asked Hart whether he would allow reporters to talk with the woman
in his house. That
McGee explained that if there was an innocent explanation, produce the woman. Let us talk to her.
“I don't have to produce anyone, ” Hart said.
McGee had long ago learned to save the least pleasant question for last. Hart acted as if he were close to ending the interview.
Have you had sex with the woman I saw with you on the street? McGee asked.
“The answer is no,” Hart said. “I'm not going to get into all that.”
Hart abruptly terminated the interview by turning and walking back toward the entrance to his house.
“We don't need any of that, ” Hart said, starting up the alley to his house,
as photographer Smith snapped several shots.
PUBLISH OR HOLD BACK
By now it was after 10 p.m., fast approaching deadline for the bulk of
The Herald's Sunday press run.
TOM FIEDLER, 41. Herald political editor. is a 16-year veteran journalist who covered his first national political campaign in 1972.
JIM MCGEE. 34, is an investigative reporter for The Herald who was part of the team that won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.
JIM SAVAGE, 47, has been with The Herald for 24 years. He is associate editor/investigations.