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This article suddenly disappeared from MSNBC's web site on February 9, 2001 - the day Democrats.com published a major expose on Funeralgate.

Try it yourself:
http://www.msnbc.com/news/479524.asp

This follows the disappearance of several other articles unfavorable to George W. Bush, most notably:

a) the Washington Post article by Al Kamen identifying the Republican thugs who stopped the Miami recount (reposted following inquiries by a Democrats.com member)
http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/politics/fedpage/columns/intheloop/A30170-2000Dec5.html

b) the CNN Crossfire transcript where Larry Flynt charged Bush with helping his girlfriend get an abortion in the early 1970's.
http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0010/20/cf.00.html

Note to MSNBC: We'll be delighted to remove this article as soon as you retrieve it from Orwell's infamous "Memory Hole."

The Funeral-Home Flap

Trouble for a Texas mortician with links to the Bush family

By Michael Isikoff
NEWSWEEK
August 16, 1999 issue –

When Texas regulators launched a probe into funeral homes last year, Houston mortician Robert L. Waltrip fought back.

A TOUGH-TALKING TYCOON, Waltrip is chief executive of Service Corporation International (SCI) Inc., which owns more funeral homes than anybody in the world. He also has powerful friends. Not long after the investigation began, Waltrip called the head of the state agency that regulates him and demanded that he "back off." If not, funeral commission chairman Charles McNeil recalls Waltrip telling him, "I'm going to take this to the governor."

So began the flap that may become more than a pesky annoyance for Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential front runner. The state's former chief funeral regulator, Eliza May, has sued the state, SCI and Waltrip, charging that Bush's aides repeatedly pressured her to end the probe-and that when she resisted she was fired. (Bush is not a defendant in the suit.) The dispute has a whiff of politics: a Democrat, May once served as state party treasurer. Now May wants to call Bush as a witness-a move the governor's lawyers tried to block, calling it "harassment." Waltrip has been close to the Bush family for years. He is a trustee of George Bush's presidential library, and Waltrip's company, SCI, donated more than $100,000 toward its construction. Last March, Waltrip got the elder Bush to speak at a funeral association convention; SCI paid the former president's $70,000 honorarium. The mortician has also been generous to the younger Bush: Waltrip gave $10,000 to Bush's 1994 run for governor, and SCI's political-action committee chipped in $35,000 for his 1998 re-election. The company's troubles began early last year, when the funeral commission received complaints that unlicensed apprentices were embalming bodies at two SCI funeral parlors. Earlier this year Gayle Johnson, the mother of a popular Wichita Falls newscaster, accused an SCI funeral home of botching the embalming of her son. Johnson said that when she went to lay flowers at the mausoleum, it was infested with gnats, and a malodorous maroon-colored fluid oozed out of her son's crypt. SCI has denied any responsibility.

In spring 1998 the commission subpoenaed SCI records and ordered unannounced inspections of the firm's funeral parlors. Waltrip accused the inspectors of "storm trooper" tactics. According to Johnnie B. Rogers, a folksy lobbyist who now serves as SCI's lawyer, on April 15 he and Waltrip dropped off a letter at the governor's office demanding a halt to the investigation. Rogers told NEWSWEEK that he and Waltrip were ushered in to see Joe Allbaugh, then Bush's chief of staff and now his presidential campaign manager. Rogers says Bush popped his head in and spotted Waltrip. "Hey Bobby, are those people still messing with you?" Bush said, according to Rogers. When Waltrip said they were, Rogers recalled that the governor turned to him and said, "Hey, Johnnie B. Are you taking care of him?" Newsweek.MSNBC.com

"I'm doing my best, Governor," Rogers said he replied. Bush's press secretary Linda Edwards acknowledges that Bush and Waltrip had a "brief verbal exchange" but said "they did not discuss the case." May charges that over the next several weeks she received phone calls from three senior Bush aides asking if she could wrap up her probe quickly. She has also described another meeting in Allbaugh's office where-in Waltrip's presence-the governor's top aide allegedly demanded that she immediately turn over a list of the documents that she needed "to close the SCI investigation." Allbaugh says he has retained a lawyer and can't comment. Bush spokeswoman Edwards said the governor's top aide was simply trying to "make sure the parties were communicating effectively" after receiving complaints from state legislators. A spokesman for Waltrip said he was only exercising his "constitutional right" to take his protests "up the ladder." Since then, the case has taken new twists. Last summer the funeral commission fined SCI $450,000 for alleged improper embalming procedures. SCI refused to pay and recently got a ruling from the Texas attorney general that may allow the company to avoid paying the fine. Then, in February, May was fired-after another commission employee complained that she ordered him to research SCI campaign contributions to state officials. Now the dispute seems to be heading for court-the last place Bush wants to spend any time this campaign season.

© 2000 Newsweek, Inc.

 


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