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Bush-Bashing Biographer Had Secret

October 23, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ A publisher pulled its controversial biography of GOP presidential front-runner George W. Bush from bookstore shelves Friday amid reports that the author had concealed a criminal record.

Biographer James Howard Hatfield, whose book, ``Fortunate Son,″ claims Bush was arrested for cocaine possession in 1972, was allegedly convicted in 1988 of plotting to kill a co-worker, according to a report in the Dallas Morning News on Thursday.

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Hatfield through the publisher were unsuccessful Friday. He had claimed in earlier interviews that authorities were confusing him with another man named Hatfield.

But Eddie Cobb, the Arkansas parole officer overseeing the parole of a James Howard Hatfield for a federal embezzlement conviction, confirmed that the writer and the convict are one and the same, according to the Morning News and The Washington Post.

On Thursday, St. Martin’s Press, the publisher, said it had stopped all sales, promotion and other publishing activities for the book and was notifying booksellers while it looked into the reports.

On Friday, the publisher went further and recalled 70,000 copies of the book already in stores.

``We have enough information from our own investigation to make the decision that the book must be pulled,″ said Sally Richardson, president and publisher of St. Martin’s Press trades division. ``We strongly believe it would be irresponsible to continue to keep the book in the marketplace.″

The Bush campaign had its legal staff reviewing the matter for possible libel implications, a spokeswoman said. Hatfield had alleged that Bush was arrested in 1972 for cocaine possession, but only did community service after his father intervened.

The book alleged that the arrest record was later expunged at the request of the elder Bush. Hatfield attributed the story to three anonymous sources.

``It’s obvious (the book) was not checked,″ Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes said Friday. Bush had previously called the book ``science fiction.″

In addition to the parole officer’s confirmation, Dallas attorney Norman L. ``Happy″ Nelson Jr., said he knew Hatfield for about nine years before the 1988 conviction and recognized him as the Bush biographer when Hatfield’s picture appeared in a local newspaper.

``The picture in the paper was the picture of the bomber,″ said Nelson. ``That was him.″

Glen Castlebury, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, confirmed that a James Howard Hatfield was arrested in February 1987 for solicitation of capital murder _ hiring a hit man to plant a bomb beneath a co-worker’s car.

After he was found guilty, Hatfield went to prison in April 1988 and spent the next five years there. Upon his release, Hatfield was turned over to federal authorities; he wound up doing a short stretch in El Reno, Okla., for embezzling nearly $35,000.

Hatfield was released in December 1994 after doing time in a halfway house, said El Reno spokesman Leon Crawford.

Hatfield, who moved to Arkansas with the approval of Texas authorities, remains on parole through April 15, 2003, said Castlebury.

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