The Washington Post
Friday, December 15,1989
Drug Purchase for Bush Speech
Like Keystone Kops
by, Tracy ThompsonThe first time, the alleged drug dealer never showed up. On the second attempt, the undercover Drug Enfocement Administration agent wore a body microphone that didn't work. Then, the cameraman supposedly videotaping the deal missed the action because he was assaulted by a homeless person.
Washington Post Staff Writer
"This is like a Keystone Kops thing," U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin said to the witness, DEA special agent Sam Gaye. "you're in Lafayette park. You're trying to film this thing...And then what happened?"
"There was this lady," Gaye explained, "who got up off the ground and said, "Don't take my photo! Don't take my photo!" The jury laughed.
So it went in federal court yesterday, as the government presented its case against Keith Jackson, 18, the student charged with selling the bag of crack cocaine that President Bush used as a prop in his Sept. 5 speech to the nation about the war on drugs.
Jackson, who attends Spingarn High School and who has no arrest record, is charged with four counts of distributing crack between April 24 and Sept 1 at three locations: Hechinger Mall, the 1900 block of East Capitol Street near Eastern High School, and Lafayette Square. If convicted, he faces from 10 years to life wih no parole.
His otherwise ordinary drug case became something out of the ordinary because of the alleged Sept.1 deal, a transaction DEA officials said was sopecifically set up to give the president a dramatic chance to show the country just how easy it is to buy drugs, even across the street from the White House.
Not that easy, as it turns out. Gaye's testimony yesterday, which was offered on the second day of the government's case against Jackson, described a drug deal that almost didn't happen and that was beset by logistical difficulties even when it did. Gaye said his boss asked him on Aug. 31 to set up the deal.
"He just walked into my office and said, "Can you make a drug buy around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Can you call any defendants you've been buying from?" Gaye testified, adding, "I had 24 hours to buy three ounces of crack."
Presidential Speech writers conceived the idea of having Bush hold up a bag of crack during his anti-drug speech last summer while the president was on vacation in Kennebunkport, Maine. When Bush endorsed the idea, White House oficials called a top aide to Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, who in turn called the DEA and asked that a drug purchase be made near the White House to fit the words in the president's speech.
Gaye was given the assignment. But the first dealer he set up a meeting with didn't show. Then, Gaye said, he called one of his informers, who allegedly arranged a meeting in the park for the next day with Jackson.
The DEA officials said that their efforts to get Jackson to the park almost failed because Jackson didn't know where the White House was. "We had to manipulate him to get him down there," William McMullan, assitant special agent in charge of DEA's Washington field office, said last Setember. "It wasn't easy."
DEA officials also had said the telephone conversation setting up the deal was tape recorded. Yesterday,defense attorney Charles Stow told Sporkin that he had asked the government for the tape, only to be told it did not exist. Three other tape recordings of Jackson and the undercover agents - made on July 26, Sept. 14 and Sept. 18 - have been entered into evidence.
A tape recording of the Aug.31 phone conversation, however,"does not exist, and I invite Mr. Stow to explore," said Assistant U.S. attorney Mark Carroll. Stow was not satisfied.
"I may be simple, but I'm not a fool," he protested, but Sporkin ordered him to proceed.
Under cross-examination by Stow, Gaye described the Sept. 1 meeting, an account that elicited muffled laughter from the jury. The laughter turned into guffaws when Stow played the the DEA videotape.
It begins with a shot of Lafayette Square on a summer day. Gaye can be seen waiting on Pennsylvania Avenue; the White House and the usual hordes of summer tourists are seen in the background.
Suddenly, just before the car with Jackson and the informer appears, an angry looking woman rears up from below the camera's field of vision, and unintelligible shouts can be heard.
For the nest few moments, the tape shows only high-soeed, jerky shots of gras and pavement and rapid pans of horizon. By the time it focuses again on Gaye and Jackson, the two men are in the far distance.
"Was the agent ever able to get close enough to film the transaction?" Carroll asked Gaye.
"No sir," Gaye said. "He was too far away."
Gaye also testified that the deal did not go quite as planned: instead of handing the three-ounce bag of crack to Gaye, Jackson allegedly gave it to the informer to hand to Gaye. A photo of Jackson leaving the car was taken after Gaye took the bag and then handed $2,400 in cash to Jackson, Gaye said.
Staff Writer Michael Isikoff contributed to this report.