December 13th, 2011
09:23 AM ET
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
Washington (CNN)– Tim Goeglein never expected to see the president again, let alone get called into the Oval Office, because he committed the ultimate Washington sin - he betrayed the boss.
"The leader of the free world has lots of people to see, he has lots of things to do," Goeglein said, sitting in his office at Focus on the Family, where he is now vice president of external relations.
"The thing that leaders of the free world don't often do, probably, is ask aides who have just embarrassed them and brought shame upon the White House, they don't typically invite them to the Oval Office," he said.
But that Goeglein said is exactly what then-President George W. Bush did.
February 29, 2008, Goeglein said, was the worst day of his life.
He was made. His secret exposed.
Goeglein was a staffer in the Bush administration, an aide to Karl Rove, who dealt with faith-based groups.
That day in 2008, Goeglein was caught plagiarizing a column he wrote for his hometown paper in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Goeglein copied large sections of an essay for The News-Sentinel nearly verbatim from author Jeffery Hart, whose writings appeared in the Dartmouth Review in 1998.
Goeglein had written a weekly column for the paper and after the plagiarism was first discovered, editor Kerry Hubartt said they found instances of plagiarism in two other columns from Goeglein.
Once he was found out, Goeglein knew his actions would reflect on his boss, the president. He resigned and thought he would be banished from the Beltway forever, a fate he says he fully deserved.
That day the White House issued a terse statement:
"Today, Tim accepted responsibility for the columns published under his name in his local newspaper, and has apologized for not upholding the standards expected by the President."
"The President was disappointed to learn of the matter, and he was saddened for Tim and his family. He has long appreciated Tim's service, and he knows him to be a good person who is committed to his country," the statement read.
"It is true. I am entirely at fault. It was wrong of me. There are no excuses," Goeglein wrote at the time in an e-mail apologizing to The News-Sentinel.
"I was not the senior-most person and I was not a confidant to the president," he says now, but his fall from grace was spectacular nonetheless.
But what was unknown at the time was what happened behind closed doors between the aide and the president.
In a new book, "Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era," Goeglein paints a picture of a sympathetic president who forgave him, an act that allowed him to have that rarest of political moments, a second act in Washington.
He was exposed on a Friday and promptly resigned, confessing what he had done.
It was a bad place for any employee to be - let alone the liaison to the Christian community.
Monday, he came back to clean out his desk.
The White House chief of staff stopped by and told him, "The boss wants to see you."
A few days later, Goeglein found himself in front of the president.
Goeglein writes he tried to apologize but was cut off.
"Tim, I want you to know I forgive you," Goeglein recounts the president told him. He tried again to apologize and again was cut off by President Bush.
"I have known mercy and grace in my own life, and I am offering it to you now. You are forgiven."
The president then asked him to join him in front of the fireplace in a chair normally used by the vice president or heads of state for photo opportunities. The two chatted about the past eight years working together, and they prayed, Goeglein writes.
Goeglein said the president invited him back to the White House numerous times after that meeting, including with his family the week after the act of forgiveness, validating Goeglein in front of his wife and children. He also attended the president's farewell at Andrews Air Force Base in 2009.
Had he kept his nose clean, Tim Goeglein would have likely gone unnoticed by history.
But is it precisely because of his sin that his words are given weight.
He says he saw a side of Bush that he says bears recording, one of compassion rooted in faith. That intersection of faith and public life stirred him to reopen a personal and public wound. He wanted to show, "How does the man live his faith?"
"I experienced as a result of George W. Bush's grace and mercy, at a very personal level, a very important chapter of forgiveness in my own life and the ability to start again," he said.
Goeglein says Bush's legacy is being looked at anew, a fact which played into his decision to write the book.
When Bush left office he was deeply unpopular. The country was mired in a down economy and two wars.
"I wanted to show, not just how his faith impacted the domestic and foreign and security policies, which I do, but I also wanted to show in real human terms how his faith impacted his relationships," Goeglein said.
From his desk in the second floor of a bright town house at Focus on the Family in Washington, Goeglein can look across the street to the Supreme Court. His walls are covered with artifacts from a career inside the beltway: photos of him with Bush, a Richard Nixon autograph, an Inauguration ticket stub, reproductions of the founding documents.
In his new capacity he has worked with President Barack Obama on his fatherhood initiative, a program that has crossed party lines.
As far as Goeglein is concerned, none of this would be possible were it not for a single act of forgiveness.
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About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.