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Bush aide finds forgiveness and a second career
Tim Goeglein was fired for plagiarism but found forgiveness from the president he wronged.
December 13th, 2011
09:23 AM ET

Bush aide finds forgiveness and a second career

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.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Church and state • Politics

soundoff (422 Responses)
  1. Neutron Grinch

    287 responses to this nothing story...And if you had any brains you would know articles are reprinted from paper to paper, almost verbatim, irregardless of who wrote it. We know the story meant nothing...It's such a common occurrence, CNN will do the very same thing.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  2. Get a Grip

    When are Bush/Cheney going to apologize for letting 9/11 happen? And if they did, would we forgive them?

    December 14, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Tammy

      not just no, but a HELLPHUQQING NO!

      December 14, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  3. Bryant

    After reading Decision Points by George Bush and also meeting him. I feel he did a good job as commander and chief. Nothing prepares you to be President and I applaud him for trying to tackle the tough issues rather than sit back.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Tammy

      How many seconds/minutes/hours/days/months/years did you or have you spent with king george to come to the decision that he did a good job? If there's one thing you want the American ppl to know, that you're for sure that we do not know, about king george that helped you come to the conclusion that he did a good job, mind telling us so that we can be comforted in knowing that he/his minions/and his supporters almost single handedly NEARLY destroyed this nation financially, politically, and credibility?!

      December 14, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  4. Walleye46

    Yet another liar from the Bush era.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  5. Meanwhile, back to the article...

    A deeper point which most people either miss or deliberately avoid– the equating of theology with political ideology in our culture has poisoned both religion and politics. God is neither conservative nor liberal, and people of genuine personal faith and compassion can hold political positions that are diametrically opposite. And people of faith can make decisions that are politically unwise or downright wrong, on either side of the aisle.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  6. Andrew

    He lied and cheated, and now has a good job and book. typical Washington Insider.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Tammy

      Not just typical Washington insider, but also typical "king" george logic, reasoning, mentality and morals.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  7. Mr. T. Bag

    How nice, the Christian Taliban showing mercy to their comrades... (eye-roll)

    December 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  8. Alex Hankewicz

    President Bush may have made errors given the luxuryof hindsight in judgment but is star continues to shine bright in many areas.When the US and the world needed comfort and reassurance in the aftermath of 9-11.When he stood on that rubble in ground zero and lifted our spirits to let those that did those deeds that "they would soon hear from all of us" he gained my respect and admiration as a Canadian. This is a man who understands the human condition with all it's hubris and frailities.Sometimes a hand up is better then a clenched fist.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Intelligence

      Clearly, you did not pay much attention during those years.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  9. Jolene

    W, right out of The Wizard of Oz, has a heart ... but no brain.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  10. Bob

    "I have known mercy and grace in my own life, and I am offering it to you know. You are forgiven."

    offering it to "you know" – sounds like good ol dubya

    December 14, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  11. Chris

    Oh, give me a break people! I didn't like the policies and politics of Bush, but he seems to have a heart and forgave a young man whose career would have been ruined otherwise. I applaud Bush for this simple act of kindness.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Max Powers

      His career should have been ruined! If you do the same thing he did in college, you get expelled!

      December 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  12. Thechosenone

    I wonder how many non whites did this rascist Texan show mercy to?

    December 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • dave

      Start with Powell and Rice.....

      December 14, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Serita

      The vehemently and rabid anti-gay Focus on the Family gets a fireside chat normally reserved for heads of state. This simple little chat epitomized the entire 8 years of this small minded and bigoted president.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Richard

      Some people can't see the value of mercy and love expressed by others, because of the acrid mist of vitriol eminating from their own life. We clearly see some of this here.

      Sad.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  13. wonderwall

    I'm not sure why Tim believes that GWB was an instrument in God's hand during 9/11. Our reactionary version of justice and invasion is not very Christ-like at all. How easy it is for GWB to forgive someone in his own camp, who already believes that God put into place a president like Bush. It's much easier to forgive a friend than an enemy.

    December 14, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • scott

      not always

      December 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  14. ProperVillain

    Yeah, and he was still a horrible president whose policies allowed Wall Street to fail, penalty free, and swindle the American public out of billions (if not trillions) of dollars.
    What a guy....

    December 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • scott

      not quite

      December 14, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • dave

      Either you don't do a lot of REAL research (not just reading headlines) or your nose is growing......

      December 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Richp

      Ah, am msnbc bigot. Get you talking points from Rachel did ya..

      December 14, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  15. bones1918

    President Bush may not have been the most skillful tactician, captivating orator or wonkiest president we've ever had, but he sure was and remains a man of honor.

    December 14, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Not Now John

      Bush's honor and $1 might have bought you a cup of coffee.

      December 14, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • wonderwall

      Considering the company that he kept I would say the opposite. Rumsfeld just wanted war just for the sake of it.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • citizenmn

      Apparently your definition of honor includes stealing an election and lying the country into war. Now I can see why the right is so mixed up.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • scott

      very true

      December 14, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • bones1918

      @ wonderwall and not now john
      Should we compare his honor to the other two most recent presidents who used their position of power to boink a fat intern half his age? or the one who spent more money we didn't have than the previous 7 presidents combined and started a unilateral war with no approval from congress. Wonderwall.. dont forget Bush went to war with a 99-1 vote in the senate in favor of his action and a 90% public approval rating. The current president didn't bother getting congressional authorization for his "kinetic action" and merely succeeded in destabalizing the middle east.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • dave

      I agree, but you've opened a can of worms, because most responders have no honor.....

      December 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Not Now John

      @bones1918
      That's not to say Bush was without honor, rather that his honor didn't take us very far, or mitigate his shortcomings. I could live with Clinton's failings, but Bush's failings cost us dearly: two wars, thousands of lives, and financial crises that will continue for years to come.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  16. Somewhat Amused

    Bush throws a better spiral than Tebow.

    December 14, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Richard

      Yea, and he throws a much better baseball pitch than obama. Obama throws like a girl.

      Not that such really matters. But a lot of other stuff does matter– and again, obama comes up wanting.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  17. Somewhat Amused

    It's been a while since I've visited CNN's religion blog. I enjoy it bc it's where you can readily find the most hypocritical "pious" people on the internet. Thanks for confirming this yet again.

    December 14, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • dave

      You haven't won the "Most Disgusting Individual" prize yet, but you are in the running.....

      December 14, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  18. Befuddled

    Uhhhhhh.....what?

    December 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  19. roland

    This is the dumbest article of all time. Who cares if you are a plagiarizer. Why was Bush betrayed. I don't think anyone would assign Bush the blame with something you plagiarized. I hope you read this and understand just how dumb you are and continue to be. This isn't college.

    December 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Richard

      Ok. roll with roland..... woo-hoo!

      dumb!

      December 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  20. Jack

    Nice story and I'm glad W gave him a second chance. However, I don't like how he just cuts Tim off when he tries to apologize and says he forgives him and doesn't let him say anything. The way W did it sounds arrogant even though he was being nice. Tim felt the need to apologize to W.

    December 14, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Tammy

      further proof that king george believes(d) himself to be almost God like. 😉

      December 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.