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. John


    December 14, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • .....

      TRASH ALERT – don't bother viewing this garbage, click the report abuse link to get rid of the pathetic TROLL!

      December 14, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  2. Me

    CNN is disgusting with this BS faith column. Delusional murderer forgiving delusional thieves. This column is disgusting. Focus on the Family is a joke.

    December 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  3. Pips

    I like how he asked Bush for forgiveness, and not the actual people he stole from. Way to have priorities. Bush had nothing to do with his actions, nor is he capable of giving forgiveness for what he stole.

    December 14, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  4. Byrd

    Forgiveness at the hand of the Burning Bush isn't really forgiveness at all, as Bush himself will no doubt discover one of these days. Forgiveness isn't his to give. That belongs to someone else whom he fears more than anything in this or any other world. As well he should. And his brothers, mother and father will be falling with him when the pearly trapdoor swings.

    December 14, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  5. NorcalDM

    This column made me vomit. What a pointless column, this is not news worthy and doesn't deserve the space it was written in.

    December 14, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  6. Steve From NH

    Plagiarism? That's the best you can do? That's like making a big deal out of Hitler getting a parking ticket! Bush and Cheney are responsible, among other things, of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people so that the US can have cheaper oil. Which, by the way, ain't workin' out so hot.....

    December 14, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  7. Duke One

    President Bush has and always will be a class act in my book !!

    December 14, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      G8 Summit – 2008 – Ja.pan
      Grinning maniacally, Bush pumps his fist into the air after saying "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter!"
      Yep – nothing but class from that man.

      December 14, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Byrd

      Best get a new box of crayons.

      December 14, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Me

      You probably hate blacks, love dead young boys who you moronically think died for your "freedom'. You are the target audience for country music and you probably believe you'll meet a white Jesus someday.

      December 14, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Mitch

      I doubt seriously you have ever read a book.

      December 14, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  8. russ139

    A little over dramatic, don't ya think? What he did id not a "sin", except perhaps in the world of Christian rhetoric. It was a weakness, a lapse of judgment... but not a sin. That Bush would "forgive" him is equally over-the-top dramatic (President forgives lowly aide).

    A more adult conversation would have been, "hey, you messed up. But, you're a good guy, and we like your work. We'd like you to stay on in the job."

    December 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • HellBent

      How, in your world, is plagarism not a sin? I thought the bible said something about thou shalt not steal.

      December 14, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  9. Robin Bray

    Has Bush held the person responsible (Cheney) for releasing the name of our CIA agent. He promised that the full extent of the law would fall on that person's (Cheney's) head.

    December 14, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  10. Jilli

    But hey, morals or principles aren't really required, he's working for Focus on the Family.

    December 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  11. Kevin

    I think many herein are missing the teachings of his writings; that we are to forgive, or as Jesus said; "turn the other cheek!"

    Who here hasn't done something that warranted forgiveness whether you were caught or not? And that's just the point! To forgive helps someone get rid of guilt and lead a happier and more constructive life. To hold something in is stressful, and to think someone may be upset with you is equally stressful.

    It just makes sense and is perhaps the wisdom of gwb that gets lost in all other matters surrounding him!

    December 14, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  12. Knucklehead

    Betcha he's gay, too. Nothing wrong with that, just saying...

    December 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  13. JN

    I did not vote for W. Bush, would not vote for W. Bush and believe without question he is the worst president of modern times. However, I have never thought his horrendous decisions were due to his being a bad person. I'll give that to his VP, Cheney. W. Bush was inept as a president and totally unqualified, but not a bad person. Unfortunately, being a good person doesn't necessarily make one a good president. I've always faulted the voters for putting him in office.

    December 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • Mike

      So exactly what criteria are you using as the standard that he is a good person? His faith? His forgiveness to this fellow believer? It obviously isn't his performance as president as you already stated.

      This is yet another example of the hypocrisy of the faithful. This guy earns a living off of telling others how to live and all the while he was just a lying, cheating hypocrite. When will people come to realize that faith is not a virtue rather it is a badge of ignorance proudly worn by those who believe in a myth.

      December 14, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  14. wade

    Have any of you people ever read George W Bush's book? Whether or not you believe he was a good president, there is no question he is a good man.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Not Now John

      When we go to elect another president should we look for another good man or ask for competence as well?

      December 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Knucklehead

      He brought torture into American foreign policy. He outted a spy. He lied about WMD. And you call him good? Because he wrote a book telling you so?

      December 14, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • HellBent

      If you think that lying to start a war makes you a good man, then I'd hate to see who you think is a bad man. And if you take the book at face value, then I have some ocean front property in Utah that you might be interested in.

      December 14, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Robyn Harris

      Mr. Bush is a creature of profound evil.
      I believe 104,080 murdered Iraqi civilians would agree if they could.

      December 14, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • russ139

      Bush is a good man, but also, and ordinary man. He married a good woman (and she, him), and together they raised two apparently wonderful daughters. As President, he did the best he could. That was the problem. He did the best he could.

      December 14, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Chris

      uhh debatable. You do realize that people write these books for the exact purpose of conning people into believing tripe like that, right?

      December 14, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Jason

      @ Not Now john
      Considering that right now we have neither a competent nor a good man as president; I'll take whatever we can get.

      December 14, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Mitch

      You have got to be kidding, there has never been nor is there anything good about that man.

      December 14, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  15. Guy Choate

    This is a nice article. Take it for what it is. There is typo in the second Bush quote that needs to be cleaned up.
    know should be now.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  16. SoFunny

    What? working for Obama, their just might be hope

    December 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • tonsilectomy

      He looks very gay..

      December 14, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  17. Max Powers

    Of course he was forgiven. Stealing and lying are actually virtues to the right wing.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • JayG

      @ Max Powers - Because, clearly, you've led a virtuous life w/o blemish.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • One Day

      Hahaha, where is the "like" button?

      December 14, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • BobbaFett

      And I suppose you're a perfect model of forgiveness, you disgusting pustule of vomitous mass.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Knucklehead

      Without blemish? This wasn't a mistake. Plagiarism is a conscious act. And he did it more than once. And he claims to be a Christian. This guy should be sacking groceries.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  18. KAS

    Just another example of how one can be rewarded for being a complete and utter failure. This guy knew what he was doing was wrong, and did it anyway. Instead of being punished, as you or I would, and how several prominent journalists who either made up stories or plagiarized stories were sacked, this guy gets rewarded for his failure.

    When you add in people like Carly Fiorina, Carol Bartz, Leo Apotheker, Lloyd Blankfein, and a whole host of others, it shows why this country is screwed up. Failure is now rewarded, honesty penalized. This quote from Barney Stinson, on the Possimpible episode, rings true:

    That's what corporate America wants: people who seem like bold risk takers, but never actually do anything. Actually doing something will get your fired.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Roger in Florida

      Leo is a german.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  19. Tony

    Alex Hankewicz...PLEASE Go back to Canada, you dont have a clue of what you are talking about. GW BUsh is & always will be the biggest criminal in American politics. Please go home now !!!!!!!!!!!

    December 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • ... --- ...

      Kinda like Manson thought the judge was a criminal for putting him in the slammer?

      December 14, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  20. Anomic Office Drone

    If faith makes you a better person explain the Bush administration.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:34 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.