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. GIUK

    Wow, GWB forgave him for the sin of plagiarism? Considering the conduct of GWB, and his gang while in office, that’s like Satan forgiving a sinner for f-rting in the elevator to H-ll.

    December 14, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  2. Reasonably

    Lying in the name of your cult to be forgiven by a fellow cult member. Who, in turn, lied to the people he was leading and re-started a war his father began and failed at. That's a darn cool cult! Forgiveness all around!

    December 14, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  3. The Watcher

    What a load of crap. I, for one, haven't forgiven GWB for letting the World Trade Center and Pentagon be attacked without ONE SHOT fired in our defense. I can't forgive his arrogance and ignorance that manifested in the attack of Iraq. I haven't forgiven him for destroying our economic system. I haven't forgiven him for the collusion with the energy barons. I haven't forgiven him for being as stupid as he is. I am NOT writing a book but would enjoy buying one that described the trial and sentence of GWB, Dick Cheney, and Rumsfeld for crimes against humanity.

    December 14, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  4. TheBiz

    Plagiarise. Embarass the President. Resign. Get publicity. Write book. Make Money. I <3 the USA!

    December 14, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Joan

      Amen to that

      December 14, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  5. Joshua Ludd

    So, just another conservative christian liar and cheat protected and "forgiven" by other conservative christian cheats and liars. Meanwhile, look at what they say about and how they treat people who make mistakes but aren't in their inner circle.

    December 14, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • palintwit

      The only thing an evangelical loves more than the baby jesus is boinking his sister right after church every Sunday.

      December 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  6. Ellen Thompson

    Bush's legacy is definitely being looked at anew. How could it not, after now being compared to our current president, one of the worst leaders in this country's history.

    December 14, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • palintwit

      Most assinine comment I've seen all day.

      December 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Dunlar

      Did suffer a blow to the head? Remind me, what did Bush do for us?

      December 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • 5thWard

      What did Busd do for us? Leave us in a hole!!

      December 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Joshua Ludd

      Oh, you mean the guy who actually killed Bin Laden, provided health insurance for millions, ended the war in Iraq, ended DADT, and helped topple Libya's dictator without a full invasion? What do you want to blame him for? More government, like the record increase in government under Bush? The bailouts that started under Bush? The economic meltdown that happened under Bush's administration and because of Republican deregulation and unwillingness to regulate banks? Bush was an unmitigated failure. Republicans today aren't proposing policies far removed from his. Get over it.

      December 14, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Snow

      Well Joshua, Obama may have done all those things.. but did he support Evangelical Christians on their move to make this a theoretic country? NO! and that is why he is such a bad leader.. Isn't it, people of America? *wink *wink..

      December 14, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  7. Ivan

    The comments are the most entertaining of this entire story.

    December 14, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  8. TooClose2DC

    Bush was a good 'ol boy and truly believed in his faith in the most stressful job in the world. That is more than most Christians or other participants in other religions can say. He shone brightest when the country was in its darkest hour. That does not say that all of his actions as President were noble. No President can claim that. However, as a person, most presidents are personable, likable, and able to lead in some way. Not all Republicans are like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and not all Democrats are like Pelosi and Feinstein. This is in the faith section of CNN and what President Bush did certainly qualifies for this article.

    December 14, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Joshua Ludd

      Really? This is the man who mocked Carla Faye Tucker before she was executed while he was governor of Texas and who then commuted the death sentence of a convicted (male) serial murderer a month later never once saying he had doubts about the man's guilt.

      December 14, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  9. John

    "You are forgiven!" Who talks like that? Some hillbilly preacher in Alabama? A Third Grade teacher talking to a contrite pupil? Or a deluded megalomaniac president who soon figured out that he was way out of his league sitting in the Oval Office calling the shots?

    December 14, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Don

      John – you are an embarassment to anyone who realizes they need forgivness and that kindness and caring go a lot futher than your kind of bias and anger!

      December 14, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Don

      You must be a very sad and lonely person.

      December 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  10. Steve

    And now he wants to sell you a book, and he works for Focus on the Family?

    F- him. F- this article too. This isn't an opinion piece. This is an advertisement.

    December 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • palintwit

      Teabaggers have long ago figured out that they could keep their trailers out of the mud by propping them up with books. I suspect they'll do that with his book as well.

      December 14, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • palintwit

      Wimpy little evangelical. He better take care not to bend over when he goes to the nascar track.

      December 14, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  11. omsalvat

    Wow all these comments full of hate... The article is about forgiveness... The question is: Can you forgive? If you can than do it and stop all the "smart" comments.

    December 14, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  12. Justin Botwin

    I just had no idea [sniff....sniff] that Bush Junior was so [sniff....sniff] kind and merciful [sniff....sniff].
    Sniffing that which stinks, as in this article.

    December 14, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  13. Dick

    What is the reason for this article? Is it to dredge up hatred to Bush to help the Democrats? Who is this guy? Has he no loyalty to his ex boss? Is this a self serving article for press coverage? I wouldn't trust him with my dog let alone a responsible job!

    December 14, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • tstorm

      Please. The Republicans are in enough trouble this election cycle on their own. They don't need this stupid story to hurt their re-election chances further!

      December 14, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  14. Andy

    Ah, okay. Plagiarize a column, resign. Start wars and run up the deficit, give speeches for hundreds of thousands.

    December 14, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  15. FoolmetwicecantgetfooledagainHuhHuhHuh

    He was forgiven because on the long list of things that came from the GW Bush White House ,stealing the written words of others and calling it your own paled in comparison to what most of the rest of those utterly worthless piles of excrement were doing in that administration.

    December 14, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  16. Taylor

    Of course Bush would forgive this little worm. What's a little lie? Bush lied and got us into a war that has killed thousands of americans and put our country into bankruptcy. As for Tim Geoglein, it looks like he wrote this article himself as a way to push his agenda with the hate group "Focus on the Family". For those unfamiliar with Focus, it does nothing to help actual famalies. It's just a faith based hate group.

    December 14, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • 5thWard

      Well said John, they don't compare.

      December 14, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  17. Mitch

    Wow, another closeted gay guy who plaigiarizes articles in the name of Christianity, he needs forgiveness...

    December 14, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  18. Ron

    I agree with JN....... Bush was not a bad person, he was ignorant. He was under qualified by far to be president.
    He reminds me of all the republican presidential candidates running today. Bar none.

    December 14, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • catmonkey

      LOL!! And what we have now couldn't manage his way out of a paper sack!! Please stop posting... You make yourself look stupid just trying to defend stupid...

      December 14, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • John

      Ron, excusing Bush as "under-qualified" to be present is about the nicest way you can see what Bush did to us and the thousands of soldiers killed in Iraq for, essentially, a lie. And, Catmonkey, to compare the crimes of the Bush administration to the simple inability of the Obama administration to adequately clean up the mess left by the Bush administration is ridiculous. But, you know that, don't you?

      December 14, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • AmericanSam

      Yeah I agree. I don't think Bush was evil. I think Bush was surrounded by a lot of corrupt people and he ended up getting used.

      December 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Reagan proved that you don't even need to be lucid to be president.
      Funny how in retrospect, his assertion that he couldn't remember any of teh details of Iran Contra was actually true given that he was fast entering senility.

      Now Dick Cheney – that is the face of evil profiteering.
      Who else could shoot a man in the face and have his victim apologize for getting in the way.

      December 14, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  19. Carrie

    Too bad the thousands of dead and wounded in Iraq will never get a second chance. Focus on the Family is a joke in itself. The pinnacle of hypocrisy, an organization which loves to judge others so harshly, employs a thief. Knowing what the world knows about the murderess Bush Family, father and son, only a thief would take pride in attempts to elevate another thief. One must ask whom the writer of the article considers worthy of the pen?

    December 14, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  20. Starved for fame!

    I to had an enlightening moment in the White House. Dick Cheney and I were set to eat a cheery pie. I took the bigger piece. Je$us, forgive me! He didn't, but Dick did. Then he shot me in the face. Do I get a full column now or do I have to plagiarize also? If need be I can work Obama and JFK into it!

    December 14, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • same here

      Amazing I had a similar thing happen to me.. I had written President Lincoln telling him about a plot I was involved with to have him assassinated... I felt bad and he said I should come over and chat with him in front of the fireplace after the play. Just can't believe I forgot my friend John was in the play.

      December 14, 2011 at 3:04 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.