Q & A: Timothy Goeglein on Redemption After Plagiarism
The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era
Goeglein, Timothy S.
September 15, 2011
272 pp., $15.53
A plagiarism scandal forced Timothy Goeglein to resign in 2008 from former President George W. Bush's administration. The special assistant to President Bush and public liaison deputy director often engaged with evangelicals before he admitted to copying work for several of his columns for a newspaper in Indiana. He previously worked for Indiana Senator Dan Coats and once served as a spokesman for Gary Bauer, who ran for President in 2000. The now vice president for external relations at Focus on the Family spoke to Christianity Today about what led to the plagiarism, how the President responded, and what grace and redemption mean in a political context.
What happened after a reporter revealed that you had plagiarized?
When you embarrass the President, a divorce takes place. You become persona non grata immediately. Through my own fault, no pressure, no stress, no extenuating circumstances, because of what I did and the choices I made, I inflicted shame and embarrassment on the man who has given me the greatest professional opportunity of my life. I inflicted shame and embarrassment on my wife, my children, my 20 years of interns—I was a total hypocrite—and I resigned.
How did President Bush react?
I resigned, no excuses, on a Friday. On a Monday I came in to take the pictures off my wall and clear off my desk, and I received a call from the chief of staff, Josh Bolton. He asked me how my wife and children were doing and told me he forgave me. He said, "The boss wants to see you." That means the President. When I got there, it was just the President and me, and I apologized. He looked at me and said "Tim, I forgive you." I tried to apologize a second time, and he said, "Grace and mercy is real. I've known it in my life and I'm sending it to you." And I said, "Mr. President, I apologize. Please forgive me." He said, "I'll say it again: Grace and mercy is real. You are forgiven. Now we can talk about all of this, or we can talk about the last eight years." We spent 20 minutes together. We prayed and we embraced. I cried when I was looking around the Oval Office for the last time. And as I prepared to leave he said, "By the way, I want you to bring your wife and sons here so I can tell them what a great husband and father you've been." Sure enough, he invited them to come. He was the leader of the free world, validating me, after I did what I did, before my wife and children.
Was there something that led to the plagiarism?
Yes. Pride and vanity.
Did something lead to pride and vanity, like external pressures?
For some people, pride takes the trajectory of sex or it takes the trajectory of power or it takes the trajectory of money. You take that notion of pride and vanity and you sort of swirl it into a mix to sort of project something you want. I wanted to be the one who was clever, the one who had a way to say it the best. Pride led me to this notion of personal elevation and personal stature. One way to do that is to project that through words, so I would hear something like, "Oh, that was really eloquently put." I knew what I was doing. It was not time pressure or stress or any other extenuating circumstances.
Do you have any concerns about at least the appearance of trying to capitalize on your story?
Absolutely not. In fact, quite the opposite. A friend of mine who worked at Thomas Nelson publishers encouraged me to write the book. I said no for three years. I hate to see that there is a genre of books that is written not by the senior-most people but by people like me. I was not a confidante of the President. I was not the senior-most person. When you are like me, someone who had close access to the President for a lot of things, I think that you see certain things. You make a contribution by sharing what you see. What I came to see was the wonderful character and integrity and the hard work of George W. Bush.