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Emails: Jeb Bush got advice from John Roberts and John Yoo about "historic" 2000 recount

George HW Bush, George W Bush, and Jeb Bush watch the Election 2000 returns.
George HW Bush, George W Bush, and Jeb Bush watch the Election 2000 returns.
Rick Wilking / Hulton Archive / Getty

In November and December 2000, Florida was at the center of a national battle for who would become the next president of the United States. For 36 days, recounts were called, legal battles were waged, and courts issued rulings — ending in the infamous Bush v. Gore US Supreme Court decision that settled the contest.

During the recount period, Jeb Bush was governor of Florida. Hundreds of emails posted online this week by Bush's campaign-in-waiting, at JebEmails.org, reveal what he had to say to correspondents at the time. Bush had given out his email address publicly, urged constituents to email him, and frequently responded with short notes.

The emails aren't particularly revealing of Jeb's innermost thoughts — after all, he knew all along that they'd become public eventually because of the state's disclosure laws.

And there could be some other things they don't reveal. As Lisa Getter of the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2001, the Florida governor's office made 95 calls to George W. Bush's presidential campaign and its advisers during the recount battle. 10 of those calls involved a private line mainly used by Jeb, one of those went to a private line in George's gubernatorial office, and another went to George's top political adviser Karl Rove. "I have no clue what these calls were about," Jeb said at the time.

Still, the knowledge that Jeb was typing out these emails personally provides an interesting glimpse into how he was spending his time then — and into what he was willing to say.

"I believe my brother will win if the law is adhered to"

The day after the election, Bush didn't write any emails on the subject. But by the evening of November 9, he had his message straight: he supported the rule of law. "I will do all that I can to make sure that the rule of law prevails," he told an emailer at 8:38 PM. "We are fighting for the rule of law," he wrote another at 8:56 PM. He had publicly recused himself from the process, and wanted to be sure not to show any favoritism.

But the following day, Jeb was somewhat more forthright about what he hoped to happen, telling an emailer, "I believe my brother will win if the law is adhered to."

Jeb Nov 10 recount email

Meeting with John Roberts and John Yoo

While Bush stayed out of the partisan fray publicly, he privately huddled with two top Republican lawyers who would later get hugely important appointments during his brother's presidency. These were John Yoo — who would serve as deputy in the Bush Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, and write the infamous "torture memos" — and John Roberts, who George W. Bush would later name chief justice of the US Supreme Court.

After meeting both men on December 6 (the week before the decisive Supreme Court ruling), Jeb sent each an email thanking them for helpful advice on the "historic situation" taking place:

Jeb Bush Yoo email

Jeb Bush Roberts email

Defending Katherine Harris

Bush frequently defended Secretary of State Katherine Harris to those who complained about her handling of the recount. He wrote on November 13 that she "did the right thing, she followed Florida law," and on November 17 that "I have supported Katherine Harris for making the right decisions." When one emailer criticized him for "not having stood up for your staff, in particular Ms. Harris," Bush set him straight:

Jeb Harris

Pets and manatees

As the recount controversy raged, the more mundane matters of Florida governance still called. In emails, Bush discussed budgeting, appointments, and responded to constituents' requests for help. And sometimes, the governor wanted more information on certain issues. On November 12, he expressed his desire to learn more about "pets in state parks," and wanted "a manatee briefing" — both in response to concerns expressed by emailers.

Jeb pets manatees

Bush was upset about jokes mocking Florida's handling of the recount

Bush has never particularly been known for his sense of humor. During his first, losing campaign for Florida governor, in 1994, he stopped telling jokes on the trail because they kept falling flat.

On November 22 — the day after a controversial state Supreme Court ruling allowing a recount to proceed — an emailer criticized both parties and wrote to Bush, "I know you really don't care that Florida is now the butt of all the jokes." Bush responded:

Bush jokes

Clean hands

Eventually, the press started digging for dirt about whether Bush was involved in the recount — and they focused on the governor's famous email account.

On November 27, an Associated Press reporter wrote requesting any correspondence Bush may have had with Harris, Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford, and Division of Elections Supervisor Clay Roberts. Bush promptly responded, saying he had nothing to hide:

Jeb email AP

The end of the matter

Finally, after the US Supreme Court's Bush v. Gore ruling came down on December 12, Bush decided to respond to an emailer who had urged him to "show none parasitism leadership" (he seems to have meant to write "nonpartisan"). Bush responded:

Jeb Bush none parasitism

And by three days later, things had gone back to normal:

Jeb Bush real estate email