W.’s Sister-in-Law Schleps Tell-All About First Family

Sharon Bush, the estranged wife of President George W. Bush’s younger brother Neil, is planning to write a tell-all book about her two decades with the Bush family, The Observer has learned.

Ms. Bush, who lives in Texas, recently visited Manhattan to discuss her idea for the book with several publishing executives. She had a long lunch with biographer Kitty Kelley, who wrote a controversial 1991 portrait of Nancy Reagan and currently is researching her own book on the Bush family.

The two women discussed the possibility of Ms. Bush acting as an important source for Ms. Kelley in addition to writing her own book, Ms. Kelley’s agent, Wayne Kabak, told The Observer . Such a turn of events could provide Ms. Kelley with invaluable inside assistance for her research on the family.

Mrs. Bush is in the middle of a divorce battle with Neil Bush, and the fight has turned nasty on both sides. The Observer has obtained a deposition given by Mr. Bush on March 4, in which he described his marriage as “broken” and “loveless.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Bush’s talk of a book may merely be an effort to ratchet up the pressure on Mr. Bush to give her a more generous settlement than he has offered in the past.

Still, Mrs. Bush insists she has a good story to tell. She had a seat at the kitchen table as the family twice reached the pinnacle of American politics and power. She married Neil Bush in 1980, the year Mr. Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, was elected Vice President. During her 23-year marriage, the elder Mr. Bush and his eldest son, George W. Bush, were both elected President, while another member of the family, Jeb, was elected governor of Florida.

In her book, Ms. Bush wants to detail her disillusionment with the family. According to her associates, she has grown despondent about her treatment at the hands of the Bushes. She said family members have turned their backs on her ever since last year, when she learned that her husband wanted to end their marriage after carrying on an extramarital affair with one of Barbara Bush’s former assistants.

But her disappointment with the family is only one of many subjects she wants to address, those close to her say. In her book, she has told associates, she hopes to show that the family has relentlessly managed its public image to a far greater extent than previously known.

Ms. Bush’s spokesman, Lou Colasuonno, a partner at the public-relations firm of Westhill Partners, confirmed that she wanted to write the book. “This will be the story of Sharon Bush’s life inside one of the most powerful families in America,” Mr. Colasuonno said. “She witnessed the evolution of a dynasty. She believes, and is prepared to reveal in her book, that the Bushes are far more pragmatic and calculating than has ever been seen before. She will show that the family orchestrates its public image from top to bottom. She will reveal that the family is in essence a political operation.”

But one publishing executive expressed skepticism about Ms. Bush’s ability to pull off the project. “I doubt that Sharon Bush would be able to deliver the goods to fill a whole book,” the executive said. “She would be far more useful as a source to another future biographer than she would in her own right.”

Neil and Sharon Bush are the parents of three children: Lauren, the supermodel, and teenagers Pierce and Ashley. Mr. Bush has offered his wife $1,000 a month, as well as some other assets, an offer she rejected in March.

Ms. Bush, who declined to be interviewed, is currently drawing up a book proposal and hasn’t yet signed a deal with a publisher. But her idea has already stirred interest in Manhattan publishing circles. Ms. Kelley, for one, has taken a particularly keen interest in Ms. Bush’s story.

“Kitty had a very long lunch with Sharon, and a great deal of information was put on the table,” said Mr. Kabak, Ms. Kelley’s agent at the William Morris Agency. “They talked about the possibility of Sharon writing her own book, as well as about the possibility of Sharon further cooperating with Kitty’s book in the future.”

At Ms. Kelley’s instigation, Ms. Bush subsequently met with two top executives at William Morris to discuss her project, although the agency hasn’t agreed to sign her.

While it’s not yet clear if Ms. Bush will be able to offer up any explosive revelations, talk of her book plans is likely to give Karl Rove, the President’s chief political adviser, something of a headache. That’s because Neil Bush, the President’s black-sheep brother, has gotten the family in trouble before. He played an infamous role in the catastrophic collapse of the Silverado Banking, Savings and Loan Association in the 1980’s, costing taxpayers more than $1 billion. More recently, his plan for an educational software package for use in Florida’s public schools raised questions about whether he was taking advantage of his brother Jeb’s position as Governor. Now his divorce is threatening to create political complications for the family once again.

Ms. Bush, people close to her point out, has had a front-row view of the family drama for more than two decades. While Neil and Sharon Bush spent many years in Colorado, Ms. Bush has nonetheless been with the family at many gatherings at the White House, in Texas and at their vacation compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. She has witnessed many off-the-cuff conversations on everything from politics to baseball to race relations, her associates say.

In her book, sources said, Ms. Bush hopes to show that Barbara Bush has exercised a good deal more control over the family than previously revealed. She also wants to show that the relationship between the Bush brothers, as well as relations between the President and former President, have been more fraught and complex than previously known, her associates say.

Mr. Colasuonno declined to address details, but said: “This is a woman who has had some wonderful times with the Bushes and knows she’s fortunate to have had a close-up view of two Presidencies. But she has seen the dark side, too. And she intends to provide a view of the family that everyone will want to read.”

Spokesmen for the Bush family and the White House didn’t return calls. Richard Flowers Jr., a lawyer for Neil Bush, declined comment.

Written Off

Whatever Ms. Bush’s motive in pursuing plans for a book, she appears to be eager to air her disillusionment with the family. In her view, according to people close to her, the Bush family has more or less written her off, even though she sees herself as the aggrieved party. Ms. Bush likes to portray herself as a loyal and dutiful wife whose husband destroyed their marriage when he indulged in an extramarital affair.

Mr. Bush’s affair with Ms. Andrews isn’t in doubt; the New York Post wrote about the relationship in March. Rather than trying to conceal the affair, Mr. Bush explained, in the deposition reviewed by The Observer , that his marriage and couldn’t be saved by a marriage counselor.

“I threw myself at the mercy of this counseling and have-have reached the conclusion that it is irresolvable, that our marriage has been broken,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s loveless. And there’s nothing left to it. And there hasn’t been for a long, long time. There’s no affection. There’s been very little sexual activity over the past 10 or 12 years …. Sorry if marriages fail. And I’m-I’m sorry ours is one of those.”

Given the fact that the marriage had fallen apart and that her husband had been unfaithful, Ms. Bush had hoped that Barbara and the elder George Bush would lean on Neil to give her a fair settlement. She expected that the Bush clan, with its public emphasis on family values, would surely rally around her after what she saw as two decades of faithful service to the family. According to Ms. Bush’s associates, she pleaded her case with Barbara Bush in several phone calls, asking the family matriarch for help in patching up the marriage and, subsequently, for help in winning a better settlement. But Barbara Bush politely but firmly rejected her pleas, the associates say.

Elizabeth Mitchell, the author of W: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty , a biography of the President published in 2000 and due out in paperback this summer, noted that Sharon Bush would be the first family insider to break the code of loyalty of the Bushes, a notoriously guarded family.

“This is significant, because members of the Bush family are always careful to avoid offering up any kind of personal insights,” Ms. Mitchell said.

Indeed, other biographies of the Bush clan written by family members have tended to portray the Bush family as a goodhearted and wholesome Texas clan that is forever being sniped at by the East Coast liberal media establishment. For instance, this is how Barbara Bush, in her 1994 memoir, described Neil and Sharon’s first meeting during his work on the elder Bush’s Presidential campaign in 1980: “Neil had met and fallen in love with a darling young schoolteacher from New Hampshire, Sharon Smith. He not only won her vote but, thank heavens, her heart, too.”

“The family’s political savvy and psychological complexities are always played down, and Sharon’s book could change that,” Ms. Mitchell said.

Ms. Mitchell added that Sharon Bush’s contribution, while perhaps likely to be short on explosive revelations, would nonetheless enrage the family. “A lot of people have gone up to the Bush family ramparts in search of real dirt and come away with nothing, so it’s hard to believe that Sharon could lead us to true scandal,” she said. “Still, her book would probably be a revelation to many people, and it would certainly displease the Bushes, who value loyalty above everything else.”

In Ms. Mitchell’s view, Ms. Bush’s meeting with Kitty Kelley was of particular interest. “Kitty’s book [on the Bush family] has been a big, hyped thing for several years now, but nobody knows if she has come up with the goods yet. If Sharon Bush and Kitty Kelley end up collaborating, Sharon could end up saving Kitty’s project by becoming her very own Bush family Deep Throat.