By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Jim Oberwetter was in the midst of a difficult campaign in Texas for George Bush. Now that Ross Perot had withdrawn from the race, it would be easier for Bush to carry his home state against Clinton. On Thursday, August 6, Scott Barnes was one of the last people on his mind. He had not heard from him since the two conversations in April.
Around 3:30 p.m., a man identifying himself as Howard Parsons appeared at the reception desk on Oberwetter's floor at Hunt Oil in downtown Dallas. He said he was from the Bush national campaign headquarters and did not have an appointment. Oberwetter checked his calendar, saw he was not expecting a visitor, and then tried for the next half-hour to reach someone in Washington who knew the unexpected Mr. Parsons. He did not reach anyone who could answer his question. Soon, the receptionist again called Oberwetter. "He's acting awfully nervous. Would you kindly come and get him?" Oberwetter went to meet his visitor, not knowing that "Howard Parsons" was actually Scott Barnes.
"I have some very important political information for you," Barnes said.
"OK, I will bite," answered Oberwetter. "What is it?"
But Barnes would not tell him in the reception area, suggesting they go elsewhere. When Oberwetter started to walk toward his office, Barnes said he would also feel uncomfortable speaking there and instead wanted to go outside. Oberwetter hesitated, but then agreed.
Outside the skyscraper, there is a landscaped garden with a reflecting pool, running water, and several benches. They sat on the bench closest to the building. Oberwetter was so nervous that when he saw a woman fiddling with a pack of cigarettes, he wondered if the pack hid a tiny camera. "I then thought this might be a setup," recalls Oberwetter, "but I didn't know for what."
Taylor's crew filmed the entire meeting. (The FBI later unsuccessfully tried to have someone read the lips of Barnes and Oberwetter from the video.) An FBI agent parked in a car half a block away took still photographs of the meeting with a 300mm telephoto lens.
Barnes told Oberwetter that he had brought wiretap recordings of Ross Perot discussing his upcoming testimony before the Senate Select Committee on POWs/MIAs and that it was explosive. Although the offer sounded vaguely familiar, Oberwetter did not immediately connect it to his April conversations with Barnes. "I am not interested in anything you have," said Oberwetter. "Perot is out of the race."
"Well, he might get back in."
"He's going to do whatever he does whether I take what you've got or not. I don't want what you have."
"But you don't know how good it is unless you hear it," urged Barnes.
After 18 minutes of fending off Barnes' solicitations, Oberwetter had had enough. He stood up, and the two of them shook hands.
Barnes asked Oberwetter a final question. "Is there anyone I can give this information to?"
"Yes. Give it to the editors at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. They don't like Mr. Perot there. Mr. Perot has a picture of one of their reporters in a compromising position with someone from City Hall, and they have written about that. So take it to them."
With no one to challenge his version of events, Barnes told the FBI that Oberwetter did not want to buy the Perot tapes before first consulting directly with President Bush.
When Perot learned of the meeting between Oberwetter and Barnes, he saw it as further evidence that the Republicans were involved in dirty tricks against him. He called Buck Revell to find out what the FBI intended to do next. At FBI headquarters in Washington, urgent meetings were convened between senior FBI and Justice Department officials. The unanimous conclusion was that while Barnes' credibility was "questionable," the fact that Oberwetter met with Barnes, coupled with Taylor's "corroboration," provided enough justification to proceed further.
In the Dallas office, there was no hesitation whatsoever. "Everyone thought it was the next Watergate, and were all caught up in it," says an FBI official close to the case. Perot was informed of all the developments that night.
On Friday evening, August 7, George Allen called Barnes, who had returned home to Arizona, and asked him if he had spoken further with Oberwetter. Barnes surprised Allen by saying that he no longer wanted to be involved, and provided no explanation.
While the bureau's official position is that Perot did not know about, or influence, its next move, he did show an inordinate interest in the investigation. Perot called on Saturday, says a senior FBI source in the Dallas office, and was patched through to Buck Revell's house by the weekend duty agent. Later, he spoke to Stephen Largent, the supervisor of the Public Corruption Squad, as well as case agents John Kubinsky and Henry Garcia. Kubinsky got so tired of Perot's calls that he stopped returning them.
Revell and the FBI leadership in Washington had given a go-ahead to the undercover agent, George Allen, to make a final attempt at ensnaring Oberwetter. That same day, Allen proceeded to Oberwetter's office. Disguised as a cowboy and wearing a 10-gallon hat and flashy ostrich boots, he used the name Bob Watson. Shortly after 5 p.m., Kim, Oberwetter's receptionist, called him and said, "Jim, there is another one out here. No appointment, but he is insistent to see you."