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Saturday, October 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
3 computers stolen from Bush's Bellevue campaign office
BELLEVUE Three computers loaded with confidential campaign plans were reported stolen early yesterday in a burglary at President Bush's Washington state campaign headquarters.
Someone threw a rock through a window of the campaign's office in a suburban business park, taking laptops belonging to key campaign workers from the desk of the Bush campaign's state director, Bellevue police and Republican Party officials said.
The Bush campaign and local Republican officials say they're convinced the break-in was politically motivated. They say it appeared to be a targeted burglary and was suspiciously similar to a break-in four years ago at Bush's Bellevue offices.
"Whoever did this was clearly looking for a body of information," said local Bush campaign spokeswoman Leah Yoon.
Police said their investigation was still in the early stages. But so far, said department spokeswoman Jessamyn Poling, "there's no indication that it was politically motivated."
State Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance called it a "Watergate-style break in," and said he suspects Democrats are behind it.
"If you're just some burglar looking for computers to sell to buy drugs, you take every laptop in the office, maybe," Vance said. "But they knew exactly whose computers to get."
He said Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt should issue a public call for the computers' return.
Berendt laughed off Vance's suspicions.
"I think Chris should double-check with the national Bush-Cheney campaign and the Republican National Committee to make sure they didn't move their computers out of the state in the middle of the night to ... one of those states where they're fighting a little more vigorously."
Seaton said data on the computers were backed up and available elsewhere. But, he said, the loss creates a potential security breach.
"Obviously there's some stuff there we wouldn't want our opposition getting their hands on," Seaton said.
The campaign has spoken about the importance of its voter-identification and get-out-the-vote program, known as its 72-hour plan for the final three-day push to Election Day.
Bush campaign officials say it could make the difference in a close election if Republicans are able to make sure their voters get to a polling place on Election Day and don't sit home as many did four years ago.
The break-in happened sometime between 2 and 8 a.m., said Bellevue police spokeswoman Poling. A side window of the office on 112th Avenue Northeast was smashed.
"They may have intended on stealing one or two items or they may have intended on stealing everything in there and they were scared away before they could finish the job," Poling said.
She said police had no other reports of commercial-building burglaries last night, though she said break-ins are not uncommon in the downtown business area.
Four years ago, two pieces of office equipment were taken from Bush headquarters in the 700 block of 112th Avenue Northeast, a couple of blocks away from the campaign's current office, Poling said. No suspects were found. Vance said the computer of that year's campaign director was stolen.
This year's headquarters is a small, ground-level office in the Bellewood Office Park, a collection of several buildings on a leafy stretch of 112th Avenue.
Part of Bush headquarters sits along the street, and the broken window could be seen clearly from the sidewalk about 70 feet away.
The only identification is a small, gold-colored sign on an outer door that reads "Bush-Cheney" in plain letters. The low-profile location helps the campaign focus on its work without worrying about protesters or hecklers, Yoon said.
Vance said the break-in follows reports of vandalized Bush campaign signs and what he said were telephone calls to voters alleging Bush would reinstate a military draft if re-elected.
"To me there is some scary stuff going on from liberal radicals whose Bush hatred is out of control," Vance said.
Vance conceded he has no evidence of Democratic involvement in the break-in except the suspicious circumstances.
"I'm saying anything is possible," he said. "It could be something that is sanctioned by the Kerry campaign or some overzealous supporters acting on their own."
The Kerry campaign did not have a comment on Vance's comments.
Local Kerry spokesman JB Tengco said he felt bad about the burglary. "It's a sad fact for any group that has to go through that, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone," he said.
David Postman: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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