One of the biggest political sex scandals of the modern era—one that perhaps helped the elder George Bush become president—may have been a set-up. So writes James Fallows in the Atlantic regarding the fate of Colorado Sen. Gary Hart in 1987. Hart had been a leading contender for the Democratic nomination that year when an infamous photo emerged of a young model named Donna Rice sitting on Hart's lap on a pier in Bimini. The photo effectively ended Hart's bid for the White House. Now the new twist: Legendary GOP operative Lee Atwater, who served as Bush's campaign manager, reportedly made a deathbed confession in 1991 to Hart consultant Raymond Strother that he orchestrated the photo and resulting scandal. “I thought there was something fishy about the whole thing from the very beginning,” Strother tells Fallows.
“Lee told me that he had set up the whole Monkey Business deal," he adds, referring to the name of the boat on which Hart had sailed to the Bahamas. ‘I did it!’ he told me. ‘I fixed Hart.’" Strother says he kept this information mostly to himself over the years but decided to go public because of a cancer diagnosis. Atwater reportedly arranged for a donor to invite Hart on a cruise, concocted a boat switch to that of the aptly named Monkey Business, made sure young women were on board, created a snafu that required the boat to stay overnight, then orchestrated the photo as they waited out the delay. "It was clearly staged, but it was used after the fact to prove that some intimacy existed," Hart himself tells Fallows. More details on the alleged scheme are in the full story. (This woman says she's the Miami Herald tipster who triggered a damning Hart investigation.)