December 31, 1990 12:00 PM

Maybe this Bush wasn’t born with a silver foot in his mouth, but when the savings-and-loan scandal threatened to explode in his face, the President’s third son made up for lost time. Against the advice of friends, associates and, reportedly, some members of the First Family, Bush, 35, launched an aggressive campaign proclaiming his innocence of charges that he violated conflict-of-interest regulations while serving on the board of Denver’s failed Silverado Banking, Savings and Loan Association.

The result was a public relations fiasco. By giving so many interviews—in which he often sounded arrogant or flip—Bush succeeded only in focusing closer attention on his questionable ties with Colorado real estate developers, whose bad debts were a major reason for the $1 billion Silverado collapse. Moreover, Bush has found himself portrayed, fairly or not, as a living embodiment of the thrift crisis, which will cost U.S. taxpayers a minimum of $500 billion over the next 40 years.

In September the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation slapped Bush and 10 other former Silverado officials with a $200 million civil suit alleging “gross negligence” during their stewardship. Bush has no liability insurance and would be forced to pay any judgment out of his own pocket, so the coming year will likely be no less agonizing than the one past, especially given the uncertain prospects of his new oil-exploration business. “Poor Neil, he’s got dark days ahead of him,” says one close friend. When the FDIC suit, which is still in its early stages, gets underway, continues the pal, “things are bound to come out that haven’t so far, and somebody is going to sound like a sleazebag. Being on trial before the American people will be worse than anything that has happened so far.”

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