Washington — The FBI has opened a full-blown investigation into how a tightly held Bush debate practice tape was mailed to a Gore adviser, a federal official said Saturday, quickening the pace of what had until now been a preliminary inquiry.
However, the Justice Department's Public Integrity Unit has yet to conclude whether the mysterious mailing broke any federal laws, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The FBI's scrutiny to date has focused largely on a low-level employee of GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush's media consultant.
But The Associated Press reported Saturday that the FBI has expanded its questioning to determine whether anyone with greater authority in the Bush camp was involved.
The FBI and Justice Department declined to comment on the AP report, which quoted an unnamed federal law enforcement official as saying three possible violations are under consideration: false statements to FBI agents; mail fraud; and theft from a federally funded activity, in this case the campaign.
The Bush campaign reacted angrily to the report that the FBI may be expanding the scope of its inquiry. And a Bush spokesman, Dan Bartlett, decried media leaks that he said are impeding the FBI investigation.
"It's a ridiculous charge to think that senior campaign officials, who are longtime loyal supporters of Governor Bush, would be involved in any way, shape or form," Bartlett said Saturday.
The FBI questioned the Bush campaign's chief strategist, Karl Rove, for about 30 minutes Saturday at the campaign headquarters in Austin, Bartlett said. Rove was contacted Saturday morning by the FBI and asked for an interview.
He left the governor's ranch in Crawford, where he was participating in debate preparation, to return to Austin for what Bartlett described as "routine" questioning by one FBI agent.
Speaking to reporters at his ranch, the governor, too, was convinced no one from his campaign was involved.
"I'm confident that nobody who supports my candidacy would have mailed the tape," Bush said Saturday. "I look forward to finding out who it is."