Gary Webb: Did Wellstone Commit Suicide?

A newly published book by author and investigative journalist Gary Webb suggests that Paul Wellstone, the Minnesota Senator killed in a plane crash in 2002, together with his wife, daughter, three staff assistants, and two pilots, was actually at the controls of the plane at the time and crashed it on purpose because he was despondent over ill feelings between him and the Bush family.

In Prodigal Son of a Bitch, set to hit the bookstores next month, Webb suggests that Wellstone’s opposition to Plan Colombia had given rise to bitter words between him and the elder Bush, “a man he looked up to almost as a father.” According to Webb, since the senator took up the cause of Colombian farmers whose crops are being destroyed by US sponsored chemical spraying, the affection went only one way. The former president is on record referring to Wellstone as “this chicken shit.”

The book presents a mountain of evidence that the initial determination of accidental death was based on falsified reports of inclement weather. A similar issue cropped up recently when a plane full of Hondurans which former President Bush was supposed to be on crashed in Texas. Initial reports said that the plane had clipped a light pole on its landing approach, but the pole was miles from the airport, and the plane was obviously in trouble when it struck it.

Bush himself was still suffering too much “heartfelt non-political sadness” to be interviewed for the book, but it does contain numerous interviews with Wellstone and Bush associates who confirm that the late senator was despondent in the weeks before the tragedy. Bush, for his part, issued some strange comments immediately after Wellstone’s crash. He called Wellstone-who was a political science professor for 21 years before he was a senator-a “plain-spoken fellow.” He said he wanted to issue his “condolences,” ostensibly to the Democratic Party, “for the loss of the Senate.”

Mr. Wellstone died 11 days before the election. If he had died 10 days before, the Democratic Party could have left his name on the ballot. He would be a shoe-in as a sympathy vote, then the Democrats could have found someone later to take his seat. Knowing this, Wellstone made sure he took his wife with him so she would not substitute for him on the ballot as did Jean Carnahan for her husband Mel, running against John Ashcroft in Missouri in 2000, Webb speculates.

Webb suggests, in fact, that Wellstone modeled his suicide after that event. Carnahan’s death occurred under almost identical circumstances: right before an election, at the height of a close race in which the victim had started to pull ahead, a popular, well-loved senator – suddenly dead in a plane crash. To the GOP’s shock, the Missouri voters elected Mel anyway, and his wife Jean stepped in and took his place in Congress.

He may also have been thinking of John Kennedy Jr., who died in a 1999 plane crash. In both of those cases, the planes were descending towards their landing when they suddenly wandered off their approach paths and crashed, similar to Wellstone’s craft. In all three cases, radio contact appears to have been cut off while the planes were still in the air. Webb says that there’s more here than just coincidence. He speculates freely that “somewhere down inside, Wellstone hoped that he could somehow please this overwhelming father figure by removing himself from the picture and creating a Republican majority in the Senate in the crucial months leading up to the Iraq invasion.”

When Wellstone first met Bush Jr. in 2001, the latter disrespectfully called him “Pablo.” According to Webb, this gave rise to a misplaced sense of sibling rivalry harbored by the late senator. He presents as evidence the fact that no senator had a more consistent record of voting against Bush administration proposals in 2001. Wellstone voted against the Iraq war resolution, the Homeland Security Act and many of Bush’s judicial nominees. He pushed for stronger environmental programs, for measures to counter corporate fraud, for investigations into Sept. 11, and $350 million that was missing from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The rivalry heated up the following year. Getting rid of Wellstone was a passion for Bush Jr., Karl Rove, and Cheney, but the senator was pulling away from “Jr.’s” hand-picked candidate and foiling his opportunity to seize control of the U.S. Senate. “He was really lashing out at what he perceived as his rival’s invincible position as the real son,” writes Webb, “but the continued contempt he felt from the elder Bush began to drive him to despondency, alcohol, and pain killers.” He even started making wild accusations, referring to “dark actors” and telling the press that Cheney told him, “If you vote against the Iraq war, we’ll get you.”

Contrary to the official claim that the crash had been caused by “freezing rain and snow,” limited visibility, and likely icing of the wings, Webb presents evidence that Wellstone’s wrist had been slit with a pen knife and that he had taken an overdose of coproxamol, a prescription pain killer, and he marshals some impressive authorities to support him. Former coroner Dr. Michael Powers has stated, “I am concerned that the due process has not been followed. There evidently are contradictory views that were never put to the experts who gave evidence. In consequence the rigors that are normally undertaken at a coroner’s inquest simply were not fulfilled.” On the evidence he has studied, Powers believes any inquest would be forced to conclude the death a suicide. Two republican members of the House of Representatives, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stated that they believed that Wellstone had committed suicide. One said, “I don’t think there’s anyone on the Hill who doesn’t suspect it. It’s too convenient, too coincidental, too damned obvious.”

Webb speculates that the Bush administration covered up the suicide out of respect for the dead. He points out that, in an atmosphere of constant terrorist scare campaigns, including Washington DC sniper attacks and “the possibilities of sniper attacks on golf courses,” there was absolutely no speculation that this was a terrorist attack, despite the fact that Wellstone had hired an associate of Zacarias Moussaoui, the accused Sept. 11 conspirator, as a co-pilot, and he makes the serious charge that “this is clear evidence of knowledge that suicide was the true cause of death at the highest levels of government. The team of FBI recovery agents left Minneapolis before Wellstone’s plane took off,” Webb claims, “and records of private aircraft arriving in Duluth that morning have been conveniently destroyed.” Webb points out that that apparent prior knowledge was similar to Dallas police putting out an all-points bulletin for Lee Harvey Oswald a half hour before he shot a police officer.

Prodigal Son of a Bitch makes the claim that there is no chance that this was an accidental plane crash. “The plane was exceptional, the pilots well-qualified, and the weather posed no significant problems. Even the National Transportation Safety Board’s simulations were unable to bring the plane down. An article in the Duluth News Tribune a few days after the tragedy said that ‘for some still unexplained reason – [the plane] turned off course and crashed.’ It quoted Carol Carmody, the NTSB’s acting chair and reportedly a former CIA employee, as saying, ‘We find the whole turn curious.'”

If anything clinches the case for suicide, according to Webb, it’s that the odds of another democrat dying accidentally in a plane crash are infinitesimal. He cites in addition to Carnahan and Kennedy, for example: Rep. Jerry Litton of Missouri in 1976, while campaigning for U.S. Senate nearly two months before the election (exactly the same fate that befell Carnahan); Rep. Hale Boggs of Louisiana, in 1972, a member of the Warren Commission who expressed doubts about the commission’s findings concerning JFK; Rep. Larry McDonald, the national chairman of the John Birch Society linked to massive domestic spying and the CIA; Rep. Larkin Smith in 1989 who was looking into the deaths of five Green Beret colonels connected to a covert CIA drug operation; Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, another possible suicide, according to Webb, as photographs clearly show a bullet wound in the back of his skull; Rep. Mickey Leland of Texas in 1989; and Rep. Nick Begich of Alaska in 1972.

Of 22 air crashes involving state and federal officials, 14 (64 percent) were members of the Democratic Party and 8 (36 percent) were members of the Republican Party. If the list was limited to only elected members of Congress, the total was eight Democrats and four Republicans. Six of the fatalities occurred during election campaigns. Of those, four were Democrats and two were Republicans. “Another democrat killed in another accidental plane crash under these conditions would be statistically impossible,” Webb’s book claims.

Webb is still enjoying the success of the bestselling expos