By JENNIFER LUCE and DON GENTILE
Faced with the biggest crisis of his political life, President Bush has hit the bottle again, The National Enquirer can reveal.
Bush, who said he quit drinking the morning after his 40th birthday, has started boozing amid the Katrina catastrophe.
Family sources have told how the 59-year-old president was caught by First Lady Laura downing a shot of booze at their family ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he learned of the hurricane disaster.
His worried wife yelled at him: “Stop, George.”
Following the shocking incident, disclosed here for the first time, Laura privately warned her husband against “falling off the wagon” and vowed to travel with him more often so that she can keep an eye on Dubya, the sources add.
“When the levees broke in New Orleans, it apparently made him reach for a shot,” said one insider. “He poured himself a Texas-sized shot of straight whiskey and tossed it back. The First Lady was shocked and shouted: “Stop George!”
“Laura gave him an ultimatum before, ‘It’s Jim Beam or me.’ She doesn’t want to replay that nightmare — especially now when it’s such tough going for her husband.”
Bush is under the worst pressure of his two terms in office and his popularity is near an all-time low. The handling of the Katrina crisis and troop losses in Iraq have fueled public discontent and pushed Bush back to drink.
A Washington source said: “The sad fact is that he has been sneaking drinks for weeks now. Laura may have only just caught him — but the word is his drinking has been going on for a while in the capital. He’s been in a pressure cooker for months.
“The war in Iraq, the loss of American lives, has deeply affected him. He takes every soldier’s life personally. It has left him emotionally drained.
The result is he’s taking drinks here and there, likely in private, to cope. “And now with the worst domestic crisis in his administration over Katrina, you pray his drinking doesn’t go out of control.”
Another source said: “I’m only surprised to hear that he hadn’t taken a shot sooner. Before Katrina, he was at his wit’s end. I’ve known him for years. He’s been a good ol’ Texas boy forever. George had a drinking problem for years that most professionals would say needed therapy. He doesn’t believe in it [therapy], he never got it. He drank his way through his youth, through college and well into his thirties. Everyone’s drinking around him.”
Another source said: “A family member told me they fear George is ‘falling apart.’ The First Lady has been assigned the job of gatekeeper.” Bush’s history of drinking dates back to his youth. Speaking of his time as a young man in the National Guard, he has said: “One thing I remember, and I’m most proud of, is my drinking and partying. Those were the days my friends. Those were the good old days!”
Age 26 in 1972, he reportedly rounded off a night’s boozing with his 16-year-old brother Marvin by challenging his father to a fight.
On November 1, 2000, on the eve of his first presidential election, Bush acknowledged that in 1976 he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol near his parents’ home in Maine. Age 30 at the time, Bush pleaded guilty and paid a $150 fine. His driving privileges were temporarily suspended in Maine.
“I’m not proud of that,” he said. “I made some mistakes. I occasionally drank too much, and I did that night. I learned my lesson.” In another interview around that time, he said: “Well, I don’t think I had an addiction. You know it’s hard for me to say. I’ve had friends who were, you know, very addicted… and they required hitting bottom (to start) going to AA. I don’t think that was my case.”
During his 2000 presidential campaign, there were also persistent questions about past cocaine use. Eventually Bush denied using cocaine after 1992, then quickly extended the cocaine-free period back to 1974, when he was 28.
Dr. Justin Frank, a Washington D.C. psychiatrist and author of Bush On The Couch: Inside The Mind Of The President, told The National Enquirer: “I do think that Bush is drinking again. Alcoholics who are not in any program, like the President, have a hard time when stress gets to be great.
“I think it’s a concern that Bush disappears during times of stress. He spends so much time on his ranch. It’s very frightening.”