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A tale of two enemies, some wine, a young woman and an accusation

Bruce James spent his 23rd wedding anniversary Sunday trying to figure out what to say publicly in response to an accusation from former Nevada Republican Party Chairman John Mason that James “in a drunken stupor in D.C. tried to molest one of my daughters.”

In the end, James decided to say nothing … yet.

But he has told Gov. Jim Gibbons he did nothing wrong, and Gibbons is sticking by the man he appointed chairman of the Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission last Wednesday.

So far, Mason’s effort to torpedo James from the cost-cutting commission with allegations of sexual impropriety has failed.

Gibbons’ spokesman Ben Kieckhefer said Saturday that James “is adamant that any accusation of impropriety is false.” When the e-mail arrived Thursday, “we gave Bruce the opportunity to back out of it if he didn’t want to deal with it. He feels strongly he is being wronged and wanted to fight it,” Kieckhefer said.

It’s now a battle between two rich Lake Tahoe Republicans, both self-made successes with elephant-size egos.

Mason is an entertainment attorney who failed in his bids for lieutenant governor and the Nevada Supreme Court but was state party chairman for five years.

James made a $35 million fortune in publishing before running for the U.S. Senate in 1998. James ultimately stepped aside for John Ensign. James and Mason have loathed each other for years.

Mason’s claims can only resurrect memories of the never-proven accusations against the governor himself that weeks before his November 2006 election he attempted to sexually assault a cocktail waitress after drinking for hours at McCormick & Schmick’s in Las Vegas.

“If we had any belief he had done something wrong, we would not be doing this,” Kieckhefer said, referring to keeping James on the commission. Kieckhefer said the governor remembers there was a rumor that something occurred shortly after James took the position as U.S. public printer in December 2002. “The governor remembers hearing about it back at the time, but rumors swirl all the time.” Kieckhefer said.

Gibbons was in Congress when President Bush nominated James to head the U.S. Government Printing Office.

“Mason is telling people he personally told the governor,” Kieckhefer said. “The governor doesn’t directly remember that, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

Mason has several daughters, but a source said the daughter involved was a student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., when the alleged incident occurred in December 2002.

Mason’s e-mail said the governor “may need a walk down memory lane before this sad incident comes back publicly to haunt those who were made aware of what undeniably (even by Mr. James) happened.”

Mason wrote that Sen. John Ensign, Gov. Kenny Guinn and then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales were all aware of it as well. “I chose, at the Counsel’s request, not to pursue action against the newly appointed federal printer.”

Conservative commentator Chuck Muth, who worked with Mason during the five years Mason was state chairman between 1995 and 2000, said he forwarded Mason’s e-mail to the governor Thursday because Mason was using an old congressional e-mail. “I’m merely the messenger here.”

But according to Muth, Mason said he wouldn’t go public if Gibbons bounced James from the SAGE Commission.

James has yet to give his version on the record, but I’m hearing that he admits to having dinner with Mason’s daughter (at Mason’s suggestion). At a Ruth’s Chris Steak House, they consumed two bottles of wine and afterward he walked the young woman to her home 10 minutes from the restaurant, but nothing further occurred.

With Gibbons sticking by James, the next move is up to Mason and his daughter. Will Ensign and Guinn recall the “rumor”? Will Gonzales confirm or deny Mason’s claim the White House tried to hush it up?

I’m hearing there’s another twist that could make this more than just a “she said/he said.”

Until I see proof, it’s just talk.

But I still remember how John Mason lied to me in 2000 when he said that as a 16-year-old he was a member of the Surfaris and recorded the hit “Wipe Out.” And how he told the Wall Street Journal he remembered recording it. Except he didn’t record it. He was a member of a group of fake Surfaris. But that’s not the story he told for so many years, until the Wall Street Journal caught the lie in 2004 when Mason was running for the Nevada Supreme Court.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.

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