Documents Suggest Special Treatment for Bush in Guard
By Katharine Q. Seelye and Ralph Blumenthal
September 9, 2004
WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 - President Bush's Vietnam-era service in the National Guard came under renewed scrutiny on Wednesday as newfound documents emerged from his squadron commander's file that suggested favorable treatment.
At the same time, a once powerful Texas Democrat came forward to say that he had "abused my position of power" by helping Mr. Bush and others join the Guard.
Democrats also worked to stoke the issue with a new advertisement by a Texas group that featured a former lieutenant colonel, Bob Mintz, who said he never saw Mr. Bush in the period he transferred from the Texas Air National Guard to the Alabama Air National Guard.
The documents, obtained by the "60 Minutes" program at CBS News from the personal files of the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, Mr. Bush's squadron commander in Texas, suggest that Lieutenant Bush did not meet his performance standards and received favorable treatment.
One document, a "memo to file" dated May 1972 , refers to a conversation between Colonel Killian and Lieutenant Bush when they "discussed options of how Bush can get out of coming to drill from now through November," because the lieutenant "may not have time."
The memo said the commander had worked to come up with options, "but I think he's also talking to someone upstairs."
Colonel Killian wrote in another report, dated Aug. 1, 1972, that he ordered Lieutenant Bush "suspended from flight status" because he failed to perform to standards of the Air Force and Texas Air National Guard and "failure to meet annual physical examination (flight) as ordered."
Colonel Killian also wrote in a memo that his superiors were forcing him to give Lieutenant Bush a favorable review, but that he refused.
"I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job," he wrote.
CBS, which reported on the memos on "The CBS Evening News" and "60 Minutes," declined to say how it obtained the documents.
Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, said in an interview with CBS, the full transcript of which the White House released on Wednesday night, that Mr. Bush had fulfilled his service and received an honorable discharge. Mr. Bartlett did not dispute the authenticity of the memos but said, "When you are talking about a memo to somebody's self - this is a memo to his own file - people are trying to read the mind of somebody who is no longer with us."
He called the release of the files politically motivated.
"Every time President Bush gets near another election, all the innuendo and rumors about President Bush's service in the National Guard come to the forefront," he said.
Separately, former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes of Texas voiced regret for what he said was helping the privileged escape service in Vietnam.
"I'm not particularly proud of what I did," said Mr. Barnes, who in the 1960's was speaker of the Texas House at 26 and lieutenant governor at 30. "While I understand why parents wanted to shield their sons from danger, I abused my position of power by helping only those who knew me or had access to me."
Mr. Barnes, 66, an adviser to Senator John Kerry's campaign and an influential lobbyist with offices in Austin and Washington, said in a interview with The New York Times that he had intervened to get Mr. Bush, as well as other well-connected young men, into the Guard in 1968. He made similar comments on "60 Minutes" on Wednesday.
Mr. Barnes maintained, as he has since 1999, that he had contacted his friend who headed the Texas Air National Guard, Brig. Gen. James Rose, not at the behest of anyone in the Bush family, but rather a Houston businessman, Sidney A. Adger, a friend of the Bushes who has died.
"Yes, I called Rose to get George Bush into the Guard, I've said that," Mr. Barnes said in his office last week in Austin. "I called Rose for other sons of prominent families, and I'm not proud of it now."
Anticipating his remarks, Republicans worked to discredit Mr. Barnes as a partisan Democrat and large contributor to Mr. Kerry. The events created a new round of scrutiny for Mr. Bush, after a month in which Mr. Kerry's Vietnam service dominated the campaign because of veterans with longstanding anger at how Mr. Kerry, who was a decorated veteran, came home and turned against the war. With advertisements, through a book and on talk shows, the group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, leveled largely unsubstantiated accusations about Mr. Kerry's record and told how his antiwar statements had demoralized veterans.
Democrats were unabashed in turning the spotlight on Mr. Bush. Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic chairman, said in a conference call with reporters the party would keep Mr. Bush's record before the public.
The events unfolded a day after the Pentagon, prompted by a lawsuit filed by The Associated Press, released a series of records on Mr. Bush's service, even though the White House had said this year that it had released all the records.
Mr. Bartlett said that the documents "demonstrate that he served his country, he logged hundreds and hundreds of hours as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard."
Mr. Bartlett rejected the suggestion based on Colonel Killian's files that Mr. Bush did not meet the performance standards. He said Mr. Bush did not have a physical examination because he was not going to be flying planes anymore, because his unit no longer flew the planes that Mr. Bush was trained on.
"Every step of the way, President Bush was meeting his requirements, granted permission to meet his requirements," Mr. Bartlett said.
A new commercial, produced by a group of Democrats, Texans for Truth, is to begin on Monday in five swing states that have lost high numbers of soldiers in Iraq. It features a former lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Guard, Bob Mintz, who lives in Tennessee. He told a columnist for The New York Times, Nicholas D. Kristof, for a column published on Wednesday [ http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/08/opinion/08kristof.html ], that he was actively looking for Lieutenant Bush at the Alabama base in the 1970's, because he had heard that Lieutenant Bush was a fellow bachelor who might like to party with him and other pilots. In the spot, Mr. Mintz said neither he nor his friends ever saw Mr. Bush.
"It would be impossible to be unseen in a unit of that size," he says.
The unit had 20 to 30 pilots.
In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Mr. Mintz was pressed about his recollections and whether he might have missed seeing Mr. Bush, possibly because Mr. Bush was no longer flying at that point and was working in an office position. Mr. Mintz said repeatedly he never saw Lieutenant Bush.
Asked for friends' names who could vouch that they never saw Lieutenant Bush, Mr. Mintz declined, saying he did not have their permission to make their names public.
Glenn Smith, the main figure in Texans for Truth, said he wanted to make the spot because he was angry over the Swift Boat veterans.
Steve Schmidt of the Bush campaign said that Texans for Truth was linked to the Kerry campaign in potential violation of campaign finance laws, saying the group was "made possible by contributions" from Moveon.org, another advocacy group that opposes Mr. Bush.
Mr. Smith said that Moveon.org had financed another group that he had founded, Drivedemocracy.org, but that neither had given money to the Texans, though he said that Moveon.org had a link on its Web site to the Texans and sent e-mail messages to its Texas members urging them to give to the Texans.
Mr. Smith said the Texans raised more than $300,000 in 24 hours, with one contribution for $100,000 and most of the rest in $25 donations.
Adding to the picture of Mr. Bush's service, The Boston Globe reported on Wednesday that he fell short of meeting his military requirements and was not disciplined despite irregular attendance at required drills.
The paper said Mr. Bush signed documents in July 1973, before he left Houston for the Harvard Business School, promising to meet his training commitments or be punished by being called up to active duty.
Mr. Bartlett said on Wednesday that Mr. Bush was given permission to attend Harvard. He said that if there were any requirements Mr. Bush was not meeting, "the National Guard at the federal level, the state level and the local level, they all knew where he was."
Katharine Q. Seelye reported from Washingtonfor this article, and Ralph Blumenthal from Houston. Raymond Bonner contributed reporting from Houston.