Massive Counterattack on Bush's Service

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, February 4, 2004; 10:27 AM

The Bush establishment yesterday angrily condemned charges that the president shirked his National Guard duties during the Vietnam War.

But far from sending reporters -- or Democrats -- into retreat, the response just seems to have whetted their appetite.

Mike Allen of The Washington Post writes: "The White House, the Republican Party and the Bush-Cheney campaign mounted a choreographed defense yesterday of President Bush's attendance record in the National Guard and denounced Democrats for raising questions about his service. . . .

"White House press secretary Scott McClellan said during his televised afternoon briefing that it is 'a shame that this issue was brought up four years ago during the campaign, and it is a shame that it is being brought up again.' . . .

Elisabeth Bumiller and David M. Halbfinger write in the New York Times that "the contrast between the military service of Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush has exploded into a campaign issue. . . .

"The White House went into a furious counterattack on Tuesday. 'It is outrageous and baseless,' Scott McClellan, Mr. Bush's press secretary, told reporters, breaking the White House practice that all political questions be answered by officials at Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters in Arlington, Va."

Maura Reynolds in the Los Angeles Times: "The sharp response suggested that the White House is sensitive about the charge, which first arose during the 2000 presidential campaign. . . .

"That period of Bush's life also raised eyebrows for another reason -- in December 1972, Bush had a confrontation with his father after taking his 16-year-old brother, Marvin, out on a drinking spree in Washington and crashing through a neighbor's garbage cans on the way home."

Adam Entous of Reuters: "Analysts said the unusually blunt response underscored White House concerns that military service could become a campaign issue."

AFP: "Military experience has emerged at the heart of the 2004 race for the White House amid violence in Iraq and the global war on terrorism, with candidates playing up their time in uniform as a barometer of their leadership qualities."

ABC News's Terry Moran: "At the White House today, it was obvious that the commander in chief's military record is a sensitive issue."

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press: "The counterattacks gave fresh impetus to an issue Bush successfully fended off in the 2000 campaign."

Bush-Cheney campaign chairman Marc Racicot called on the Democratic front-runner, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) to repudiate the attack on the president. But Lindlaw writes that Kerry's campaign dismissed that contention.

"'It is up to President Bush whether he wants to answer these questions that continue to persist about the year missing from his National Guard service,' said spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter. "John Kerry will stand up to the slanderous tactics of the Bush attack machine, and if the president wants a debate on patriotism and national security, we welcome that debate.'"

Here's the text of a statement from Racicot.

And this morning on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal," Howard Dean's new campaign chief executive, Roy Neel, enthusiastically joined the fray.

"Where was George Bush?" he asked "We still don't have the facts on this. I mean, all the facts indicate that George Bush walked away from his military service when -- during that period. He got preferential treatment to get into the guard so he wouldn't get drafted or have to go and expose himself to real combat. President Bush has no war record. Let's get this straight. He has a military record and it is tarnished and this is going to come out in this campaign, whoever the nominee is."

It does seem as if this matter could be cleared up if the Bush team, instead of responding with indignation, made public all his military records. Various readers who e-mailed me yesterday suggested that Bush must have access to paystubs or flight forms that would indicate if he served during that period.

One reporter raised the question with McClellan yesterday, asking: "Is the White House trying to come up with any records or any eye-witnesses to demonstrate that he did show up for his last two years in Alabama?"

McClellan (read the transcript) stonewalled. "This was addressed four years ago, and like I said, it was a shame that it came up then and it's a shame that some are bringing it up again."

Incidentally, Joe Strupp in Editor & Publisher today has an interview with Walter V. Robinson, the Boston Globe reporter who first broke the story, in June 2000, of Bush's possibly missing year. Robinson "says he's glad it's making news now, even though it failed to gain much traction in 2000."

Strupp writes that "Robinson said the timing and atmosphere in the 2000 campaign was different from today and may have played a part in the lack of follow-up to his story at the time. 'Bush was running to replace a president who had taken steps to actively avoid -- and some would say evade -- military service,' he pointed out. 'Whatever Bush's sin was, he wasn't the first president to shirk his military duty, Clinton was.' "

And, Robinson said, "Bush's people fogged it over a bit and they are very good at that."

There's much more on this, including many Web links, in yesterday's White House Briefing column.

Very Secretive Service

Dan Eggen of The Washington Post writes: "The U.S. Secret Service intercepted a letter addressed to the White House in November that contained a vial of the toxin ricin, but never revealed the incident publicly and delayed telling the FBI and other agencies, law enforcement sources said yesterday. . . .

"The letter, signed by 'Fallen Angel' and containing complaints about trucking regulations, was nearly identical to one discovered Oct. 15 at a Greenville, S.C., mail-sorting facility."

No official word yet on why this was kept secret for so long.

A Rudman-Scowcroft Commission?

Who's going to be on the presidential commission looking into intelligence failures?

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post offers a lighthearted look at the usual suspects "whenever the government brings out the blue ribbon.

"A surprisingly small club of professional chin-strokers, they are called in to take over whenever our elected representatives find that an issue is too dangerous to handle."

On a more serious note, Ken Guggenheim of the Associated Press writes that "Bush may formally announce the investigation as early as Wednesday. The White House already has begun defending it."

A Visit From the Secretary General

Robin Wright of The Washington Post writes: "The United Nations is committed to helping end the crisis over how to transfer political power in Iraq so the U.S.-led occupation can end as scheduled on June 30, Secretary General Kofi Annan said during a meeting with President Bush yesterday."

Steven R. Weisman of the New York Times writes that Bush pressed Annan to take on a greater role in Iraq.

" 'We are trying to put this issue in Kofi Annan's lap and let him run with it,' one official said. 'There's still very much the intention to stick with the date of June 30. But there's a lot of pressure on Kofi Annan to come up with the right solution.' . . .

Bush's advisers are not necessarily in sync on this one, though.

Weisman writes: "But other officials warned that Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were still likely to oppose giving the United Nations virtual supervisory control over the political future of Iraq, out of fear that such a step might result in constraints on American forces."

Fox News has video from the Annan-Bush photo op. Here's the text of their brief remarks.

On the Chopping Block

The White House yesterday released a list of the programs it wants terminated or significantly cut back in the 2005 budget year.

Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times that the list "including money for drug treatment centers and secondary school counselors and modernization of the air traffic system."

Adam Entous of Reuters notes that the list ranges "from education equity for women to combating alcohol abuse, a problem President George W. Bush faced himself."

John D. McKinnon of the Wall Street Journal writes that "congressional aides said the list provided by the White House shows that as many as three-quarters of the programs had been previously targeted. Many that are targeted -- such as beach renourishment -- enjoy strong backing from Congress. Others are aimed at helping the poor or disadvantaged, and could prove politically difficult for lawmakers to dismantle, especially in an election year."

Here is the partial list.

Ralph Z. Hallow and Amy Fagan write in the Washington Times: "Congressional Republicans, in an extraordinary break with the White House in an election year, say President Bush's 2005 budget proposal 'doesn't go far enough' to restrain government spending and are considering pursuing further cuts in outlays.

Tenet Still Welcome

Walter Pincus and Dana Priest write in The Washington Post that CIA Director George J. Tenet still comes to the Oval Office and gives Bush an intelligence briefing every morning. White House officials say that is "a sign that Tenet's working relationship with Bush remains solid."

A Powell Problem?

The Washington Post yesterday led with a Glenn Kessler story about his interview with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Powell said he didn't know whether he would have recommended an invasion of Iraq if he had been told it had no stockpiles of banned weapons.

Not surprisingly, the White House was not pleased.

Richard W. Stevenson writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Powell's comments to The Post clearly irritated some White House officials, who have complained before that Mr. Powell sometimes strays from the official line on national security issues. Repeating a line that Mr. Powell had used to describe himself during a dispute with the White House on another topic three years ago, one administration official said on Tuesday that the secretary was 'a little forward on his skis again.'

"Mr. Powell's comments focused attention again on the longstanding foreign policy conflicts within the administration that have often pitted Mr. Powell against Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. . . .

" 'There definitely appears to be some jockeying going on around here,' said one administration official."

Stevenson also reports that when Bush had lunch on Monday with former chief CIA weapons hunter David Kay, he was joined by Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. "Despite Dr. Kay's views on the absence of weapons stockpiles, they focused on his statements that Iraq was nonetheless a threat that had to be dealt with, the senior official said."

Today's Calendar

Bush has lunch in Georgetown with the Republican National Committee, then makes remarks on Winston Churchill and the war on terror at the Library of Congress, which has a big exhibit on Churchill.

Protecting the Food Supply

Ira Dreyfus of the Associated Press reports: "President Bush is ordering three Cabinet departments and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop new procedures to protect the nation's food supply from terror attack."

Here's the text of the directive.

Bush's Credibility Issues

In his "Capital Journal" column, John Harwood of the Wall Street Journal writes that Bush's credibility has taken a self-inflicted beating. "That is a predicament that Bill Clinton, with his popular policies and golden tongue, might be able to talk himself out of. But it is an especially hazardous one for Mr. Bush."

The Bush Show

Al Kamen of The Washington Post announces the "winners of the In the Loop contest to name the television show or movie that best reflects the Bush administration. Overall, the hundreds of entries showed two things: Loop Fans are creative, and there's a whole lot of anger out there."

The Bush Wheels

The Associated Press asks: "What's red, white and blue, runs off a 72-volt battery and has a top speed of 25 mph? The president's official Bushmobile for the summer Group of Eight summit."

© 2004