The Bush Files

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, September 13, 2004; 11:59 AM

To the White House's delight, bloggers last week opened a new front in the continued war over the two presidential candidates' Vietnam-era military service.

A ferocious, Internet-spawned assault has raised questions about the authenticity of documents presented by CBS News as evidence of President Bush's failure to perform to National Guard standards.

The focus on the documents has overwhelmed other questions that keep being raised about Bush's guard service.

Michael Dobbs writes in Sunday's Washington Post: "A review of the authenticated documentary record for Bush's guard service and interviews with former guard members suggest that the president and his aides have been less than fully candid about unexplained gaps in his military service, and have made misleading and sometimes inaccurate statements that have helped fuel the controversy."

For instance, Dobbs writes: "In a 1999 Washington Post interview, Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett was quoted as saying that Bush's release from the 111th [Fighter Interceptor Squadron] was appropriate because the unit had phased out the F-102s, and that Bush was transferred from Texas to a reserve unit in Boston. Both statements appear to be inaccurate.

"Although F-102s were being phased out by 1973, they were still being flown. There is no record of Bush signing up for reserve duty in Boston. Bartlett, now White House communications director, said last week through a representative that he must have either 'misspoke' or been 'misquoted.'"

Dobbs will be Live Online today at noon ET taking your questions and comments.

Amanda Ripley writes in Time magazine: "Journalists and politicos have been trying off and on for a decade now to suss out exactly what George W. Bush did in the National Guard more than 30 years ago.

"The basic facts are not very mysterious: Bush got a coveted homeland gig in the Guard, just as many other well-connected college graduates did, while hundreds of thousands of other young men got drafted and sent to Vietnam. Ever since Bush ran for Texas Governor in 1994, details of the subplot have dribbled out, suggesting that he was a slacker in his later days as a pilot in the Guard and may not have fulfilled his obligations to the military.

"Bush has prolonged the intrigue by never fully answering questions about his service. His representatives repeat, like a mantra, that Bush was honorably discharged from the service, so why keep asking us about these pesky details?"

Matt Kelley on Friday filed another story based on the newly discovered (and undisputed) pilot logs the Associated Press received last week under the Freedom of Information Act.

"George W. Bush began flying a two-seat jet especially designed for training purposes more frequently in the weeks just before he quit flying for the Texas Air National Guard, and twice required multiple attempts to land a one-seat fighter, his pilot logs show," Kelley wrote.

"Air Force experts who examined the records at the request of AP said they would need more information to know exactly what happened but that the logs could reflect anything from problems in Bush's flight performance to a shift in emphasis in his training."

Ronald Brownstein writes in his Los Angeles Times column that "the assaults on Bush probably won't materially affect the race unless voters buy the critics' assumption that his behavior 30 years ago illuminates his values and character today."

Brownstein doesn't find it likely. But, he writes, one threat "is that more revelations could erode his credibility. . . .

"Critics also think the questions about whether Bush fulfilled his obligations may encourage voters to see him as someone who consistently evades responsibility -- the same way critics say he has refused to accept accountability for the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal or intelligence failures in Iraq. That may be an intriguing psychological theory, but it's probably too abstract for most Americans."

The Docu-Drama

Michael Dobbs and Mike Allen wrote in Friday's Washington Post: "Documents unearthed by CBS News that raise doubts about whether President Bush fulfilled his obligations to the Texas Air National Guard include several features suggesting that they were generated by a computer or word processor rather than a Vietnam War-era typewriter, experts said yesterday."

This morning, USA Today writes: "Questions about President Bush's service in the Texas National Guard have been shunted to the background by a debate over the authenticity of newly disclosed documents that purport to show problems with his performance as a pilot."

The paper notes, however, that it wasn't just CBS that got the documents.

"USA TODAY obtained copies of the documents independently soon after the 60 Minutes segment aired Wednesday, from a person with knowledge of Texas Air National Guard operations. The person refused to be identified out of fear of retaliation. It is unclear where the documents, if they are real, had been kept in the intervening three decades."

CBS itself reports: "The network is adamantly defending the authenticity of the memos, saying experts who examined the memos concluded they were authentic documents produced by Mr. Bush's former commander, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian."

Peter Wallsten describes in the Los Angeles Times how the forgery speculation started and spread in the blogosphere.

Vulnerable to the News

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush has risen in polls after taking the calculated risk to elevate security issues over pocketbook concerns in the campaign's home stretch. But strategists in both parties said that approach leaves him with acute vulnerabilities in case of an economic shock, a terrorist attack or heavy attention to a bloody October in Iraq.

"Administration officials disclosed plans yesterday that show the many ways Bush will try to emphasize his role as commander in chief. He will interrupt his swing-state travel in just over a week to go before cameras at the United Nations with the interim president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. Two days later, Bush will welcome Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, to the Rose Garden.

"The week after that is the scheduled start of the campaign debates. Bush's negotiators plan to insist that the first debate, to be devoted to domestic issues, will include homeland security, according to outside presidential advisers."

Bush's Faith

Adelle M. Banks writes for the Religion News Service: "President Bush doesn't believe he received divine direction to run for the nation's highest office or to wage war, a man who has acted as his spiritual adviser told religion reporters Friday.

"The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of a Houston church, was a surprise guest accompanying Jim Towey, head of Bush's faith-based initiatives office, at the annual meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association. . . .

"'He does not believe that God told him to run,' Caldwell declared. 'He does not believe God told him he would win. And he surely does not believe God told him to drop any bombs anywhere in the world.' . . .

"'He's commander in chief, not chaplain in chief,' said Towey. . . .

'I haven't seen him . . . lost in prayer or levitating. If he had healing powers, he'd fix his knees.'"

Kitty Kelley Watch

Joshua Chaffin writes in the Financial Times: "President George W. Bush will awake this morning to a nightmare known only to an elite group of celebrities and politicians.

"After four years' digging into Bush family affairs, Kitty Kelley, the biographer who once accused Ronald Reagan of date-rape, is ready to shout her findings to the world."

And indeed, there was Kelley on NBC's "Today" show with Matt Lauer at the crack of dawn, for the first of three consecutive morning interviews.

Under fire for hosting her in the first place, Lauer strained to put Kelley's book in context.

"The White House has dismissed it as garbage, but it's already generating incredible media attention in this divisive presidential campaign. Controversial biographer Kitty Kelley's new book called 'The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty' hits book stores tomorrow and it's already number two on's best-seller list," Lauer said.

Lauer was downright suspicious of Kelley's sourcing, particularly of her allegation that Bush used cocaine at Camp David during his father's presidency.

But Kelley demurred. "Up until now we have had an almost Hallmark Card image of the Bush family," she said. She said two sources -- one of them Sharon Bush, the ex-wife of Neil Bush -- told her about the cocaine use, and added, inflammatorily: "George W. Bush has never denied using, buying or selling cocaine."

Lauer said he talked to White House communications director Dan Bartlett over the weekend about the Camp David allegation. "Speaking on behalf of the president, this is an outright lie," Lauer quoted Bartlett as saying.

Later on the show, Sharon Bush told Lauer: "I never saw the use of cocaine, and I am sticking by it."

Here's how ABC News's The Note put it: "Matt Lauer made the segment much more about the author's credibility than about her charges -- sort of begging the question about why have her on once, let alone three days. . . .

"As you know, the president has never ruled out EVER using illegal drugs (only that he hasn't used them recently), but we find it hard to believe that this book will suddenly force him to address the charges."

Corky Siemaszko writes in the New York Daily News: "The new Kitty Kelley book that has the Bush campaign's underwear in a bunch is more catty than explosive."

Hecklers: Beware of Secret Service

Dana Milbank wrote in Friday's Washington Post: "Officially, the Secret Service does not concern itself with unarmed, peaceful demonstrators who pose no danger to the commander in chief. But that policy was inoperative here Thursday when seven AIDS activists who heckled President Bush during a campaign appearance were shoved and pulled from the room -- some by their hair, one by her bra straps -- and then arrested for disorderly conduct and detained for an hour.

"After Bush campaign bouncers handled the evictions, Secret Service agents, accompanied by Bush's personal aide, supervised the arrests and detention of the activists and blocked the news media from access to the hecklers.

"The Bush campaign has made unprecedented efforts to control access to its events... And the Secret Service has played an unusual role. . . . "

Here's a picture of one heckler getting her hair pulled by a member of the audience.

Here's a picture of Bush looking amused by a heckler, apparently a few moments earlier.

Flip-Flop Watch

Tom Raum compiles quite a list of presidential reversals, in this Associated Press story.

"While working relentlessly to portray Democratic Sen. John Kerry as a 'flip-flopper,' President Bush has his own history of changing his position, from reversals on steel tariffs and 'nation-building' to reasons for invading Iraq."

Here are some of Raum's bullet points:

• "He opposed a Homeland Security Department, then embraced it.

• "He opposed creation of an independent Sept. 11 commission, then supported it. He first refused to speak to its members, then agreed only if Vice President Dick Cheney came with him.

• "Bush argued for free trade, then imposed three-year tariffs on steel imports in 2002, only to withdraw them after 21 months.

• "Last month, he said he doubted the war on terror could be won, then reversed himself to say it could and would.

• "A week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush said he wanted Osama bin Laden 'dead or alive.' But he told reporters six months later, 'I truly am not that concerned about him.' He did not mention bin Laden in his hour-long convention acceptance speech.

• "'I'm a war president,' Bush told NBC's 'Meet the Press' on Feb. 8. But in a July 20 speech in Iowa, he said: 'Nobody wants to be the war president. I want to be the peace president.'"

It's a long article.

Cheney Tries to Clean Up

Gregory Korte writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer on Friday: "In an interview with the Enquirer after a campaign event in Cincinnati, Cheney said he wanted to 'clean up' the controversy surrounding his remarks at a similar event Tuesday in Des Moines, Iowa .

"There, he told a town-hall audience that if, on Election Day, "we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again. . . . "

"But Thursday, he emphasized the half-sentence that came after: '. . . that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind-set, if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts, and that we're not really at war.'

"'I did not say if Kerry is elected, we will be hit by a terrorist attack,' Cheney said."

Here's the full text of the Cheney interview, in which the vide president credits blogs with having a better appreciation of punctuation than a certain wire service.

Conflation Watch

Paul West writes in the Baltimore Sun that "the heart of Bush's success in blunting the risks that the Iraq violence poses to his re-election chances has been a relentless effort to tie the war directly to the Sept. 11 attacks."

James Gerstenzang and Edwin Chen write in the Los Angeles Times: "Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday that Saddam Hussein had given 'safe harbor' to Al Qaeda when he ruled Iraq, reviving a debate about the nature of the former Iraqi leader's contacts with the terror network."

This in spite of the fact that "the staff of the independent 9/11 commission issued a report which said that Hussein apparently had no 'collaborative relationship' with Al Qaeda."

Enjoying the Campaign

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "George W. Bush says he enjoys being president. But judging from his performance on the stump over the last few weeks, he enjoys campaigning for president even more. . . .

"[O]n the campaign trail, where the invited crowds are kept friendly because opponents are arrested for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts or dragged from events by their hair, there is a different Bush. He is looser and livelier, a former Andover cheerleader who has learned how to rouse the crowd in the argot of ordinary America."

Nevertheless, she notes, "When Bush is tired, often some strange things do come out of his mouth."

North Korea Watch

David E. Sanger and William J. Broad wrote in the New York Times on Sunday: "President Bush and his top advisers have received intelligence reports in recent days describing a confusing series of actions by North Korea that some experts believe could indicate the country is preparing to conduct its first test explosion of a nuclear weapon, according to senior officials with access to the intelligence.

(A huge explosion reported later in North Korea raised fears of a nuclear test, but was the demolition of a mountain as part of a huge hydro-electric project, the government told the BBC.)

Poll Watch

Brian Braiker writes in "One week after the conclusion of the Republican National Convention in New York, the latest Newsweek poll shows George W. Bush's double-digit 'bounce' narrowing . . . to six points. . . .

"The poll also found that as convention buzz subsides, Bush's approval ratings have again dropped below the 50 percent mark (48 percent approve, 44 percent disapprove)."

But over at Time, Bush still has his bounce: "Bush continues to lead Democratic challenger John Kerry among likely voters by double digits, 52% - 41%, in the three way race, with Nader at 3%, the same as last week."

Jacob M. Schlesinger and Greg Hitt write in the Wall Street Journal: "The character tilt to the campaign so far has helped Mr. Bush and could continue to give him an edge if it remains the dominant theme through the fall. Republicans have been more persistent with personal attacks against Mr. Kerry than Democrats have been against Mr. Bush, and polls show Mr. Kerry's negative ratings rising more sharply than Mr. Bush's."

Kenneth T. Walsh writes in U.S. News that "The president's macho persona has given him a big lead among white males."

Today's Calendar

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "It's health care that Bush stresses Monday in Muskegon, Mich., a Democratic stronghold that is the first of a three-stop bus tour through Michigan. Bush also is visiting Holland, Mich., where voters are more supportive of Republican candidates, and Battle Creek, Mich., a swing area of the state that Bush lost to Al Gore in 2000."

Laura Bush speaks in Middleton, Wis., Des Moines and Indianapolis.

The Cheneys host a town hall meeting in Ottumwa, Iowa, then the vice president goes solo at a rally in Beaver, W. Va.

'False Flashbulb' Memories

Steve Friess writes in Newsweek: "It's well documented that President George W. Bush was in a Florida classroom on 9/11 when chief of staff Andrew Card told him a second plane had hit the World Trade Center. But how did Bush learn about the first crash? . . .

"On Dec. 4, 2001, and Jan. 5, 2002, Bush told audiences he saw the first plane hit the tower on TV before he entered the classroom. But he couldn't have seen it; nobody saw it live on TV. Between those recountings, on Dec. 20, Bush told The Washington Post that Karl Rove told him. This isn't to say the president is a fabulist. He's just exhibiting a prominent example of a common memory glitch, says UCLA psychology fellow Dan Greenberg, who published a paper this summer in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology called 'President Bush's False Flashbulb Memory of 9/11/01.'"

© 2004