New Documents Fuel the Fire

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, February 11, 2004; 10:30 AM

Talk about unintended consequences.

The White House released a handful of records yesterday in an attempt to quell the controversy over whether President Bush shirked his duty as a National Guardsman during the Vietnam War.

But the documents, one of which had already been circulated on the Internet for days, did not exactly clear things up.

As Charlie Gibson put it on ABC's "Good Morning America" today, the subject "seems to be consuming Washington."

If the records are accurate, they do appear to show that Bush met at least one minimal requirement for the Guard.

The records don't show what he did or where. There's still no independent confirmation. There's still a six-month gap between April and October of 1972, and a three-month gap from January to April of 1973.

And the Boston Globe this morning asserts that Bush may have met the minimum threshold for retirement credit, but he did not meet the minimum annual requirement for National Guard service, which in 1972 was one weekend a month -- or 24 days -- and 15 days of active duty, the same basic requirement that exists today.

This chapter began yesterday with a pitched battle in the White House briefing room during which press secretary Scott McClellan repeatedly insisted that the documents show the president "fulfilled his duties," even as reporters clamored for specifics and independent confirmation. "It's really a shame that people are continuing to bring this issue up," McClellan said.

And while the Democratic presidential front-runner, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), chose not to comment, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe said the release "creates more questions than answers."

Lois Romano and Mike Allen of The Washington Post spoke to White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who told them "that the reason Bush's supervisors could not evaluate him in May 1973 was because he was no longer flying, and was, therefore, performing various odd jobs and not reporting to any one commander. Bartlett also confirmed that Bush's complete personnel file is being forwarded to Washington from an archive in Denver for review."

Overall, Romano and Allen write: "The documents indicate that Bush performed Guard service in the fall of 1972 and in early 1973, and show that he was paid for work during the period that Democrats have alleged Bush shirked his service. . . .

"But the records -- which McClellan said are all the documents that the White House has -- do not show the exact nature or whereabouts of Bush's service during that period. Military experts -- including one cited by the White House -- said such records should exist."

Elisabeth Bumiller in the New York Times writes that McClellan "would not say, under repeated questioning at a contentious White House briefing that the records definitively prove that Mr. Bush reported for duty on those dates."

In the Boston Globe, Walter V. Robinson and Michael Rezendes write that the records "show that Bush may not have met the minimum-service requirement expected of most Guard members, according to National Guard officials."

The Globe spoke to retired Lieutenant Colonel Albert C. Lloyd Jr., who the White House itself used to give credence to its version yesterday. And Lloyd "acknowledged in an interview last night that he evaluated Bush using the lower of two measures for rating Guard service. . . .

"Guardsmen, he said, needed to serve more days to meet minimum-training requirements than to meet the lower threshold to receive retirement credit for the year. . . .

" 'Should he have done more? Yes, he should have,' Lloyd said of Bush, who was a fighter-interceptor pilot. 'Did he have to? No.' "

Also from the Globe: "Retired Colonel Earl W. Lively, who was the operations officer for the Texas Air National Guard at the time, said Bush's performance for the 12 months fell short 'of what everyone was expected to do.' Lively said that had Bush been under his direct command, 'I'd have wanted to know why he didn't meet the requirement. Then I would have decided whether to keep him on or send him to the inactive Reserve.' "

Robinson was also on ABC's "Good Morning America" today, talking about his story.

Over at the Washington Times, however, Rowan Scarborough found someone who backs up the White House version of events. "[F]urther confirmation was supplied yesterday by a woman who dated the young George W. Bush in 1972 who says she distinctly remembers the young pilot visiting Montgomery that year to fulfill his Air National Guard commitment. . . .

"Emily Marks Curtis told The Times that she and Mr. Bush met in the summer of 1972 when he went to Montgomery from Texas to work in the U.S. Senate campaign of Winton Blount. . . .

"After that election, she said, Mr. Bush returned to Texas. A few weeks later, he telephoned to say he was returning to Montgomery to complete drilling days at an Alabama squadron to which he had been transferred that year."

On TV, it's quite the conflagration.

Terry Moran of ABC News says the release "did not quiet the controversy."

Anchor Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News said: "The White House hoped to settle it all today, but instead it may have reignited."

John Roberts of CBS News notes that Bush "did not report for 8 of the 12 months," and that "Democratic operatives are only too happy to get down in the mud."

This morning on CBS's "Early Show," Bill Plante said: "The problem for the White House is that these documents don't actually prove Mr. Bush showed up on the dates for which he was paid, and so far no one has come forward to say that they have served with him, leaving the president on the defensive."

On ABC's Good Morning America, Claire Shipman reported: "So the new records show that he earned money and points for his service, but in a hot political season, the questions just won't stop. Did he miss some of his duty? Did he get any special treatment? Many of the superiors involved that could clear this up are now dead. Furthermore, many have pointed out given the way the Guard worked 30 years ago, it was probably possible to miss some duty, still get paid, and be honorably discharged."

On NBC's "Today" show, National security adviser Condoleezza Rice did a standup from the White House briefing room. Katie Couric asked about the Guard issue, and Rice deflected.

"The president has spoken to this. . . . But I'll tell you what I think the American people are interested in today, Katie, and they will get a chance to hear the president talk about this issue: this president is showing leadership and, as commander in chief in a time of peril for the country. After Sept. 11th, we faced a situation in which we had taken a tremendous blow in which we had to go on the offensive against the terrorists who were coming after us."

Will Bush's big speech later today on non-proliferation push the Guard story off the radar? The White House obviously hopes so.

Later, Couric asked Tim Russert: "Do they need to find an individual who can vouch for him?" Russert replied: "Well, that would be helpful."

Not surprisingly, opinions on this topic are also running hot. Particularly on the Internet -- but not only on the Internet.

Rush Limbaugh is furious at the press corps. "It's amazing that the one guy defending the country, President Bush, is under assault."

Roger Ailes (the blogger) has this to say: "What? Did Bush perform his duties in solitary confinement? Was he testing a top secret Flightsuit of Invisibility? He can't remember the names of anyone who he served under, or who served with him?"

Amusingly, Kevin Drum, whose calpundit blog was the first to post one of these documents, is now asking for help. "Somebody who understands this stuff really needs to take a look through these records and explain what they mean."

Eric Boehlert writes in Salon that "the records underline contradictions with previous Bush accounts and raise new questions yet to be answered."

Joshua Micah Marshall writes: "The president could clear this up by just authorizing the release of all his service records like he said he would. Now we're on to day three. But he still won't do it."

The New York Times editorial board writes: "If President Bush thought that his release of selected payroll and service records would quell the growing controversy over whether he ducked some of his required service in the Air National Guard three decades ago, he is clearly mistaken."

Here are the original documents in the case.

* USAF Reserve Personnel Record Card showing the number of service points earned from May 1972 to May 1973; an

* An "ARF Statement of Points Earned" which shows points earned in October and November of 1972; January of 1973; and April and May of 1973. It does not indicate how the points were earned.

* An "ARF Statement of Points Earned" which shows points earned in May and June of 1973.

* A memo reviewing the documents from Albert C. Lloyd Jr., a retired personnel officer in the Texas Air National Guard.

* The text and video of the press conference.

There's much more on this story in my White House Briefing archives.

On to a Safer Topic: WMD

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "President Bush is to announce a new proposal on Wednesday to limit the number of nations allowed to produce nuclear fuel, senior administration officials said Tuesday. He will declare that the global network in nuclear goods set up by Abdul Qadeer Khan, developer of Pakistan's bomb, exposed huge gaps in accords to stop the spread of nuclear weapons technology, they added."

Peter Slevin writes in The Washington Post: "Bush also intends to propose changes to the U.N. nuclear watchdog organization. The administration did not consult with the International Atomic Energy Agency's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been publicly discussing his own reform proposals for months.

The speech is this afternoon at the National Defense University at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Southwest D.C.

Speaking of WMD, Walter Pincus writes in The Washington Post: "David Kay, the former chief U.S. arms inspector in Iraq, said yesterday that President Bush's new commission on intelligence should study how the president and his senior policymakers used the information they received from intelligence agencies. . . .

"Bush's executive order creating the commission last week spelled out the panel's areas of inquiry, and did not list among them the question of whether the administration accurately portrayed the information in intelligence reports."

Here's the text of the executive order.

Bush on Gay Marriage

Mike Allen and Alan Cooperman write in The Washington Post that President Bush plans to endorse a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

"The White House strategy, designed to minimize alienation of moderate voters, calls for emphasizing that Bush is for traditional marriage, not against gay people. Opinion polls have found widely varying support for a constitutional amendment depending on the way the question is phrased, suggesting that voters have ambiguous feelings on the subject."

Here's the version of the constitutional amendment Bush plans to endorse.

Bush Campaign Video "Meets" the Lawyers

All those negative reviews bedamned, the Bush-Cheney campaign thought Bush's appearance on "Meet the Press" was good enough to use a clip in a campaign ad unveiling a new slogan.

Mike Allen reports in The Washington Post that NBC News didn't like it one bit.

"This promotional video is set to music, edited for impact, and mixed with other images, graphics and footage unrelated to the interview," the network said in a statement. "NBC News did not, and does not, authorize this misuse of our copyrighted material. As a news interview program, 'Meet the Press' takes very seriously the unauthorized use of its content for partisan political purposes."

Elizabeth Jensen writes in the Los Angeles Times: "A Bush campaign official said, 'We feel this was a good middle ground. We sent it out to 6 million people, and it was on our site for a number of hours, but we removed it out of respect for our friends at NBC.'

Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times notes that the excerpts were digitally enhanced.

And indeed they were.

I managed to get a good look at the ad while it was posted. The ad used a 47-second clip and condensed it to 38 seconds, at least in part by removing an "um" and "uh" and a stutter. The stuff in italics was not audible on the ad.

Here's the section at issue: "I've got a foreign policy that is, um, one that believes America has a responsibility in this world, to lead, a responsibility to lead in the war against terror, a responsibility to speak clearly about the threats that we all face, a responsibility to promote freedom, to free people from the clutches of barbaric people such as Saddam Hussein who tortured, mutilated -- there were mass graves that we have found -- a responsibility to fight AIDS, the pandemic of AIDS, and to feed the hungry. We have a responsibility. To me that is history's call to, to, to America. I accept the call and will continue to lead, uh, in that direction."

You can hear it, unenhanced, here, by fast-forwarding to 29:20.

I'll Start the Bidding at $10

Ted Bridis of the Associated Press writes: "The Web site, one of the best examples that the Internet isn't always what it seems, is getting out of the pornography business. Its owner says he's worried what his preschool-age son might think."

See the (office safe) press release.

More White House Headlines

* Bush, Adviser Assailed for Stance on 'Offshoring' Jobs The Washington Post.

* 9/11 Panel to Accept Summary of Briefings The Washington Post.

* No 'Smoking Guns' in Reports, Head of Sept. 11 Panel Says New York Times

* OMB Draws a Hit List of 13 Programs It Calls Failures The Washington Post.

* Military Chiefs Testify of Worries About War Funding The Washington Post.

* Service Chiefs Challenge White House on the Budget New York Times.

* Utah House Rebukes Bush With Its Vote on School Law New York Times.

* Bush Drilling Plan Brings Foes Together Los Angeles Times.

In Washington Post columns today, Al Kamen (second page) has a funny item about someone in the White House getting their Springfields confused, and Richard Leiby (second page) writes that "Something weird is happening with a Web site associated with Ari Fleischer's name."

The Washington Post editorial board follows up on Bush's factually inaccurate claim that federal discretionary spending is down in his administration. "A spokesman explained that Mr. Bush meant to refer only to the portion of discretionary spending, less than half the total, that goes to programs other than defense and homeland security."

© 2004