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Capital Games | The Nation

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Capital Games

 Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.

Super Tuesday: Ten Talking Points

1. Conventional wisdom rules. John Kerry started out the front-runner, according to the political handicappers. And largely because of the same reasons that he was initially dubbed the guy-to-beat, he ended up the front-runner, winning nine of ten contests on Super Tuesday. The no-longer-running Howard Dean finally won a state: Vermont. Kerry was the safe choice. Democrats went for a fellow who was not too young, not too fiery, not too bold, not too flashy; they selected a solid, workhorse Democrat who is mostly liberal but who is no rip-roaring populist. He has the experience and the gravitas--perhaps too much gravitas--to be president. Some observers have likened Kerry to the dead-man-walking Bob Dole of 1996, but Kerry, who could use a jolt of Dole-like humor, is much more a fighter. Don't forget he was a crusading prosecutor before becoming lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Which brings us to the next point.

2. A million cuts. A journalist called me the other day to ask what would be the most perilous time for Kerry between now and the convention. My answer: every day. It's clear the Bush campaign strategy is to nick away at Kerry 24/7. They will go over the thousands of votes Kerry has cast and use them as ammunition, accusing him of voting to weaken national defense and supporting wacko liberal positions. This has already started. The White House and the GOP have cited long-ago votes against certain weapons systems as evidence Kerry cannot be trusted to safeguard America. Recently Fred Kaplan on Slate debunked much of this early attack. A good example he cited: Republican Party chief Ed Gillespie slammed Kerry for having voted to cut $1.5 billion from the intelligence budget in 1995. But this money was appropriated for a spy satellite that the National Reconnaissance Office never launched. And the Senate was voting to rescind these funds, which were not going to be used. A majority of the Senate supported this position. But facts don't matter. The goal of the GOP is to turn Kerry into a bleeder. To force him to explain his votes and past positions over and over--and then again. Even if he has reasonable explanations, he still could end up looking weak if he constantly has to defend his past actions. Kerry is going to have to find a way to answer the attacks without becoming too entangled in a charge-countercharge dance. He has to avoid appearing as if he has lots of 'splaining to do, but he also cannot let criticism go unanswered. This will not be easy. His top aides tell me that they are ready for the Bush assault. But they are only now in the process of creating a war-room type of operation to deal with the incoming.

3. After 9/11, grown-ups are wanted. John Edwards ran a swell campaign. He had the best speech of all the candidates. ("There are two Americas....") He had the best temperament. And he has plenty of brains beneath his golden locks. But he couldn't seal the deal. He didn't even come close. It was not because of his ideas; he had few policy differences with Kerry. It was not because he didn't have the funds to make himself and his positions known to primary voters. It was probably because in this post-9/11 period he did not come across as ready-to-lead. He has not finished his first term in the Senate; he had no previous experience in government or foreign policy. He talked--at length!--about sharing the values of the working class (having been the son of a mill worker before becoming a millionaire trial attorney) and understanding their lives (presumably in a way that the blue-blooded Kerry could not). But empathy only goes so far. It's not the same as inspiring confidence and reassurance. And it could well be that Democratic voters in 2004 wanted a candidate who reeks of maturity and experience. Edwards was confronted by a stature gap--and the gap won. After 9/11, protector-in-chief is at the top of the list of the president's job responsibilities. Edwards was not able to persuade voters he yet has the chops for that.

4. Issues? We don't need no stinking issues? This was not a contest decided by issues. Most Democratic primary voters were opposed to the Iraq war, skeptical of Nafta and similar trade accords, and uneasy about the Patriot Act. Yet the two candidates who fared best in the primary contest--Kerry and Edwards--both voted for legislation granting Bush the authority to go to war and for the Patriot Act. Kerry voted for Nafta; Edwards was not yet in the Senate for that vote, but he did vote for extending most favored nation trading status to China. No issue--not even the war--defined the campaign for most voters. When Howard Dean, the only top-tier candidate who had opposed the war, dropped out, his antiwar vote did not flock to Representative Dennis Kucinich, the only other serious antiwar candidate. (Sharpton is not a serious candidate.) Edwards tried to make trade an issue separating himself from Kerry. But he was hanging on to a thin reed: that his criticism of the recent trade pacts was edgier than Kerry's. But that effort failed. Union voters--who perhaps are the most concerned about trade--still went overwhelmingly for Kerry. This was a contest among candidates not messages. Dean learned that early. Which brings us to electability.

5. It ain't no sin to be electable. And there's nothing wrong with a voter using electability as a criterion. When I heard voters remark that Kerry had the E-quality, they often explained it by saying he possessed a solid record in the Senate, had acquired years of experience in foreign policy, boasted sound and decent policy stands, and was ready and able to challenge Bush forcefully. Those are all fine reasons for picking a candidate. Selecting a candidate based on electability is not necessarily a cop-out; it's rendering the judgment that the candidate is equipped to beat the other guy and become president. In 2000, many Republicans signed on early with George W. Bush, noting his electability. But what they had in mind was that he had the bucks, the brand name and the endorsements needed to clobber his primary opponents. They were right, and it worked out well for Republicans and conservatives. Kerry's so-called electability seems based more on his qualifications than his advantages.

6. But what about Edwards' cross-over appeal? Yes, Edwards did well among Republicans and independents in those states where the Rs and Is can vote in the Democratic primary. But in 2000 Senator John McCain was a big hit with the Indies and had more appeal to Dems than Bush. And he only got so far. In party primaries, the first-place ribbon goes to the guy who excites (or wins the votes of) the party faithful. Parties do not nominate folks because they are liked by the other side. That's the way it is. Each party is burdened by this dynamic. And most Republicans who voted for Edwards would probably end up voting for Bush.

7. Edwards for veep? He has a net worth of millions, but Edwards is not a retire-early-and-take-up-fly-fishing guy. He's already given up his Senate seat. What's he to do now, except angle to be Kerry's sidekick? He could be a fine choice. But it's far too early for Kerry to be thinking about getting hitched. He has until the convention in late July. And he should wait to see how the race against Bush develops. Then he will know what he might need (or want) in a running mate. Perhaps polls will show a toss-up state Kerry must win is fading for him. A veep candidate from that state might reverse the drift. It's true that a running mate rarely has much impact on a presidential race. (See Dan Quayle.) But if a few extra votes can be gained by a good pick, Kerry ought to make his calculated choice as close to the November election as possible. Edwards will have to sit tight.

8. Kucinich has pushed far enough. Every presidential campaign needs someone to push the policy envelope. With his advocacy of a single-payer, nonprofit healthcare system, his proposal for a Department of Peace, his pledge to trash Nafta, and his call to replace U.S. troops in Iraq with international peacekeepers (a plan that rests on several optimistic assumptions), Kucinich played that noble role. But now it's time to fold the tent. He had his shot. The left wing of the party--the peaceniks, the anti-Naftaistas--did not rally behind him in sufficient numbers. And the math is undeniable; he has no chance. One can--and should--only defy the physical laws of the universe for so long. Yet before the votes were tallied on Super Tuesday Kucinich was vowing to keep going until the convention. On CNN, he claimed that Democrats had to choose him because he is the only candidate who could bring in "the Greens, the Natural Law Party." The Natural Law Party? While every vote does count--Florida showed that--it's doubtful that the Democratic nominee's fortunes will rise or fall on the disposition of the Natural Law Party vote. And Kucinich failed to win over more than 9 percent of the Democratic voters of his home state of Ohio. With his presidential campaign, Kucinich did position himself as a--if not the--leading progressive of the House Democrats. But if Kucinich stays in the race, insisting that only he can beat Bush by attracting outsider voters, he risks coming across as a crank who cannot recognize political realities rather than as a visionary willing to challenge conventional thinking.

9. If Kucinich should go, then Sharpton should really go. It's galling to watch this man go on and on about the need to stay in the race so he can arrive at the convention with delegates and make sure his party ends up with the right policy positions. Sharpton endorsed Republican Senator Alfonse D'Amato, an ethics-challenged machine hack, in 1986 over Democratic nominee Mark Green. (History declared: I worked on the Green campaign.) Sharpton also supported Republican Michael Bloomberg's mayoral bid in 2001 (again, over Green). And this year he is being advised and assisted (including financially) by GOP strategist Roger Stone, who was involved in the so-called khaki riot at the Dade County municipal office in 2000 that may have led to the shutdown of the Miami recount. So where is (and was) the party loyalty Sharpton now cites as his reason for staying in the race until the convention? He's not in this for a platform debate--as if that matters this year. He's in this to advance a single cause: Al Sharpton. He wants the camera time, and he wants a speaking gig at the convention. The Democrats have showed him more than enough kindness. He's lucky to have received the free air time he's already obtained. This reverend deserves no more time in the pulpit.

10. It's the journalists, stupid? Right before Kerry made his victory speech on Super Tuesday, one of his top advisers told me, "The real question in this race will be, do American journalists take presidential politics seriously?" By that he meant that the media can play a critical role in the contest: truth-testing the attacks (and shaming candidates that mount dishonest and unfair assaults), highlighting the important policy differences between Bush and Kerry, and making clear for the voters exactly what is at stake. He obviously believes that Kerry would benefit from such media behavior. But if the Kerry campaign is relying upon the media to do a good job consistently on these fronts, then Democrats ought to worry. Kerry now has to figure out how to do three things simultaneously: thwart the Bush attacks, launch his attacks on Bush, and present a positive message based on his positions and his own attributes and past actions. He cannot count on reporters to assist him. This is not their fight; it's his. And it will be a helluva battle.

*********DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.

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The Propaganda of William Safire

William Safire, New York Times columnist, doesn't know what he's talking (or writing) about. Who says? The New York Times.

Underneath the headline, "Found: A Smoking Gun," Safire on February 11 wrote a column that maintained a "clear link" existed between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. A from-the-start supporter of the war in Iraq, Safire was declaring that one of Bush's main rationales for the invasion--a supposed operational relationship between Al Qaeda and Hussein's regime--was solid. In doing so, he was taking on all those who have challenged or questioned this Bush claim--a long list that even includes the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House intelligence committee who last September concluded that the prewar intelligence did not contain information to support the charge that Hussein had been in league with bin Laden.

What did Safire base his case-closed pronouncement upon? A New York Times story that had appeared a day earlier. Written by reporter Dexter Filkins (in Baghdad) and also based on reporting done by Douglas Jehl (in Washington), the front-pager revealed that the Kurds had intercepted a courier for Ansar al-Islam, a fundamentalist terrorist group that had been based in northern Iraq. The messenger, Hassan Ghul, had on him a CD-ROM that contained a seventeen-page document that appeared to be a letter from the head of Ansar al-Islam, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to Al Qaeda requesting assistance. Ansar al-Islam wanted to start an Iraqi civil war by attacking Shi'ite Muslims, and Zarqawi was hoping Al Qaeda would help him.

A-ha, exclaimed Safire, here was the proof that Safire himself was correct when he wrote on September 24, 2001--"not two weeks after 9/11"--that Hussein was linked to Al Qaeda through Ansar al-Islam. And he praised the work of the reporters involved. But Safire was molding facts more than he was marshaling them.

The actual New York Times story Safire relied upon said that the letter was not evidence of a link between al Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam. Filkins' dispatch noted that if the document was authentic, it would "constitute the strongest evidence to date of contacts between extremists in Iraq and Al Qaeda. But it does not speak to the debate about whether there was a Qaeda presence in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein era, nor is there any mention [in the request for help] of a collaboration with Hussein loyalists."

Safire ignored this important qualifier. In his column, he referred to Ansar al-Islam as an "Qaeda affiliate" and approvingly quoted George W. Bush describing Zarqawi before the war as an "Al Qaeda leader." But Safire did not mention that when CIA chief George Tenet testified before the Senate intelligence committee in February 2003, Tenet said that while the CIA believed Ansar al-Islam had received funding from Al Qaeda, Zarqawi considered himself and his network "quite independent" of Al Qaeda. Receiving money from Al Qaeda might qualify Ansar al-Islam as an "affiliate," but according to Tenet's testimony Zarqawi was no "Al Qaeda leader."

In his column, Safire was making a triple-play argument--from bin Laden to Zarqawi to Hussein--to claim that there had been an Al Qaeda-Iraq partnership. And he pointed to a remark that Secretary of State Colin Powell made during his February 5, 2003, presentation to the U.N. Security Council: "Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden." But Powell and the Bush administration has not been able to show that Hussein was firmly linked to Ansar al-Islam. After all, the group operated in the northern territory, where Baghdad had limited control. Moreover, in January, when Powell was asked whether there was evidence linking Hussein and Al Qaeda, he replied, "There is not--you know, I have not seen smoking-gun concrete evidence about the connection, but I think the possibility of such connections did exist and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did." In other words, the administration had nothing to prove there was an Al Qaeda-Iraq alliance (with or without Ansar al-Islam in between). For some reason, Safire did not share this information with his readers.

So Safire ignored what his paper's own reporters reported, and he juggled a highly selective set of factoids to make a rather serious charge: Ansar al-Islam equals Al Qaeda. He also ridiculed as "simply silly" the notion that strong evidence was necessary to make this case, deriding those skeptics who would demand that "the Ansar boss in Iraq must be found carrying an official Qaeda membership card signed by bin Laden."

But the last laugh (of derision) was on Safire. According to whom? The New York Times. Ten days after Safire's "smoking-gun" column, a page-one story by Douglas Jehl (the same Jehl whom Safire had hailed), reported that Ansar al-Islam "appears to be operating mostly apart from Al Qaeda, senior American officials say." Whoops.

Jehl's report continued: "Most significantly, the officials said, American intelligence had picked up signs that Qaeda members outside Iraq had refused a request from the group, Ansar al-Islam, for help in attacking Shi'ite Muslims in Iraq." Double whoops.

It seems that Zarqawi had asked for help, and bin Laden had said no. Is this how inseparable comrades-in-terrorism operate? Jehl's sources noted that Al Qaeda's rebuff was "an indication of a significant divide between the groups." Now, as Jehl's sources said, it would be a mistake to consider Al Qaeda's refusal to provide assistance as definitive evidence that the two outfits were at odds and unable to hook up in the future. "But, officials said, there are growing indications," Jehl wrote, "that the two groups are distinct and independent, and are embracing different tactics and agendas."

Now what had Safire said about that smoking gun request for help? Safire--perhaps following the lead of his commander-in-chief--had too eagerly overstated evidence. He had cited a postwar request for aid as a no-doubt-about-it evidence of a prewar alliance. That was a clumsy sleight-of-hand. And then it turned out that this request was not even proof of a current relationship between these two bands of terrorists.

This was not a first for Safire. He has often hyperbolically exclaimed, "case closed," in discussing the supposed Al Qaeda-Iraq connection, frequently pointing to the so-called Prague connection. In a November 25 column, he again noted that after the 9/11 attacks Czech intelligence had reported that 9/11 mastermind Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague several months before the assault. But the CIA and the FBI had long ago concluded this Czech report was probably untrue--a development reported more than once in the pages of--you've guessed it--the New York Times. Still, Safire insisted the Atta-in-Prague story was worthy of further investigation.

Two weeks later, though, a major newspaper--yes, it was the New York Times--reported that Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, the Iraqi intelligence officer alleged to have met with Atta, told American interrogators (after he had been nabbed by US forces in July) that the meeting with Atta never happened. The newspaper also disclosed that captured senior operatives of Al Qaeda had denied any alliance between Al Qaeda and Hussein. Quoting a classified intelligence report, the Times said that Abu Zubaydah, one of the most senior Al Qaeda leaders held by the United States, told the CIA that several Al Qaeda operatives had considered exploiting Hussein's antipathy toward the United States to obtain military equipment from Iraq. But, Zubaydah added, bin Laden vetoed the idea of working with the corrupt and irreligious Hussein. Safire did not praise this particular Times piece.

As the Atta-in-Prague story currently stands, it sure looks like Safire was wrong. That is, if you believe the New York Times. And in a recent piece in Salon, Barry Lando, a former producer for 60 Minutes, demolished a series of columns in which Safire accused several French companies of helping Iraq obtain rocket fuel components.

Safire ended his February 11, 2004, piece with a most disingenuous assertion. He noted that there were three reasons for the Iraq war: stopping mass murder; Hussein's ties to terrorism; and the "reasoned judgment that Saddam had a bioweapon that could wipe out a city." As for the first, there was no mass murder occurring at the time of the invasion. In a January 2004 report, Human Rights Watch noted that Hussein's mass killings had mainly occurred in 1988, during an anti-Kurd genocide, and in 1991, when Hussein suppressed the post-Gulf War uprisings that President George H.W. Bush had encouraged but not supported. "Brutal as Saddam Hussein's reign had been," the report noted, "the scope of the Iraqi governments killing in March 2003 was not of the exceptional and dire magnitude that would justify humanitarian intervention…. [B]y the time of the March 2003 invasion, Saddam Hussein's killing had ebbed." So Bush's invasion had not stopped any genocidal massacres.

As for Hussein's bioweapons, Safire wrote, "in time we are likely to find a buried suitcase containing that, too." (Too? What else has been found? No weapons of mass destruction so far.) Yet in a February 5 speech, Tenet said that while the CIA had concluded before the war that Iraq had a bioweapons development program, "we said we had no specific information on the types or quantities of weapons, agent, or stockpiles at Baghdad's disposal." Does Safire know something that Tenet doesn't?

If a newspaper columnist writes articles that defy the reality reported by the paper's own correspondents, how should the paper's editors and publisher respond? Should they question the columnist's judgment and powers of evaluation? Should they print corrections? Columnists are certainly entitled to their views. They are free to speculate and suppose. They can draw--or suggest--connections that go beyond just-the-facts reporting. But Safire's recent work--unburdened by factchecking, unchallenged by editors--shows he is more intent on manipulating than interpreting the available information. His February 11 masterpiece is evidence his commitment to scoring political points exceeds his commitment to the truth. Under the cover of opinion journalism, he is dishing out disinformation. How is that of service to the readers of the New York Times?

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.

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What Bush's Guard File Reveals

Okay, we were wrong--the we being those who called on Bush to honor his promise to release his entire Air National Guard records in the hope it would clarify the mysteries surrounding the last eighteen months of his service. After trying to back away from that promise, the Bush White House finally did relent. Last Friday, it handed out packets of hundreds of pages of Bush's Air National Guard file. Yet these records contained not a single sheet that that can be used to resolve the controversy. In fact, the file only reinforces the existing questions.

To recap, here are the three key issues.

* In May 1972, Bush moved from Texas to Alabama to work on the Senate campaign of a family friend. He still had two years left on his Guard obligation. He requested permission to continue his Guard training in Alabama. But did he show up?

* Sometime after the November 1972 election, he returned to Houston. But his immediate supervisors at Ellington Air Base in Houston--his home base--noted in a May 2, 1973, annual performance review that Bush "has not been observed at this unit" for the past year. After that report, he put in several intensive stints of duty. But had Bush ignored his Guard responsibilities for months once he was back in Houston?

* In September 1972, he was grounded for failing to take a flight physical. Why did he not go through this simple step to preserve his flying status?

The new records provide answers to none of this. Although they detail much of his first years in the Air National Guard--his assignments, his training, his drills--they contain no specific references to duty he might have done in Alabama or Houston in the May 1972 to May 1973 period. Let's look at the three pieces:

AlabamaOn May 24, 1972, Bush filed out a form requesting a transfer to the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron in Montgomery, Alabama. But according to this application, he was already in Alabama at work on that Senate campaign. On May 26, the commander of the 9921st wrote Bush to tell him that his application had been accepted. This suggests that Bush moved to Alabama before he had arranged for any Guard reassignment. Was that SOP?

In any event, two months later, on July 21, 1972, the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver nixed the reassignment, noting that Bush, "an obligated Reservist" could only be "assigned to a specific Ready Reserve Position." Bush, the ARPC said, "is ineligible for assignment to an Air Reserve Squadron."

There are no records indicating Bush did a stitch of work for the 9921st. Even the pay sheet summaries and attendance point records that the White House released earlier do not contain a single entry for the entire May to mid-October 1972 period.

After Bush's reassignment was turned down, he waited six weeks to request another assignment. On September 5, he requested permission to "perform equivalent duty" at the 187th Tac Recon Group in Montgomery "for the months of September, October, and November." He quickly received approval to do so. He was told that the "Unit Training Assembly schedule" for the 187th called for drills on October 7-8 and November 4-5 and that he should report to Lt. Col. William Turnipseed, the base commander. During the 2000 campaign, Turnipseed said that Bush had never reported in. He repeated that assertion recently, but then noted he was not completely certain. The Bush records do not list any service on the days of these training assembly drills. The pay sheet summaries note that Bush was paid for two days of service on October 28 and 29. But they do not specify what service was performed or where. After doing no work for the Guard from April through early September, did Bush wait another six weeks before reporting for duty?

An unnamed Republican close to Bush did point reporters to a former Alabama Air National Guard officer who had served at the Dannelly Air Base (the home of the 187th) who claimed he had seen Bush report for duty eight to ten times between May and October 1972. But Bush's file shows that Bush did not even apply for reassignment to the 187th until September. And those pay sheet summaries only suggest Bush put in two days of service late in October. His file records contradict this person's account.

HoustonFor the stretch from early January 1973 to early May 1973, the pay sheet summaries indicate eight days of possible service: January 4-6 and 8-10 and April 7-8. The summaries also note days of possible service on May 1-3. Presumably, the April and May service occurred at Ellington. But there is nothing-- nothing--in the files that correspond to these days. Moreover, if Bush did put in time in April and early May 1973, why did his immediate superiors--who were buddies of his--sign a form on May 2 saying that Bush had not been seen at Ellington for a year? (Both men are deceased.) Could this mean that the pay sheet summaries are not accurate? These records--and a one-page document indicating he received a dental examination at an Alabama air base in early January 1973--are the key pieces of evidence for the Bush White House's argument that Bush served during the missing year.

Most of the AWOL controversy has focused on Bush's months in Alabama. But the question of whether he shirked his Guard responsibilities upon his return to Texas is as significant. Perhaps it is possible that his Guard file did not reflect his service in Alabama because he was doing temporary duty away from his home base. But why would his main file--which is loaded with information pertaining to his duty at Ellington before May 1972--have nothing in it about his activity at Ellington in the first four months of 1973? This gap is as suspicious as the Alabama hole.

The flight physicalBush's file also provides no explanation for the flight physical that did not happen. The White House did allow reporters to look at medical records that were in Bush's Guard files. But the journalists were not permitted to leave with copies. Apparently these records contained nothing unusual. In 2000, the Bush campaign said that Bush did not take a flight physical because he was living in Alabama and his personal physician was in Houston. But personal physicians did not administer flight exams; military surgeons did. More recently, the White House has said that because Bush was no longer flying fighter interceptor jets he had no reason to undergo a physical. Some military experts have found that explanation unpersuasive; others have called it reasonable. But why the shift in stories?

So the fog of Bush's Guard service remains. The file is no help. Bill Burkett, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard did tell various newspapers recently that in 1997 he was in a National Guard office and overheard Joseph Allbaugh, then chief of staff for Governor George W. Bush, inform another officer that he needed to make sure there was nothing embarrassing in Bush's Guard file. Burkett recalled he later spotted items from Bush's file in the trash. Allbaugh and the White House denied these allegations. Is it possible that Allbaugh--or anyone else--could have rigged files in both the Texas office and the main repository in Denver? Suspicious minds can look at the released file and wonder why an absence in good record keeping happens to match the time period in question.

Still, the story of Bush's missing year is unresolved. It may never be settled. Unless more records somehow materialize, or convincing witnesses come forward. And if the Bush White House has played this episode to a who-will-ever-know tie, perhaps that is, in the end, a win for the former Air National Guard first lieutenant with a file full of riddles.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.

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W's AWOL Spin Update!

[UPDATE: On February 13, the White House released what it said were Bush's full military records. Reporters were handed two-inch stacks of papers and allowed to examine--but not take--pages of his medicalrecords. The Associated Press reported, "the records provided no evidence Bush served in Alabama." The Washington Post noted that these records contain "numerous gaps in the last two years" of his Guard service--that is, the time period in question. Will this release end the controversy? Look for more here soon....And for complete coverage of the Bush AWOL scandal scroll down for reports filed earlier this week.]

It seems the Bush White House cannot mount its defense of George W. Bush's Air National Guard service without raising more questions.

On February 12, Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, said that the White House had received about 30 pages of medical records from Bush's Guard file. He said they contain "nothing unusual." Then why won't the administration release them--especially after Bush promised on Meet the Press to make his entire file available? Bartlett also acknowledged that the administration has obtained Bush's complete military record from the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver. That, too, is not being made public (at least, not yet).

Retired National Guard officials say that these records should include material detailing what Bush did in Alabama. These documents could be the final word--if they indicate that Bush did appear at Alabama and perform the duty he was obligated to do and if they document that he reported back to his Houston base once he returned from Alabama after the November 1972 election (remember, Bush's file includes an annual performance review dated May 2, 1973, that says he had not been seen at the Houston base for a year) and if they explain why Bush, who had trained as a fighter pilot, failed to take a flight physical exam and was removed from flight status.

Then there's the this-just-in account from John "Bill" Calhoun, a Republican businessman in Atlanta. The Washington Post reported that "a Republican close to Bush" supplied the newspaper the phone number of Calhoun, who was an officer with the Alabama Air National Guard in 1972. Calhoun told the Post that he saw Bush sign in eight to ten times for duty at the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group at Dannelly Field in Montgomery from May to October 1972. Calhoun said, "He'd sit on my couch and read training manuals and accident reports and stuff like that."

Four years ago, when the where-was-W story broke (thanks to a piece by The Boston Globe's Walter Robinson), the Bush campaign promised it would release names of individuals who had served with Bush in Alabama. It never did. The campaign did provide the name of a former girlfriend, but she only said that Bush had told her that he had to report for duty in Alabama; she could not attest that he actually did. Finally, Bush has one witness--out of the 600 to 700 people who served at the Alabama base in 1972.

But Calhoun's account is contradicted by other information--including the few pages of records that the White House released earlier this week. Calhoun says that Bush showed up for duty several times from May to October 1972. But the payment and retirement records the White House handed out three days earlier show that Bush received no pay or attendance credits from April until the end of October 1972. Why, then, is Calhoun's account not in sync with the documents that, according to the White House, settles the matter?

Moreover, the paper trail to date indicates that Bush was not supposed to report to this Montgomery base until October 1972. This is the chronology.

* In May of 1972, Bush moved to Alabama to work on the Senate campaign of a family friend. He asked the Guard to do "equivalent training" at a unit there, and he won approval to join a unit temporarily at Maxwell Air Force Base. But that unit had no airplane or pilots, and the Air Reserve Personnel Center ultimately disallowed this transfer, as an investigation published by TomPaine.com first noted in 2000.

* In September 1972, Bush asked to do duty at Dannelly Field in Montgomery and permission was granted.

The commander of that base and his deputy have said they do not recall Bush reporting for duty. The White House has produced pay sheet summaries that show Bush was paid for duty performed on October 28 and 29 and November 11 through 14 in 1972. These records do not state what duty was performed or where. But if they are indeed accurate (as the White House claims), they indicate Bush performed no other duty from May to December 1972. The question is, how could Calhoun have seen Bush eight to ten times from May to October at Dannelly Field if the available record states that Bush was not told to report to Dannelly Field until September and that Bush did not receive any payment or attendance credits in that May-to-October period other than for two days at the end of October?

Three decades is a long time, and perhaps Calhoun's memory is off on the dates. But Bush's inability to produce a witness prior until now and his unwillingness to provide any recollections of what he did when he served in Alabama (or what he did regarding the Guard when he returned to Houston) are reasons to be wary of late-in-the-game eyewitness testimony that is facilitated by an unnamed "Republican close to Bush." Would GOPers--or a single GOPer--concoct a fake alibi for Bush? Perhaps. As noted below, one former National Guard official charges that a Bush aide cleaned out portions of Bush's military records in 1997--an allegation denied by the White House.

There may be a legitimate explanation for the contradictions between Calhoun's recollections and the documents. Could Bush have been showing up "unofficially" at Dannelly Field? Was there a record-keeping screw-up regarding his request to do his time at that base? But given the dishonest spin the White House has resorted to in trying to defuse the AWOL controversy--and given Bush's broken promise--there is reason to be suspicious of any information that is selective, unconfirmed or contradicted. That is why that at this point Bush has only one honorable option: release the records.

******************

This week's initial "Capital Games" report on Bush's AWOL controversy and two updates

George W. Bush is lucky that Scott McClellan is not his lawyer and that the White House press briefing room is not a courtroom.

On February 10, the Bush White House tried to rid itself of the allegation that Bush ducked out of his Air National Guard Service from May 1972 to May 1973. Two days earlier on Meet the Press, Bush maintained, "I did report, otherwise I wouldn't have been honorably discharged." But he offered no details. He did not describe what drills he did; he did not mention anyone with whom he served during the time in question. When host Tim Russert asked if he would open up his "entire" file and release "everything to settle this," Bush said, "Yeah. Absolutely."

And two days later, McClellan was in the briefing room holding up new documents that he claimed proved Bush had "fulfilled his duties." The key material, which the White House had managed to obtain PDQ from the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver--were several pages of microfiche payment sheet summaries that apparently showed Bush was paid several times in the months of October and November 1972 and January and April 1973. McClellan also cited two retirement records that showed Bush had amassed attendance points for these days.

This new material did bolster Bush's defense. But it hardly resolved the issue. Nor did it address the most damning elements of the case against Bush. Most notable of these is the May 2, 1973, annual performance review--signed by two superior officers, who were friends of Bush--that noted, "Lt. Bush has not been observed at" his home base unit in Houston for the past year. Bush has said he spent about half of that period reporting to a Guard base in Alabama, while he was temporarily living there. The new records do not explain why the commander of that unit and his administrative officer say they never saw Bush. Nor do they explain why the Bush campaign in 2000 failed to keep its promise to produce the names of people who had served with Bush in Alabama. Nor do these records explain why Bush, who had been trained as fighter pilot, failed to take a flight physical during the year in question and was grounded. Nor do they back up the 2000 Bush campaign's explanation that Bush did not take a flight physical because he was living in Alabama and his personal doctor was in Houston. (Flight physicals are administered by military physicians, and there were flight physicians at the base in Alabama where Bush says he served.)

The records hailed by the White House only demonstrate that Bush received payments and credit for a modest amount of days. They do not show what he did and where he did it. Those sorts of records detailing Bush's service should exist, according to military experts. But that is not what the White House handed out. Is it possible Bush received payment and credit for days of service that did not happen? Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who served in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, recently wrote that he was routinely paid for Guard duty he never did. Given the other evidence, these pay records are not end-of-story proof.

But what makes the White House case particularly unconvincing is McClellan's performance at the press briefing. It was a remarkable exhibition of dissimulation that deserves to be studied by students of political spin. He avoided remaining questions. He kept insisting that these records meant there was nothing else to discuss. He denied reality and refused to acknowledge there was documentary evidence contradicting Bush's account. He was an automaton: these records showed that he served, these records showed that he served, these records showed that he served.

The first question was a tough one for McClellan. A reporter asked:

The records that you handed out today, and other records that exist, indicate that the President did not perform any Guard duty during the months of December 1972, February or March of 1973. I'm wondering if you can tell us where he was during that period. And also, how is it that he managed to not make the medical requirements to remain on active flight duty status?

The exchange that followed was not edifying.

A: These records verify that he met the requirements necessary to fulfill his duties. These records --

Q: That wasn't my question, Scott.

A: These payroll records --

Q: Scott, that wasn't my question, and you know it wasn't my question. Where was he in December of '72, February and March of '73? And why did he not fulfill the medical requirements to remain on active flight duty status?

A: These records -- these records I'm holding here clearly document the President fulfilling his duties in the National Guard. The president was proud of his service. The president --

Q: I asked a simple question; how about a simple answer?

A: John, if you'll let me address the question, I'm coming to your answer.

But McClellan never got there. He did not reveal where Bush had been during those months. And he said nothing about Bush's failure to take a flight physical.

Another reporter, citing the promise made by the Bush campaign in 2000, asked whether the White House had been able to find anyone who could verify Bush's service in Alabama. McClellan replied: "All the information that we have we shared with you in 2000, that was relevant to this issue....[T]here are some out there that were making outrageous, baseless accusations. It was a shame that they brought it up four years ago. It was a shame that they brought it up again this year. And I think that the facts are very clear from these documents. These documents -- the payroll records and the [attendance] point summaries verify that he was paid for serving and that he met his requirements." In other words, the Bush White House had found no one.

Then came this follow-up from a reporter: "I do think this is important. You know, it might strike some as odd that there isn't anyone who can stand up and say, I served with George W. Bush in Alabama....Particularly because there are people, his superiors who have stepped forward...who have said in the past several years that they have no recollection of him being there and serving. So isn't that odd that nobody -- you can't produce anyone to corroborate what these records purport to show?" McClellan answered, "We're talking about some 30 years ago." But there were 600 to 700 people who served at the Alabama base at that time. Surely, if the White House had to find someone who went to grade school with Bush 45 years ago--and class sizes were not that big back then--they could.

McClellan's most unbelievable statements came after a reporter asked him about the annual performance review that indicated Bush had not reported for duty at his home base in Houston for a year. Let's go to the videotape:

Q: The President's officer effectiveness report, filed by his commanders, Lieutenants Colonel Killean and Harris, both now deceased, for the period 01 May '72 to 30 April, '73, says he has not been observed at this unit, where he was supposed to show up and earning these points on these days....The president said he returned to Texas in November of '72. So some of these dates of service, which are in these [payment] records, ought to have been noted by his commanding officers, who, nevertheless, said, twice, he has not been observed here. Can you explain that?

A: I'm not sure about these specific documents. I'll be glad to take a look at them. But these [newly released] documents show the days on which he was paid for his service.....

Q: So he served, but his commanding officers didn't know it?

A: Again, I don't know the specific documents you're referring to. If you want to bring those to me, I'll be glad to take a look at them and get you the answers to your questions.

McClellan didn't know about this specific document? That would be like Martha Stewart's attorney saying he was not familiar with her stockbroker's assistant's contention that she had sold stock on inside information. This document--first brought to public attention in May 2000 by Walter Robinson of The Boston Globe--is at the core of the case against Bush. If McClellan does not know about it, Bush ought to fire him immediately (or name him head of the CIA).

Later in the press briefing, another reporter took a stab at forcing McClellan to deal with Exhibit A.

Q: After all of the things you repeated here, you cannot explain this contradiction, the fact that his payroll records indicate he was paid for a period of time for fulfilling service, and yet his commanding officers at that time wrote that he was not observed. Can you or can you not explain that contradiction?

A:....I said I would glad to go back and look at the document that he's referencing. I have not --

Q: You know the document he's referencing. Everybody does. His commanders --

A: No, I have not -- I have not seen the document he's referencing.

Q: -- are quoted repeatedly for years --

A: You're talking about quotes -- you're talking about quotes from individuals. And we said for years, going back four years ago, that the president recalls serving and performing his duties.

Q: I understand that, but his commanders do not recall it. And, in fact, they say, that he was not observed. So can you explain the contradiction, or can't you?

A: I've seen some different comments he's -- no, I've seen some different comments made over the recent time period.

Q: I haven't seen any different -- different comments...from his [Houston base] commanders, who said he was not observed. Can you explain the contradiction?

A: Look, I can't speak for those individuals. I can speak for the president of the United States. And I can speak --

Q: -- the documents --

A: And I can speak for the fact that the documents that -- as far as we know, all the documents that are available relevant to this issue demonstrate that the president fulfilled his duties. Are you suggesting these documents do not reflect that?

That's the whole issue. A critical document says Bush was gone for a year. It was signed by two superior officers who were also his buddies. As for the documents McClellan held in his hand, reporters asked him if the White House was maintaining that they proved Bush had actually reported for duty in Alabama.

Q: It's your position that these documents specifically show that he served in Alabama during the period 1972, when he was supposed to be there. Do they specifically show that?

A: No, I think if you look at the documents, what they show are the days on which he was paid, the payroll records. And we previously said that the president recalls serving both in Alabama and in Texas.

Q: I'm not interested in what he recalls. I'm interested in whether these documents specifically show that he was in Alabama and served on the days during the latter part of 1972 --

A: And I just answered that question.

Q: You have not answered that question. You --

A: No, I said -- no, I said, no, in response to your question, Keith.

Q: No, so the answer is, "no"?

A: I said these documents show the days on which he was paid. That's what they show. So they show -- they show that he was paid on these days....It just kind of amazes me that some will now say they want more information, after the payroll records and the [attendance] point summaries have all been released to show that he met his requirements and to show that he fulfilled his duties.

Can you believe it? Reporters wanted definitive information stating that Bush had truly been at the Alabama base? That apparently was too much for the press secretary. And when one of the media hounds asked exactly what Bush had done while supposedly serving in Alabama, McClellan countered, "You're asking me to kind of break down hour-by-hour what he was doing during 1972 and 1973. What these documents show is that he was serving in the National Guard and he was paid for that service." No one was requesting an hour-by-hour itemization. But McClellan would only say that Bush "remembers serving during that period and performing his duties." Bush, it seems, has no recollection of what that service entailed. Instructing pilots? Filing papers? Hanging out at the officers' lounge? He won't say.

A reporter asked, "You can't even tell us what kind of drills or what-have-you?" And McClellan resorted to an old dodge: "We addressed all those questions back during the 2000 campaign fully." That was an untrue statement. In 2000, the Bush campaign left much of this unaddressed. Bush did not state then what he had done in Alabama. This reporter noted that most people can "detail" what they did when they worked. But McClellan kept fibbing: "And we did. During the 2000 campaign, we talked about this issue fully."

The Bush gang did not talk about the issues fully then--and it is not doing so now. The currently available records support conflicting accounts. Bush's unwillingness (or inability) to provide any specific recollections is certainly suspicious, as is his refusal to answer questions about his failure to take a flight physical. By releasing the pay sheet summaries and retirement records, Bush has not made good on his pledge to Russert. There likely are other records in his military files that could be of use in settling this dispute--medical records, perhaps. Are there disciplinary records? When Bob Fertik of Democrats.com filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2000 requesting portions of Bush's military records, he asked for pay stubs. He was turned down by the military, which cited Bush's privacy rights. If Bush and McClellan really want to address this issue "fully," Bush should waive his privacy rights and release all the papers that remain. He did promise to disclose "everything."

Despite McClellan's repeated assertion, the pay sheet summaries and retirement records are not enough. That's especially true when they are waved about by a defender who spins, trims, and ducks and who at key moments is AWOL from the truth.

UPDATE NO. 1

On February 11, the White House released a one-page record of a dental exam that Bush received at the Alabama Air National Guard base on January 6, 1973. This is the first documentary indication that Bush was ever present at this base. This document does strengthen Bush's case. But assuming it is legitimate--and I'm not suggesting it is not--it does not seal the deal. Bush has said he returned to Houston from Alabama after the November 1972 election. (He had been working in Alabama on the Senate campaign of a Republican friend of his family, who ended up losing the race.) It certainly is possible that he stayed in Alabama for several months after the election--though he was in Washington, DC, with his family during the Christmas holidays. Still, there are no records covering the time he returned to Houston and the May 2, 1973, annual review that noted he had not been seen at the base.

And as the White House released this document, it declared that it had no intention of opening Bush's entire Guard files. On Meet the Press, Bush had been asked if he would make his whole file available (as had Senator John McCain and retired General Wesley Clark). Bush replied, "Yeah. Absolutely." But now the White House position is less absolute.

Meanwhile, Bill Burkett, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard told various newspapers this week that in 1997 he was in a National Guard office and overheard Joseph Allbaugh, who was then chief of staff for Governor George W. Bush, tell an officer he needed to make sure there was nothing embarrassing in Bush's Guard file. Burkett recalled he later spotted items from Bush's file in the trash. Allbaugh and the White House denied these allegations.

Partial releases. Allegations of file-fixing. No explanations for remaining questions. The best way for Bush to reach a final resolution on this controversy would be to release everything in his file--that is, to keep his promise.

UPDATE NO. 2

At the daily press briefing on February 11, McClellan continued to trample the truth. When a reporter noted that Bush had agreed on Meet the Press to open up his entire military file, McClellan replied, "the specific question was about service, whether or not he had served in the military, if you go back to look at the context of the discussion." Translation: no friggin' way. But Bush had said he would "absolutely" release his full file. Call it, Promise Abandoned.

In another exchange, a reporter asked why the White House would not address questions regarding Bush's failure to take a flight physical in 1972. McClellan replied, "I think this was all addressed previously. I think that, again, this goes to show that some are not interested in the facts of whether or not he served; they're interested in trolling for trash and using this issue for political partisan gain."

Wrong again. The White House had not addressed this previously. And the explanation the Bush campaign offered in 2000 turned out to be phony. Moreover, why is seeking an answer to this question "trolling for trash"? The reporter pressed McClellan and asked "what was the answer previous to this?" Rather than provide that "answer," McClellan said, "I'm not going to engage in gutter politics." But he did not say why it would be "gutter politics" to restate what the Bush folks had said about this matter earlier. Still, he insisted "we went through this in 1994, I believe again in '98, 2000. Now some are trying to bring it up again in 2004." He just wouldn't repeat what had been said in those earlier instances.

At the press briefing the next day, McClellan once more was asked, "Why won't you talk about why he didn't show up for his physical, which is a question that still persists?" His initial response was predictable: "We answered that question four years ago." But then he added, "The reason--well, he was on--first of all, you're saying he didn't show up. He was on--he moved to Alabama for a civilian job and he was on non-flying status while in Alabama. There was no need for a flight exam."

But this was not what the Bush campaign had said in 2000. It had claimed that Bush did not take a flight physical because he was in Alabama and his personal physician was in Houston--even though personal physicians do not adminster flight physicals; Air Force doctors do. Moreover, Bush returned to Houston after November 1972, and he remained in the Guard until the end of July 1973. Why did he not take a flight physical then. Was it because he remained on non-flight status? If so, why? Perhaps his full records would resolve this mystery. But when it comes to releasing the complete file, McClellan has turned Bush's "absolutely" into an "absolutely not."

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com<

W as in AWOL: Case Not Closed

[FOR TWO UPDATES ON BUSH'S BROKEN PROMISE AND MORE WHITE HOUSE SPINNING ON THE AWOL CONTROVERSY, SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM]

George W. Bush is lucky that Scott McClellan is not his lawyer and that the White House press briefing room is not a courtroom.

On February 10, the Bush White House tried to rid itself of the allegation that Bush ducked out of his Air National Guard Service from May 1972 to May 1973. Two days earlier on Meet the Press, Bush maintained, "I did report, otherwise I wouldn't have been honorably discharged." But he offered no details. He did not describe what drills he did; he did not mention anyone with whom he served during the time in question. When host Tim Russert asked if he would open up his "entire" file and release "everything to settle this," Bush said, "Yeah. Absolutely."

And two days later, McClellan was in the briefing room holding up new documents that he claimed proved Bush had "fulfilled his duties." The key material, which the White House had managed to obtain PDQ from the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver--were several pages of microfiche payment sheet summaries that apparently showed Bush was paid several times in the months of October and November 1972 and January and April 1973. McClellan also cited two retirement records that showed Bush had amassed attendance points for these days.

This new material did bolster Bush's defense. But it hardly resolved the issue. Nor did it address the most damning elements of the case against Bush. Most notable of these is the May 2, 1973, annual performance review--signed by two superior officers, who were friends of Bush--that noted, "Lt. Bush has not been observed at" his home base unit in Houston for the past year. Bush has said he spent about half of that period reporting to a Guard base in Alabama, while he was temporarily living there. The new records do not explain why the commander of that unit and his administrative officer say they never saw Bush. Nor do they explain why the Bush campaign in 2000 failed to keep its promise to produce the names of people who had served with Bush in Alabama. Nor do these records explain why Bush, who had been trained as fighter pilot, failed to take a flight physical during the year in question and was grounded. Nor do they back up the 2000 Bush campaign's explanation that Bush did not take a flight physical because he was living in Alabama and his personal doctor was in Houston. (Flight physicals are administered by military physicians, and there were flight physicians at the base in Alabama where Bush says he served.)

The records hailed by the White House only demonstrate that Bush received payments and credit for a modest amount of days. They do not show what he did and where he did it. Those sorts of records detailing Bush's service should exist, according to military experts. But that is not what the White House handed out. Is it possible Bush received payment and credit for days of service that did not happen? Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who served in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, recently wrote that he was routinely paid for Guard duty he never did. Given the other evidence, these pay records are not end-of-story proof.

But what makes the White House case particularly unconvincing is McClellan's performance at the press briefing. It was a remarkable exhibition of dissimulation that deserves to be studied by students of political spin. He avoided remaining questions. He kept insisting that these records meant there was nothing else to discuss. He denied reality and refused to acknowledge there was documentary evidence contradicting Bush's account. He was an automaton: these records showed that he served, these records showed that he served, these records showed that he served.

The first question was a tough one for McClellan. A reporter asked:

The records that you handed out today, and other records that exist, indicate that the President did not perform any Guard duty during the months of December 1972, February or March of 1973. I'm wondering if you can tell us where he was during that period. And also, how is it that he managed to not make the medical requirements to remain on active flight duty status?

The exchange that followed was not edifying.

A: These records verify that he met the requirements necessary to fulfill his duties. These records --

Q: That wasn't my question, Scott.

A: These payroll records --

Q: Scott, that wasn't my question, and you know it wasn't my question. Where was he in December of '72, February and March of '73? And why did he not fulfill the medical requirements to remain on active flight duty status?

A: These records -- these records I'm holding here clearly document the President fulfilling his duties in the National Guard. The president was proud of his service. The president --

Q: I asked a simple question; how about a simple answer?

A: John, if you'll let me address the question, I'm coming to your answer.

But McClellan never got there. He did not reveal where Bush had been during those months. And he said nothing about Bush's failure to take a flight physical.

Another reporter, citing the promise made by the Bush campaign in 2000, asked whether the White House had been able to find anyone who could verify Bush's service in Alabama. McClellan replied: "All the information that we have we shared with you in 2000, that was relevant to this issue....[T]here are some out there that were making outrageous, baseless accusations. It was a shame that they brought it up four years ago. It was a shame that they brought it up again this year. And I think that the facts are very clear from these documents. These documents -- the payroll records and the [attendance] point summaries verify that he was paid for serving and that he met his requirements." In other words, the Bush White House had found no one.

Then came this follow-up from a reporter: "I do think this is important. You know, it might strike some as odd that there isn't anyone who can stand up and say, I served with George W. Bush in Alabama....Particularly because there are people, his superiors who have stepped forward...who have said in the past several years that they have no recollection of him being there and serving. So isn't that odd that nobody -- you can't produce anyone to corroborate what these records purport to show?" McClellan answered, "We're talking about some 30 years ago." But there were 600 to 700 people who served at the Alabama base at that time. Surely, if the White House had to find someone who went to grade school with Bush 45 years ago--and class sizes were not that big back then--they could.

McClellan's most unbelievable statements came after a reporter asked him about the annual performance review that indicated Bush had not reported for duty at his home base in Houston for a year. Let's go to the videotape:

Q: The President's officer effectiveness report, filed by his commanders, Lieutenants Colonel Killean and Harris, both now deceased, for the period 01 May '72 to 30 April, '73, says he has not been observed at this unit, where he was supposed to show up and earning these points on these days....The president said he returned to Texas in November of '72. So some of these dates of service, which are in these [payment] records, ought to have been noted by his commanding officers, who, nevertheless, said, twice, he has not been observed here. Can you explain that?

A: I'm not sure about these specific documents. I'll be glad to take a look at them. But these [newly released] documents show the days on which he was paid for his service.....

Q: So he served, but his commanding officers didn't know it?

A: Again, I don't know the specific documents you're referring to. If you want to bring those to me, I'll be glad to take a look at them and get you the answers to your questions.

McClellan didn't know about this specific document? That would be like Martha Stewart's attorney saying he was not familiar with her stockbroker's assistant's contention that she had sold stock on inside information. This document--first brought to public attention in May 2000 by Walter Robinson of The Boston Globe--is at the core of the case against Bush. If McClellan does not know about it, Bush ought to fire him immediately (or name him head of the CIA).

Later in the press briefing, another reporter took a stab at forcing McClellan to deal with Exhibit A.

Q: After all of the things you repeated here, you cannot explain this contradiction, the fact that his payroll records indicate he was paid for a period of time for fulfilling service, and yet his commanding officers at that time wrote that he was not observed. Can you or can you not explain that contradiction?

A:....I said I would glad to go back and look at the document that he's referencing. I have not --

Q: You know the document he's referencing. Everybody does. His commanders --

A: No, I have not -- I have not seen the document he's referencing.

Q: -- are quoted repeatedly for years --

A: You're talking about quotes -- you're talking about quotes from individuals. And we said for years, going back four years ago, that the president recalls serving and performing his duties.

Q: I understand that, but his commanders do not recall it. And, in fact, they say, that he was not observed. So can you explain the contradiction, or can't you?

A: I've seen some different comments he's -- no, I've seen some different comments made over the recent time period.

Q: I haven't seen any different -- different comments...from his [Houston base] commanders, who said he was not observed. Can you explain the contradiction?

A: Look, I can't speak for those individuals. I can speak for the president of the United States. And I can speak --

Q: -- the documents --

A: And I can speak for the fact that the documents that -- as far as we know, all the documents that are available relevant to this issue demonstrate that the president fulfilled his duties. Are you suggesting these documents do not reflect that?

That's the whole issue. A critical document says Bush was gone for a year. It was signed by two superior officers who were also his buddies. As for the documents McClellan held in his hand, reporters asked him if the White House was maintaining that they proved Bush had actually reported for duty in Alabama.

Q: It's your position that these documents specifically show that he served in Alabama during the period 1972, when he was supposed to be there. Do they specifically show that?

A: No, I think if you look at the documents, what they show are the days on which he was paid, the payroll records. And we previously said that the president recalls serving both in Alabama and in Texas.

Q: I'm not interested in what he recalls. I'm interested in whether these documents specifically show that he was in Alabama and served on the days during the latter part of 1972 --

A: And I just answered that question.

Q: You have not answered that question. You --

A: No, I said -- no, I said, no, in response to your question, Keith.

Q: No, so the answer is, "no"?

A: I said these documents show the days on which he was paid. That's what they show. So they show -- they show that he was paid on these days....It just kind of amazes me that some will now say they want more information, after the payroll records and the [attendance] point summaries have all been released to show that he met his requirements and to show that he fulfilled his duties.

Can you believe it? Reporters wanted definitive information stating that Bush had truly been at the Alabama base? That apparently was too much for the press secretary. And when one of the media hounds asked exactly what Bush had done while supposedly serving in Alabama, McClellan countered, "You're asking me to kind of break down hour-by-hour what he was doing during 1972 and 1973. What these documents show is that he was serving in the National Guard and he was paid for that service." No one was requesting an hour-by-hour itemization. But McClellan would only say that Bush "remembers serving during that period and performing his duties." Bush, it seems, has no recollection of what that service entailed. Instructing pilots? Filing papers? Hanging out at the officers' lounge? He won't say.

A reporter asked, "You can't even tell us what kind of drills or what-have-you?" And McClellan resorted to an old dodge: "We addressed all those questions back during the 2000 campaign fully." That was an untrue statement. In 2000, the Bush campaign left much of this unaddressed. Bush did not state then what he had done in Alabama. This reporter noted that most people can "detail" what they did when they worked. But McClellan kept fibbing: "And we did. During the 2000 campaign, we talked about this issue fully."

The Bush gang did not talk about the issues fully then--and it is not doing so now. The currently available records support conflicting accounts. Bush's unwillingness (or inability) to provide any specific recollections is certainly suspicious, as is his refusal to answer questions about his failure to take a flight physical. By releasing the pay sheet summaries and retirement records, Bush has not made good on his pledge to Russert. There likely are other records in his military files that could be of use in settling this dispute--medical records, perhaps. Are there disciplinary records? When Bob Fertik of Democrats.com filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2000 requesting portions of Bush's military records, he asked for pay stubs. He was turned down by the military, which cited Bush's privacy rights. If Bush and McClellan really want to address this issue "fully," Bush should waive his privacy rights and release all the papers that remain. He did promise to disclose "everything."

Despite McClellan's repeated assertion, the pay sheet summaries and retirement records are not enough. That's especially true when they are waved about by a defender who spins, trims, and ducks and who at key moments is AWOL from the truth.

UPDATE NO. 1

On February 11, the White House released a one-page record of a dental exam that Bush received at the Alabama Air National Guard base on January 6, 1973. This is the first documentary indication that Bush was ever present at this base. This document does strengthen Bush's case. But assuming it is legitimate--and I'm not suggesting it is not--it does not seal the deal. Bush has said he returned to Houston from Alabama after the November 1972 election. (He had been working in Alabama on the Senate campaign of a Republican friend of his family, who ended up losing the race.) It certainly is possible that he stayed in Alabama for several months after the election--though he was in Washington, DC, with his family during the Christmas holidays. Still, there are no records covering the time he returned to Houston and the May 2, 1973, annual review that noted he had not been seen at the base.

And as the White House released this document, it declared that it had no intention of opening Bush's entire Guard files. On Meet the Press, Bush had been asked if he would make his whole file available (as had Senator John McCain and retired General Wesley Clark). Bush replied, "Yeah. Absolutely." But now the White House position is less absolute.

Meanwhile, Bill Burkett, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard told various newspapers this week that in 1997 he was in a National Guard office and overheard Joseph Allbaugh, who was then chief of staff for Governor George W. Bush, tell an officer he needed to make sure there was nothing embarrassing in Bush's Guard file. Burkett recalled he later spotted items from Bush's file in the trash. Allbaugh and the White House denied these allegations.

Partial releases. Allegations of file-fixing. No explanations for remaining questions. The best way for Bush to reach a final resolution on this controversy would be to release everything in his file--that is, to keep his promise.

UPDATE NO. 2

At the daily press briefing on February 11, McClellan continued to trample the truth. When a reporter noted that Bush had agreed on Meet the Press to open up his entire military file, McClellan replied, "the specific question was about service, whether or not he had served in the military, if you go back to look at the context of the discussion." Translation: no friggin' way. But Bush had said he would "absolutely" release his full file. Call it, Promise Abandoned.

In another exchange, a reporter asked why the White House would not address questions regarding Bush's failure to take a flight physical in 1972. McClellan replied, "I think this was all addressed previously. I think that, again, this goes to show that some are not interested in the facts of whether or not he served; they're interested in trolling for trash and using this issue for political partisan gain."

Wrong again. The White House had not addressed this previously. And the explanation the Bush campaign offered in 2000 turned out to be phony. Moreover, why is seeking an answer to this question "trolling for trash"? The reporter pressed McClellan and asked "what was the answer previous to this?" Rather than provide that "answer," McClellan said, "I'm not going to engage in gutter politics." But he did not say why it would be "gutter politics" to restate what the Bush folks had said about this matter earlier. Still, he insisted "we went through this in 1994, I believe again in '98, 2000. Now some are trying to bring it up again in 2004." He just wouldn't repeat what had been said in those earlier instances.

At the press briefing the next day, McClellan once more was asked, "Why won't you talk about why he didn't show up for his physical, which is a question that still persists?" His initial response was predictable: "We answered that question four years ago." But then he added, "The reason--well, he was on--first of all, you're saying he didn't show up. He was on--he moved to Alabama for a civilian job and he was on non-flying status while in Alabama. There was no need for a flight exam."

But this was not what the Bush campaign had said in 2000. It had claimed that Bush did not take a flight physical because he was in Alabama and his personal physician was in Houston--even though personal physicians do not adminster flight physicals; Air Force doctors do. Moreover, Bush returned to Houston after November 1972, and he remained in the Guard until the end of July 1973. Why did he not take a flight physical then. Was it because he remained on non-flight status? If so, why? Perhaps his full records would resolve this mystery. But when it comes to releasing the complete file, McClellan has turned Bush's "absolutely" into an "absolutely not."

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.

Beat the Press

I take it back. In my last column I referred to Meet the Press host Tim Russert as the Grand Inquisitor of the Sunday morning talk shows. Not this Sunday. Not when George W. Bush was in his clutches.

Russert is a master of the legitimate gotcha question. I admire his hard-nosed interviewing techniques. But he must have checked them before passing through the metal detectors at the White House. In his Oval Office, hour-long session with Bush, he repeatedly let Bush slide or elide. The few tough queries produced the predictable replies from Bush. And then Russert did not come back with the obvious follow-ups. He was not his usual self: a polite but aggressive quizzer who sticks to specifics, wielding quotes and source material to force his subjects to address previous statements and past actions. Instead, Russert allowed Bush to dish out the all-too familiar, White House-approved rhetoric. It pains me to say, he was more enabler than interrogator.

Russert began by asking Bush about the new commission Bush has created to review the prewar intelligence on Iraq. Bush responded with platitudes about the need for good intelligence. Russert queried Bush on the March 2005 deadline Bush set for the commission's report--which means the report will come out after the election--and noted that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had given a similar British commission a July deadline. Bush said that he didn't want the commission "to be hurried" and that there "will be ample time for the American people to assess whether I made good calls." This sounded like a dodge. Why couldn't the commission, which has to look at a wide range of issues, at least put out before the election an interim report--as commissions often do--on whether the White House exaggerated the prewar intelligence? Wouldn't that help the American people to assess Bush? Russert didn't ask. He took Bush's answer at face value.

On the dicey matter of the absent weapons of mass destruction, Russert reminded Bush that before the war Bush declared the intelligence left "no doubt" that Iraq had WMDs. Faced with this inconvenient quote, Bush offered a defense composed of the assorted lines the White House has been using for months. He said that he had relied upon the best intelligence the US government had at the time, that everyone knew that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous fellow who had used weapons of mass destruction in the past, that former chief weapons hunter David Kay has said that Hussein had the "capacity to produce [WMD] stockpiles," and that the U.N. had declared there were "unaccounted-for stockpiles."

Russert could have challenged Bush on much of this. But he did not point out that U.N. inspectors had not concluded there were unaccounted-for WMD stockpiles in Iraq. (The weapons inspectors, after leaving Iraq in 1998, had said there were discrepancies in Iraq's accounting of its weapons and WMD-related material and that this was worrisome and might mean some weapons remained.) Kay, who found no evidence of any existing weapons, also reported he had uncovered no signs that Iraq had any significant WMD production capability after the first Gulf War. Kay had indeed unearthed evidence of WMD-related "program activities" that he considered dangerous, but he had concluded Iraq had not possessed a serious production capacity. Bush misrepresented Kay's findings, and Russert did not call him on it.

Russert reminded Bush that before the war Bush had claimed that there was a "unique urgency" to the threat from Iraq and that this threat had to be countered "as quickly as possible." He reasonably asked Bush if Hussein really was an "imminent" threat. Bush tossed out the line that the White House has been deploying for months: Hussein was a "grave and gathering threat" because "he had the capacity to make a weapon." Russert could have asked Bush what was "gathering" about the threat from Hussein, especially since no WMDs have been found and Kay has said Hussein's WMD-making capabilities were minimum. But he did not put this important piece of White House rhetoric on the griddle.

In explaining his decision to go to war, Bush told Russert there had been no other choice. It would have been irresponsible, Bush said, to say, "Let's hope [Hussein] changes his stripes....Let us try to contain him." But when Kay testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee two week ago, he said that the U.N. inspection process had contained Hussein's WMD programs. Russert did not bring that up.

Russert did ask Bush whether he had hyped the prewar intelligence on Iraq. Bush replied, "I and my team took the intelligence that was available to us and we analyzed it and it clearly said Saddam Hussein is a threat to America." But Russert did not then do what he is most noted for: he did not present a series of quotes from Bush and his aides and ask Bush to explain and justify specific statements in which he and his aides had overstated the intelligence. Russert could have chosen from a long list. He could have compared these assertions to portions of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq and asked Bush to address the discrepancies between what Bush claimed and what the intelligence actually said.

There are many examples Russert could have thrown at Bush. (I suggested some in a previous column .) For instance, Russert could have reminded viewers that during a nationally televised speech in October 2002, Bush said that Iraq had a "massive stockpile" of biological weapons. But at the same time the National Intelligence Estimate--what was supposed to be a summation of the intelligence community's best material on Iraq--reported that the intelligence agencies had no information on any bioweapons stockpiles. Mr. President, Russert might have asked, please tell us why you said Iraq possessed bioweapons stockpiles, even though U.S. intelligence had no proof such stockpiles existed?

What would Bush have said? We don't know.

Russert could have done the same regarding Bush's and Cheney's dramatic prewar statements suggesting Iraq was close to producing nuclear weapons. He might have done the same concerning the supposed link between Hussein and al Qaeda. Before the invasion, Bush maintained Hussein had an operational alliance with al Qaeda, even though the intelligence did not say so. But Russert did not question him on this. Nor did he do so on whether Hussein was a direct threat to the United States. Russert could have put up on the screen the various times Bush made that claim and then cut to the National Intelligence Estimate's finding that it was unlikely Hussein would strike the United States or share any of his weapons with a terrorist outfit unless the Iraqi dictator was about to be attacked by the United States.

Russert posed too many questions that permitted Bush to reach for sounds-good buzz phrases and platitudes--such as, was this "a war of choice or a war of necessity?" He did not often enough attempt to puncture Bush's assertions with facts. When it came to Bush's reasons for war, he did not truth-test Bush's remarks.

The same happened when Russert turned to the controversy over Bush's service in the Air National Guard. There is evidence--documents from Bush's own file and the statements of Guard officials--that indicate Bush did not report for duty for an entire year. Bush's annual performance review, dated May 2, 1973, is rather damning. It noted, "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit" for the past year. Bush claims that for several months he reported not to his home base in Houston but to a base in Alabama, where he was temporarily living. But the commander of the base has said he never saw Bush. During the 2000 campaign, Bush aides promised they would produce the names of people who served with Bush in Alabama. They did not. And Bush, who says he returned to Houston after November 1972, has never explained why he failed to show up at the base there for six months.

His military record could yield difficult questions for Bush. Why did your campaign not come forward with the name of a single individual who could vouch for your presence at the Alabama base? Why were you not seen at the Houston base after you returned to Texas? Do you deny what was written in your annual performance review? Why did you fail to take a flight physical during that missing year--an act that caused you to be grounded? Why in May, June and July 1973 did you put in extra days of duty? Were you making up for missing time?

Bush has never been grilled by a journalist on this touchy topic. Russert had an opportunity, but he did not, as they say in journalism, advance the story. When he asked Bush about the charge that Bush had been AWOL, Bush dismissed the charge as just "politics." Russert countered that there was no evidence that Bush had reported for duty for a year. But oddly he cited none of the specifics. Bush replied that his critics were "just wrong. I did report....I did show up in Alabama." Russert could have run through the details and pressed Bush to address them. Maybe Bush has decent explanations that he has not yet shared with the public. Instead, Russert merely pushed Bush to make all the available records public. Many key records, though, are already public. So it was no big deal that Bush said, "Sure." The issue is not that Bush is sitting on information; it is that he has not fully discussed and explained the existing record.

Russert next moved to the economy, and Bush said what he always says about his tax cuts: they're great; they're stimulating the economy. But, Russert asked, whatever happened to Bush the fiscal conservative? To make his point, Russert pointed to a General Accounting Office study that maintains the deficit will be so out of control in the year 2040 that the federal government will either have to cut total spending in half or double taxes in order to balance the budget. What are you doing about this "deficit disaster?" Russert asked.

Bush replied with the current White House mantra: "the budget I just proposed cuts the deficit in half in five years." To viewers who are not well-versed in budget policy, Bush's reply probably seemed sensible. Russert was worrying about the deficit 36 years down the road; Bush said he was reducing the deficit in the next few years. But Bush's budget projections are a scam. They do not include obvious expenses--such as the cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan after this coming September. Budget experts across the political spectrum--from Goldman-Sachs, the Concord Coalition, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--have all said that the Bush White House is engaged in fake accounting and that his deficit projections are a fantasy, a dishonest coverup. They agree that the deficits in the coming years will be much higher than Bush is claiming. Just a few days before this interview, The Washington Post editorialists blasted Bush for engaging in outright budgetary deceit.

I waited for Russert to pounce on Bush. But no pounce came. Russert asked Bush why he insisted on cutting taxes in wartime (when every other wartime president since the Civil War has raised taxes). Once more Bush had the chance to pull out one of his stock lines: "I believe the best way to stimulate the economic growth is to allow people to keep more of their own money." Haven't we heard this before? Unfortunately, that could be said about much of what came out of Bush this hour.

In the days before the interview, some Republican strategists were telling reporters that they believed the White House had erred in accepting Russert's invitation. Bush might be experiencing political trouble at the moment. The MIA WMDs have tarnished his credibility. His poll numbers are not so hot. He's been pounded by the Democratic presidential candidates. But place him in Russert's crosshairs? Things aren't that bad. Who knows what might happen when that pitbull got hold of him?

It turns out the doubters had nothing to fear. Bush appeared hesitant the first few minutes, but he ended up doing fine. Russert never cornered him, never pinned him. Russert never made Bush sweat, and Bush was able to reel off the same-old/same-old. Was this because Russert was too respectful of the man or the office? Expectations (mine included) were high. After all, It's not too often a president has to submit to being interviewed by a smart, no-holds-barred journalist.

It's certainly easy to be a Sunday evening quarterback. To be fair to Russert, interviewing politicians is not easy. Most are programmed. Few answer questions directly. Many have learned--or been taught--to turn any query into an opportunity for soapbox speechifying. It's difficult to force them to provide straight answers. And Bush is no slouch in ducking questions and staying with the script. But Russert knows how to cut through the bullshit. This time, though, it looked as if he was unsure of how far he could go. It was as if Russert wouldn't let Russert be Russert. Booking Bush was the big "get," but, alas, Russert let this "get" get away.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com

Eight Questions for George W. Bush

Tim Russert, the Grand Inquisitor of Sunday morning, is scheduled to have George W. Bush in the witness chair for a full hour on the next Meet the Press. He's a lucky man--Russert, that is. This will be high drama, as the nation's politerati--and millions of others--watch to see if Russert gives Bush the hot-seat treatment.

There is, of course, much to ask Bush about. Did he decided to use military force against Iraq before 9/11? Where are the WMDs he insisted were there? Why is he using phony budget numbers? Did he engage in less-than-proper business dealings before he entered politics? Why he has misled the public while promoting his policies on stem cells research, global warming, and missile defense? Why has he opposed certain homeland security measures and not adequately funded others? It's a long list, and I'm sure Russert is busy preparing his own queries. But in an unsolicited act of kindness, I have crafted eight questions for Russert--several on matters in the news, a few on issues that have received less attention. And, Tim, since you always like to display your source material when you ask the tough questions, feel free to call me, and I'll send you the citations or the clips. Unlike many of Bush's WMD assertions, these questions are based on real evidence.

* In October 2002, during a speech in Cincinnati, you said that Saddam Hussein had a "massive stockpile" of biological weapons. But the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq did not report there was any "massive stockpile" of bioweapons in Iraq. And this past Thursday, CIA director, George Tenet said, "We said we had no specific information on the types or quantities of [biological] weapons, agent, or stockpiles at Baghdad's disposal." So if the CIA did not say there was a "massive stockpile" of biological weapons in Iraq, what was your basis for asserting a stockpile existed? Did you know something the CIA did not? Did you overstate the intelligence?

* In December 2002, you said, "We do not know whether or not [Hussein] has a nuclear weapon"--a remark suggesting that Hussein might have one. But the National Intelligence Estimate said that he did not have a nuclear weapon and that it would take Iraq five to seven years to produce a nuclear weapon--and then only if its nuclear weapons program was "left unchecked." This past week, Tenet said, "We said Saddam Hussein did not have a nuclear weapon." Was it not misleading to tell the public that "we don't know" whether Iraq had a nuclear weapon, when, in fact, we did know?

* Before the war, you said Hussein was "dealing" with al Qaeda. On May 1, you called Hussein an "ally" of Al Qaeda. At a press conference in July 2003, you were asked to provide evidence to back up your claims that Hussein had been working with al Qaeda. You replied,

"Yes, I think, first of all, remember I just said we've been there for 90 days since the cessation of major military operations. Now, I know in our world where news comes and goes and there's this kind of instant--instant news and you must have done this, you must do that yesterday, that there's a level of frustration by some in the media. I'm not suggesting you're frustrated. You don't look frustrated to me at all. But it's going to take time for us to gather the evidence and analyze the mounds of evidence, literally, the miles of documents that we have uncovered. "

That is, you said that investigators were still looking for evidence. But the question was, what evidence did you have at the time that you made those prewar claims that al Qaeda and Hussein were in cahoots? You did not answer that question then. Can you tell us what evidence you had for saying that Hussein was an "ally" of al Qaeda?

* In July 2001, US intelligence produced a warning that read, "Based on a review of all-source reporting over the last five months, we believe that UBL [Usama bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against U.S. and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning."

This was less than two months before the horrific 9/11 attacks. According to the final report of the joint inquiry on 9/11 conducted by the House and Senate intelligence committees, this warning was prepared for "senior government officials." The committees did not publicly say who received the report, and they said this was because the CIA would not permit them to tell the public which "senior government officials" were warned. The committees were angry about being gagged this way. But committee sources did tell reporters that this report was sent to the White House.

Why wouldn't your administration tell the public who saw this warning? Did you or any of your national security team see this report? If so, what did you or they do in response? If this report did not make it to you or your senior aides, wouldn't you consider that a terrible mistake and want to find out who was responsible for that?

* In your Air National Guard records, your annual performance review, dated May 2, 1973, says that you did not report for duty to your home base for an entire year. When this was disclosed during the 2000 campaign, your campaign said that you had spent part of that time doing service at an Air National Guard base in Alabama. But the commander of that base said--and recently confirmed--that you never showed up there. In 2000, your campaign promised to produce the names of people whom you served with in Alabama and who could vouch for your presence at the base there. It never did so. Why not? Can you now give us names of men or women with whom you served in Alabama?

* During the year in question, you lost your flight status and were grounded for failing to submit to an annual physical examination. In 2000, your campaign aides said that was because you were in Alabama at the time and your personal doctor was in Houston. But the Boston Globe noted, "Flight physicals can be administered only by certified Air Force flight surgeons." Not personal physicians. And there were military physicians stationed in Alabama, where you were living for part of that year. Why did you not take a flight physical? Why did your campaign put out an explanation that was wrong?

* By your own account, you returned to Houston after the November election of 1972. Yet the records show you did not report in to your Air National Guard base there for six months--not until after that performance review noted you had been missing for a year. Why not? What were you doing during that time?

* When you ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1978 in Texas, you gave an interview to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal newspaper. You were asked about your position on abortion, and this is how that newspaper reported your answer: "Bush said he opposes the pro-life amendment [which would outlaw abortion] and favors leaving up to a woman and her doctor the abortion question." Sixteen years later, when you ran for governor in Texas in 1994, you campaigned as an antiabortion conservative. Few people seem to realize your position on abortion changed 180 degrees. Please tell us, when did you change your view on abortion and why?

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com

Mini-Tuesday: Ten Talking Points

Nothing changes. The results of Mini-Tuesday have not altered the shape of the race. John Kerry won in Missouri, Delaware, Arizona, New Mexico, and North Dakota. John Edwards placed first in his birth state of South Carolina. Wesley Clark nabbed first by several hundred votes in Oklahoma. Howard Dean did not do better than third in any race; he finished fifth (behind Al Sharpton) in South Carolina. Dennis Kucinich, once more, was stuck in asterik-land, but managed to climb to 5 points in New Mexico. So Kerry remains the guy to topple. Edwards and Clark can claim they are winners, too, and proudly proceed. Dean lowered expectations--and met them. Before voters hit the polls in the February 3 states, he said he was not spending any money on television ads in these contests and was instead looking toward upcoming matches in Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin. He still is. But every step Kerry takes that is not a stumble is good news for his campaign. He maintained the overall trendlines and was the only candidate to collect delegates in every state. With three other contenders still in the hunt, the non-Kerry vote remains split--which will help Kerry's efforts to stay ahead in the delegate count. Oh, yes, Joe Lieberman pulled out of the race before all the votes were counted. But that doesn't matter.

Does Kerry have legs? You talk to longtime Kerry aides and friends and they all say the same: Kerry is a great closer, he comes from behind, he shows his campaign skills when the race is tight, he's a fighter when he has to be. Okay, that might explain his surge of recent weeks which led to five-out-of-seven wins on Mini-Tuesday. But what does that mean about his future prospects? He's no longer a comeback kid. He's the pinata at the front of the parade. Can he sustain a leader-of-the-pack campaign? And not just in the next few weeks, but over the course of the next nine months? Before Kerry can resort to his I'm-a-whiz-of-a-closer routine next November, he is going to have to pitch a lot of innings as a starter and as mid-game reliever.

Can Kerry get better--and look better? During a victory speech in Washington state, Kerry was articulate, firm, and strong. He assailed HMOs, drug companies, and polluters, blasted Bush for weakening America at home and abroad, and energetically portrayed himself as a fighter. He delivered his stock lines with more conviction and more punch than he had previously. But--let's be superficial--he didn't look great. "He looks like Dracula," my wife said. I was thinking Herman Munster. Maybe he was tired. But Kerry has trouble smiling. At ease, he has a dour expression. He does not come across as a happy warrior. He has a Bob Dole problem ( the pre-Leno, pre-Viagra Dole), though hardly as much as Dole himself had when he was the GOP nominee in 1996. Moreover, he does look as if he thinks too much. Is America ready for that? By continuing to improve his performance as candidate, can Kerry somehow invigorate his natural demeanor?

Will John Edwards go negative? Edwards has thrived as Mr. Nice. He hasn't said a bad word about the other guys. Now he's trying to convince folks it's a two-man race--and he's the other man (not Dean, not Clark). In mano-a-mano contests, candidates usually feel compelled to compare themselves to the other contestant, and that means pointing out unflattering aspects of the opponent (or, as the pro-Bush forces did in 2000 concerning John McCain, making stuff up). On election night, Edwards, speaking about Kerry, said, "there are real differences in our own backgrounds and our own policies." That sounded as if he is trying to figure out how to exploit those differences. There is a stylistic difference between the campaign populism each has adopted. Kerry tells voters, I want to fight for you. Edwards says, I care about you and believe in you. Do voters want a soldier or a social worker?

Will Edwards get the Botox treatment? As soon as Kerry started winning, Republicans and rightwingers began pummeling him. Ed Gillespie, the head of the Republican Party (and former Enron lobbyist), blasted Kerry for being soft on defense and national security issues, selectively citing a handful of the thousands of votes Kerry has cast in his 19 years as a senator. Rightwing partisans started spreading the word that Kerry was a Botoxer and posting before-and-after photos that supposedly proves this. This move was laughable, but their aim was serious: raise questions about Kerry's authenticity. (Fox News' Brit Hume told viewers, though, that he has seen Kerry in the green room without makeup and that the frown lines are there.) This is just the start. Now, no one is going to take on Edwards on the Botox front. The guy uses reading glasses as a prop to appear more mature. But what attacks await him? Will the right bother? Can he be characterized as a greedy ambulance-chaser who is single-handedly responsible for runaway lawsuits? In recent days, The Washington Post and The New York Times have run stories on his years as a successful trial lawyer. Though the reporters found a handful of detractors, the pieces mostly depicted him as a Grishamesque hero and as an attorney who carefully chose his cases and treated his clients fairly. And since he's only been in the Senate five years, the GOP oppo team will have less of a record to mine.

Is Howard a Dean bipolar? No, I am not talking about his temperament or stability. The issue is his approach to campaigning. One moment he says his Democratic rivals are all "fine people" who would have his support should he not win the nomination; the next he is calling John Kerry a "Republican" who has taken oodles of money from special interests. (By special interests, Dean means lobbyists--while Dean's own campaign chief is a former telecom lobbyist.) Dean has warned Democrats not to nominate Kerry, quoting a Harry Truman line: if you run a Republican against a Republican, a Republican always wins. Dean is off-base; Kerry is no Republican. He has accepted corporate interest money; he has also advocated public financing. He has taken on the CIA and the corruptions of international banking, opposed Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, and led the campaign against drilling in the Alaskan wilderness. Sure, he's pro-NAFTA and has flirted with the Democratic Leadership Council on a few issues. He is not a Wellstone Democrat. But he is not a faux Democrat. As Dean continues to lose ground, how far will he go in his efforts to delegitimize Kerry?

There aren't enough Deaniacs. It was no surprise Dean ran poorly in every state. Still, the Dean argument--pre-Iowa--was that he was bringing hundreds of thousands of new people into the Democratic Party and that his followers had (in a revolutionary manner) created their own local efforts for Dean free of central command in Vermont. His new people and this new form of Internet-driven organizing produced lots of money for Dean, but they have not yielded what Dean needs most now: votes. If he had indeed given birth to a fresh and different sort of electoral movement, then he could have been expected to do better in these states, even without television commercials. Is the lesson, it's damn hard to break the lock of conventional politics? Or, as I've asked before, is it, elections boil down to the man, not the movement? And how long will Dean hang in there? Previously he pointed to Super Tuesday on March 2--which includes primary contests in New York and California--as the do-or-die moment. But as he was interviewed by Larry King, Dean talked about the Florida primary, which is March 9. [UPDATE: On February 4, Dean sent out an email to his supporters saying that the decisive contest for his campaign will be the Wisconsin primary on February 17: "We will get a boost this weekend in Washington, Michigan and Maine, but our true test will be the Wisconsin primary. A win there will carry us to the big states of March 2-and narrow the field to two candidates. Anything less will put us out of this race."]

Money doesn't change everything. In recent decades, the candidate with the most money at the start of the primaries won the nomination. That pattern is not holding. Dean had $42 million as the voting started--far more than Kerry. Yet it hasn't been enough to buy Dean a single win yet. And he has spent about $40 million of that campaign treasure so far. After his third-place finish in Iowa, Dean received a boost in contributions. His campaign claimed $1.8 million poured in, mostly through the Internet. But was that the last fundraising hurrah for the Dean camp? The Edwards campaign has claimed that his win in South Carolina would bring an increase in contributions. Perhaps. But high-dollar funders might need to see more than a victory in his birth state before they consider Edwards a good investment. Only Kerry can assume he's in the money. Everybody--especially big-money campaign contributors looking for access--loves a winner.

Can Clark click? Wesley Clark had a good day in Oklahoma (after spending an entire week there) and he placed second in Arizona and New Mexico. But in South Carolina--a state with an abundance of veterans--he only grabbed 7 percent. Clark and his advocates have been claiming for months that he plays well in the South. Yes, another Southerner was on the ballot. But if Clark is such a natural fit for the South, why could he not hit double digits in South Carolina?

Sharpton is no broker--and doesn't deserve to be. The nightmare of Democrats--Sharpton grabs over 20 percent of the vote in South Carolina--did not come true. He netted 10 percent--which he called "astounding." Ten percent is not a bad showing for a charlatan but nothing to write home about for a serious candidate. And if anyone wants to complain about labeling Sharpton a "charlatan," they should first read the recent Village Voice article by Wayne Barrett that details how Roger Stone, a Republican operative known for underhanded trickery, has been providing political, legal, strategic and financial assistance to a grateful Sharpton. It seems Sharpton--who has previously played footsie with GOPers (such as when he endorsed Senator Al D'Amato, an ethics-challenged conservative)--is not above being a stooge for Republicans, who no doubt appreciate his ability to vex and mau-mau the Democratic Party. But African-American Democrats are not falling for his I-have-a-scheme campaign. According to the exit polls, in Missouri, half of them voted for Kerry; only one-fifth backed Sharpton--who at the debate in New Hampshire could not tell the difference between the Federal Reserve and the International Monetary Fund. Still, Sharpton is talking about keeping his scam alive until the Democratic Party convention and demanding a primetime speaking gig there. (Republicans must be drooling at that prospect.) He does not warrant such an honor. If I thought it would make any difference, I'd call for him to exit the race. Since there are fewer of those dull debates, there's less need for the comic relief he provided.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com

A Dis-Endorsement of Dean

I don't tend to endorse candidates. I'll leave that to Michael Moore. But I do feel like dis-endorsing a presidential candidate: Howard Dean.

This has nothing to do with the former Vermont governor's loss to Senator John Kerry in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary. It has to do with Dean's decision to fire Joe Trippi, his campaign manager, and hand control to Roy Neel.

I am not defending Trippi. I happen to like him and thought he did a marvelous job using the new tools of the Internet to turn a little-known governor into both a top-tier presidential candidate and the leader of what appeared to be a movement of reform-minded citizens who wanted to bring public-interest democracy to Washington. But the relationship between candidate and consultant is akin to a marriage; it is hard for outsiders to know truly what goes on between the two. Perhaps Trippi and Dean had disagreements over the direction of the campaign. Maybe Trippi shortchanged the organizational needs of the campaign or failed to manage its growth effectively. Did Dean object to Trippi showing up for television interviews looking bedraggled? Dean might be searching for a scapegoat, and there's an old saying in politics, "you can't fire the candidate." And here's a new one: a scream once screamed cannot be unscreamed.

So it's Dean's right to boot Trippi. What warrants criticism is his decision to put his campaign in the mitts of a Washington insider. Neel, a former Al Gore aide, was head of the U.S. Telecom Association in Washington in the late 1990s until he left to join Gore's 2000 campaign. The USTA lobbies on behalf of the telecommunications industry. As its lead lobbyist, Neel was the embodiment of the "special interests" that Dean has assailed on the campaign trail.

For much of the past week, I listened to Dean repeatedly bemoan the influence of corporate lobbyists as he crisscrossed New Hampshire. A sampling:

* "All the things that happen in Washington happen for the benefit of corporations and special interests."

* "This government is run by a president who cares more about corporations than he does about ordinary Americans, and that is why I'm running."

* "The ordinary people in this country are supposed to be running it."

* "There are no special interests in Washington who can buy us."

No, we only let them oversee our campaigns.

Since entering the race, Dean has insistently said, "we have to take our country back" from the special interests. The slogan on his bus reads, "You Have The Power." He has decried the hold that business interests have on the federal government. Well, what does he think Neel did when he ran the telecom lobby? Did Neel go up to Capitol Hill--or send his underlings--to beseech legislators to pass legislation with consumers foremost in mind? Did he use his connections with the Clinton-Gore administration to help out consumer advocates trying to protect the rights of "ordinary Americans" as Congress and regulatory agencies handled telecom issues? Is maple syrup good for your teeth?

Neel was part of Washington's insider network--which does not look out for the people Dean claims he wants to empower. In 1999 and 2000, the USTA spent $3.5 million to lobby Congress, according to lobbying reports it filed. (The association probably spent more; not all lobbying activity is reported.) To help the telecoms, Neel recruited other influence peddlers in town, including the lobbying firm of Haley Barbour, who then chaired the Republican National Committee. Other Barbour clients: British American Tobacco, the Edison Electric Institute, Glaxo Wellcome, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Philip Morris. Neel's outfit also retained Wallman Strategic Consulting, which represented General Motors and WorldCom.

To increase the odds that members of Congress would heed the pleas of telecom companies, the U.S. Telecom Association, through its political action committee, donated generously to incumbent legislators. In the 1998 and 2000 election cycles, it doled out $266,000 to members of the House and Senator. Nearly 80 percent of that went to Republicans. GOPers helped by this PAC included Representatives Dick Armey, Bob Barr, Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert and Henry Hyde and Senators John Ashcroft, Sam Brownback, Bill Frist, Orrin Hatch and Trent Lott.

It really seems that Neel was committed to bringing change to Washington.

Neel might well be a fine person, a good CEO, a believer (on his own time) in the values of the Democratic Party. But he was a bigtime player in the very game that Dean claims he wants to destroy. Dean's choice of Neel suggests Dean is clueless or disingenuous. Does he not know what it means to head the U.S. Telecom Association? Does he not understand that it is wrong--or, at the least, ill-considered--to place a lobbyist at the front of a charge on Washington? Was he not worried that this action would cause his opponents, the media and--most importantly--his devoted supporters to question his sincerity and his judgment?

There has always been a disconnect in the Dean campaign between the man and the movement. If two years ago someone cooked up the idea to create a progressive, reform-minded grassroots crusade that would focus on harnessing "people power" to confront Washington's money-and-power culture and a leader for such an effort was needed, Dean's name would not have jumped to mind. Senator Paul Wellstone maybe, not Dean. Yet thousands of Americans were yearning for such an endeavor, and Dean found a way to tap into their desires. It was not the most natural or conventional of couplings, but it happened. And he was propelled to the front of the presidential pack.

Is Dean filing for divorce? By turning toward Neel to save his campaign, Dean is not breaking new ground in American politics, for presidential candidates have long enlisted K Street lobbyists to aid their campaigns. Gore brought in Tony Coehlo, a well-connected lobbyist and former House member, to skipper his 2000 campaign when it hit trouble. And it would be no surprise to find special interests lobbyists on the payroll of Senators John Kerry or John Edwards. Retired General Wesley Clark was a lobbyist himself before entering the contest. But by adhering to this tradition, Dean has signaled that he is not fully committed to his core message--unless he wants to argue that it takes a thief to catch a thief. But does he really believe it takes a corporate lobbyist to "take back America" from the corporate lobbyists? Let him explain that in one of the e-mails he regularly sends his thousands of followers. They trusted Dean, and there is nothing wrong with hope. But as Dean fans deal with the disappointment of New Hampshire, he has delivered them more bad news to process. Looking at the Neel move--a scream of a different sort--it would not be unreasonable for any Deaniac who embraced this campaign as a reform movement to say, Stick a fork in it; it's done.

SEE DAVID CORN'S Ten Talking Points on the New Hampshire Results

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com

Ten Talking Points on New Hampshire

1. Performance doesn't matter. Of all the candidates, Senator John Edwards delivered the best stump speech, in which he decried the existence of "two Americas," one for the rich and one for the rest. It was the best formulation of the anti-special interests message adopted by each of the leading candidates, and he delivered it with the skill and grace of a trial attorney out of a Grisham novel. It did little for his campaign in New Hampshire. Former Governor Howard Dean bolstered his message, and in campaign appearances displayed a wealth of knowledge on assorted family matters. That did not help him narrow the gap between himself and Senator John Kerry (which end up at 13 points in New Hampshire). In fact, Kerry was the poorest campaigner of the three. At rallies, he was less inspiring than the competition. He did improve as Election Day neared. But the voters did not respond as reviewers.

2. Screaming is bad. What ifs don't count in politics--or anywhere else. But it seems a reasonable assumption that Dean might have won New Hampshire or come in a much closer second had he not emitted a pirate yell during his Iowa concession speech. Desperate for good news, Dean aides on Election Night were noting that Dean's 26 points in New Hampshire marked a 8 point rise from the low he had hit in the polls after Iowa. In other words, Dean had been moving in the right direction. Certainly, not far enough to write home about. But had he not become a household joke across the country, might he have gained more? Perhaps. But, then again, maybe he only returned to his natural limit. Which raises the question: if he cannot pull more than a quarter of Democratic voters in the state next to his own, how can he do better elsewhere?

3. Not hot enough is better than too hot. Here's a simple summation of the contest: Dean connects too much; Kerry connects too little; and Edwards connects just the right amount--but he looks like he is sixteen-years-old. Intensity can be frightening, and Dean remains Mr. Intensity--or is it Dr. Intensity?--even after his post-Iowa calm-down. Voters seem more willing to overlook Kerry's inability to inspire more than they are willing to put aside questions about Dean's manner. As Iowa showed, only some voters want to be fired up. Many want to be reassured. Dean has been better at inspiring passion than confidence. In New Hampshire, he changed his tone and recrafted his message to address this concern, and he focused much more on his record as a governor who got things done (like health care). But the shriek may still be echoing.

4. Unions can help only so much. In New Hampshire, Dean had the Service Employees International Union, the largest union in the state, on his side, and it did not make a large difference. Andrew Stern, the union's president, told me that the state chapter made sure that 90 percent of its members who had been identified as Dean supporters reached the polls. But since there was a high turnout, their significance was diluted. This is a lesson Democrats need to keep in mind: if turnout is going to be high in November, the union effort will have less impact. Ask Dick Gephardt.

5. Early results are just that. I'm not saying Dean isn't toast. But voters sometimes have buyer's remorse--or voters in later states sometimes aren't keen to second the judgments of voters in early states. In 1992, after Clinton was leading in the race, former California Jerry Brown posted wins in several states. It seemed a Clinton backlash--temporary as it was--had set in. Dean's campaign manager Joe Trippi is thinking a lot about the 1992 race. As he notes, "John Kerry isn't any Bill Clinton, and Howard Dean isn't any Jerry Brown." Well, a guy can hope. But he has a point. The Democratic Party rigged the 2004 schedule to frontload the primaries. But it is possible a Kerry backlash could materialize--that is, if he manages to hold on to his lead as the race enters a more frantic phase with simultaneous primaries across the country. But, please, no talk of Hillary Clinton.

6. In politics, it is easy to get away with plagiarism. Unless you're Senator Joe Biden. His campaign was derailed in 1988 when it was discovered he had lifted a speech line from a British politician. But this year, the candidates readily stole rhetoric from another--with Dean being the victim of most of the theft. His rap against the special interests was lifted by Kerry, Edwards, and retired General Wesley Clark. (Senator Joseph Lieberman, though, wouldn't touch it, and Representative Dennis Kucinich had his own version.) In New Hampshire, it was hard to keep track of who said what about HMOs, insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, energy firms because they all were saying the same thing. And they all assailed Washington lobbyists and proposed similar-sounding measures for reducing the influence of lobbyists. Dean tried on occasion to note that he had been the first in this campaign to crusade against special interests and that the others had jumped aboard the train once they saw the results he had achieved. But Dean did not beat that drum too loudly. This sort of argument is hard to make without sounding bitter and petty.

7. The war in Iraq still does not matter. That was clear in Iowa, where the candidates who had voted for granting Bush the authority to invade Iraq won 81 percent among an electorate that was decidedly opposed to the war. In New Hampshire, Dean slightly de-emphasized his antiwar position. He cited it as evidence of his ability to stand up for principle, even if it is unpopular. He did note that Kerry's vote suggested the senator had poor judgment. But Dean did not make a big issue of that. After all, after Iowa, all the candidates were reluctant to go negative. In his appearances, Kerry often noted that Bill Clinton recently observed that in American politics "strong and wrong" beats "weak and right." Kerry insisted that he would be "strong and right." But given that Democratic voters were generally opposed to the war, it does seem that Clinton was correct: Democrats will vote for Kerry even if they think he was wrong on Iraq because they believe he is the strongest candidate.

8. There's a Northern yearning for a Southerner. The combined votes for Edwards and Clark nearly equaled Dean's total. A key argument made by the supporters for Edwards and Clark was that the Democrats cannot take the White House without a Southerner. Most New Hampshire voters did not agree. But had Clark and Edwards not split the we-need-a-Bubba-friendly-candidate vote, a single tailored-for-the-South candidate might have fared better.

9. Don't enter a presidential race late. Clark is not ready for prime-time. He had New Hampshire mostly to himself for an entire week, as the other candidates battled in Iowa. But he failed to capitalize on that opportunity. His conduct on the campaign trail was less than impressive. He bobbled questions. He spent more time describing why he was a Democrat--after having been attacked for voting for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan--than he did talking about his ideas about domestic issues. Clark was up against candidates who have been running for years. It showed. One reason to get in early is to make your mistakes early and to do so at a time when candidates receive less attention.

10. Voters don't want boldness. The boldest act Kerry engaged in was playing in a charity hockey game with retired Boston Bruins stars. There was a high flop potential. Imagine the news photos had he fallen on the ice. It might not have been as bad as Michael Dukakis in that tank. But it would have been the wrong image. Campaigning in New Hampshire, Kerry generally played it safe, sticking to a script without surprises. It was indeed full of policy ideas and sharp criticisms of the president. But he showed no dash, no daring. He plowed ahead. He won--with perspiration, not inspiration. The question: will Democratic voters be content with a passion-free relationship with a candidate they perceive to be strong and steady. Or might they come to ask, is this all there is?

DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com

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