[UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that several document experts it consulted have raised questions about the authenticity of the Killian memos obtained by 60 Minutes. These documents, written about below, appear to provide further evidence that Bush skipped out on the Texas Air National Guard. CBS News so far is standing by its assertion that the documents are real. A senior CBS official says that retired Maj. General Bobby Hodges–Lt. Colonel Jerry Killian’s superior–told CBS News that the contents of the memos were consistent with what Killian said to him at the time. No doubt, the debate over the memos will continue. But as it continues, the point should not be lost that even without the new information, Bush’s account of his Guard service does not withstand scrutiny–that he still has not fully explained his missing year in the Air National Guard, that he has not presented any evidence that he engaged in training activity in Alabama (while commanders at the Guard unit there say they do not recall he ever reported for duty), that he has offered various misleading and false explanations for his failure to take a flight exam, that he has not addressed why he left his unit in Houston before his transfer to another unit in Alabama was approved, that he has misrepresented his Guard service in his autobiography, and that he has not explained why his annual performance review from May 1973 said he had not been seen at his unit for a year (when he claimed he was only in Alabama for a few months). All of these questions about his Guard service are backed up by official records that are unquestionably authentic.]
That is how Dan Bartlett, communications director for the Bush White House, responded to the latest revelations about George W. Bush’s questionable military service. He was speaking to 60 Minutes for a report that featured Ben Barnes, a Democrat and former Texas Speaker of the House, who says he pulled strings to win George W. Bush a spot in the Air National Guard. But Bartlett did not explain why it is “dirty politics” to publicize new documents that show Bush cut out on his Guard duty but it is not “dirty politics” for Republican-financed veterans to claim (without producing any documentation) that John Kerry lied about wartime deeds that are indeed substantiated by official records.
Barnes’s appearance on the CBS News show did have the stench of politics to it. Thanks to the oppo-researchers at the Republican Party–who dispatched a mass email hours before 60 Minutes came on–every reporter on the GOP spam list (myself included) ended up possessing a pile of clips that showed that Barnes, now a corporate lobbyist, is a close friend of and a major fundraiser for John Kerry. And Barnes’s story was not new. Back in 1999, Barnes told The New York Times that in 1968, when Bush was facing the prospect of being drafted for Vietnam, a Houston oilman named Sidney Adger, a friend of George H.W. Bush, had asked Barnes to get Bush into the Texas Air National Guard. Barnes maintained that he then dutifully contacted the head of the Air National Guard, who was a pal of his, on behalf of the young Bush. During the 60 Minutes spot, anchor Dan Rather said, “This is the first time Ben Barnes has told his story publicly.” But Barnes revealed nothing that he has not claimed previously.