Dems: Bush Records Insufficient

George W. Bush is shown during his time in the Texas Air National Guard, 1968-73, in this undated photo. The White House, facing election-year questions about President George W. Bush's military service, released pay records Tuesday that it said supported Bush's assertion that he fulfilled his duty as a member of the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.
AP
Hundreds of pages of documents that the White House said comprise President Bush's entire military record offer no new answers to the election-year questions that have swirled around his Vietnam-era service, critics charge.

Democrats who have led the criticism greeted Friday's release of documents with skepticism.

"Each revelation of material from the Mr. Bush White House has raised more questions than it has answered," said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Debra DeShong. "It remains to be seen if these newest documents will provide any answers."

The White House distributed the two-inch stack of papers, and allowed reporters a brief look through another several dozen pages of medical records that were not allowed out of a briefing room, in yet another effort to quiet a political storm that has shown no sign of abating.

CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts reports the records, some 400 pages worth, detail the president's request to be transferred to Alabama: First to a reserve unit in May of 1972 - then when that request was denied - to another Alabama unit in September.

In another, Roberts says, Mr. Bush is stripped of his flying status in September of 1972. In another, he acknowledges he may be called to active duty to make up for "unsatisfactory participation" -- then is called up in May of 1973 to fill in a flurry of dates to achieve honorable discharge.

While less than sterling, White House officials note the records prove the president was where he said he was, when he said he was.

But Roberts adds, "With his wartime record the core strength of the President's re-election bid, the White House is anxious eliminate any questions of credibility about his military service. But it would appear -- even with these new documents -- there are still some gaps the White House has yet to fill in."

Mr. Bush was in the Texas Air National Guard from 1968 to 1973, much of the time as a pilot, but never went to Vietnam or flew in combat.

His military record has been an issue in his campaigns as far back as 1994. It was revived this year by Democrats who see an opportunity to puncture Mr. Bush's popularity on national security issues, and whose front-runner to challenge the president for re-election is decorated Vietnam War veteran John Kerry.

The criticism, which Kerry himself has stayed relatively clear of while not quieting others in his party, centers around the year between roughly May 1972 and May 1973, for which there are few records.

Mr. Bush had asked to be able to transfer temporarily from the Texas Guard to an Alabama base during that time so he could work on the Senate campaign of a family friend. Reports differ on how long he was actually in Alabama, but it's generally believed that he returned to his Texas unit after the November 1972 election.

Democrats questioning whether Mr. Bush ever showed up for duty in Alabama have called on him to publicize his entire file to put the matter to rest. Though the president promised to do so in an interview last Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," the White House appeared reluctant until the mass document release late Friday.

"Our understanding is that this is the entire file," presidential press secretary Scott McClellan said. "The record documents that the accusations by some are false."

Many pages in the pile of military records were duplicates, as they came from different repositories.

They show Mr. Bush getting a glowing recommendation for promotion to 1st lieutenant - which he received on Nov. 7, 1970 - and exemplary performance evaluations from his commanders at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston.

"Lieutenant Mr. Bush is an outstanding young pilot and officer and is a credit to this unit," Lt. Col. Bobby Hodges wrote on May 27, 1971. "This officer is rated in the upper 10 percent of his contemporaries."

The documents also show no sign that Mr. Bush received special treatment either to get into the Guard when there were long waiting lists at the height of the Vietnam War or to be discharged from it nearly eight months before his six-year service obligation was completed in order to attend Harvard Business School; that he was subject to any disciplinary action while in the military; or that damaging details were hidden in his medical record.

All were questions some Democrats had said needed to be answered.

But the records provided no evidence Mr. Bush served in Alabama.

Mr. Bush requested the transfer on Sept. 5, 1972. It was granted on Sept. 11 and he was told to report for duty to the 187th TAC Recon Group at Dannelly Air National Guard Base in Montgomery, Ala.

One of the few other mentions of Alabama in the documents was in an Ellington performance evaluation, covering the period from May 1, 1972 to April 30, 1973, that could not rate Mr. Bush because he was absent from the base.

"A civilian occupation made it necessary for him to move to Montgomery, Ala.," wrote Lt. Col. William D. Harris Jr. "He cleared this base on 15 May 1972 and has been performing equivalent training in a non-flying status with the 187 Tac Recon Gp. Dannelly ANG Base, Alabama."

Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, the Texas Air National Guard commander at the time, wrote at the bottom that he concurred "with the comments of the reporting official."

But there was no documentation from the Alabama side. Several members of the Alabama unit that Mr. Bush was assigned to have told The Associated Press that they couldn't recall ever seeing him, while one retired Alabama Guard officer said he remembers Mr. Bush showing up for duty.

Earlier this week, the White House for the first time released payroll records it said proved Mr. Bush served in Alabama.

Those records, which were not included in the documents released Friday, showed Mr. Bush was paid for 25 days of service during the one-year period in question - most of them in 1973. He was not paid for any service during a more than five-month period in 1972, from April 17 to Oct. 27.

He was paid for two days in late October of that year, four days in mid-November and no days in December. They do not say what Mr. Bush did to receive pay or where he did it.

In what aides said was further proof, the White House also has distributed a copy of a dental exam Mr. Bush received at the Alabama base on Jan. 6, 1973.

The documents released Friday also showed that Mr. Bush lost his status as a Guard pilot because of his failure to have the required annual medical exam. White House communications director Dan Bartlett said Mr. Bush went on non-flying status because of his move to Alabama and thus had "no need or reason" to take the physical.