Transcript: Barnes On Bush

<B>Dan Rather</B> Interviews Man Who Helped Get Bush Into National Guard

Read a complete transcript of Dan Rather's interview with Former Texas House Speaker and Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, the man who says he helped get President George W. Bush into the National Guard.
DAN RATHER:
First of all, thank you for doing this.

BEN BARNES:
Glad to be here. Yeah.

DAN RATHER:
Let's get a little background. You were speaker of the Texas House at age 28.

BEN BARNES:
I think it was 26, Dan.

DAN RATHER:
Twenty six. I stand corrected. What was that like?

BEN BARNES:
Well, first of all it was a long time ago. But it was fascinating, and it was a very interesting time in which to be in Texas politics and America politics. The negative was Vietnam. The positive was the fact that we were doing so many things.

John Connolly was governor. Lyndon Johnson was president. A lot of exciting things were happening. The space center was coming to Texas. Higher education appropriations were doubling and tripling each the legislature met. Texas was moving, and to play a small role was very exciting for a-- particularly for a young man.

DAN RATHER:
Well, set the scene for me. At the time, what was about to develop in Texas politics? What was in the presses -- developing?

BEN BARNES:
Well, Texas was a one party state. John Tower had gotten elected to the United States Senate in a special election when Lyndon Johnson became vice president. And then there was only one Republican congressman I believe -- Congressman George Bush from the River Oaks area of Houston.

And so that we did not have two parties. It was the beginning of the two-party system in Texas, but Lyndon Johnson was going to be wrestling with Vietnam. And it was gonna divide the country and it was gonna cause a lot of problems in Texas. It was going to be a political revolution as opposed to evolutions that normally take place in states.

DAN RATHER:
Well, view for me who the major players were.

BEN BARNES:
Well, obviously, President Johnson, Sen. Ralph Yarborough.

DAN RATHER:
Democrat?

BEN BARNES:
A Democrat. John Connolly-- a Democrat governor. Preston Smith, the Democratic lieutenant governor. All of our state office holders were Democrats. And there was only one Republican in the state Senate when I presided over the Senate as lieutenant governor, and I think maybe two or three Republicans were in the house when I was speaker.

DAN RATHER:
And George Bush, now we know called George Bush I, was a Republican congressman?

BEN BARNES:
Yes, he was.

DAN RATHER:
And where did you fit in?

BEN BARNES:
Well, I'm not too sure, that I was just very glad to be at the party, as young as I was. And having been elected and having the opportunity to serve at the time. And then to be elected lieutenant governor, there's only been three people that have taken the trip from one side of the capitol to the other and that was a great honor. But I don't know exactly where I fit in. I fit in as a person who was very, very interested and excited about the great things that I think we were doing for Texas.

DAN RATHER:
Well, would you argue if I said this was sort of the pecking order in the Democratic party's power structure? Of course, President Johnson was president. John Connolly, governor. Then Preston Smith, current governor Preston Smith as lieutenant governor. That would be probably the pecking order. And as speaker of the house, you fit in somewhere below that?

BEN BARNES:
Yes, that's correct.

DAN RATHER:
All right. Now, you became lieutenant governor when?

BEN BARNES:
In 1969. I was elected in 1968.

DAN RATHER:
And the lieutenant governor has more power than most lieutenant governors in Texas. For example, he controls the agenda in the State Senate?

BEN BARNES:
Yes. And the speaker and the lieutenant governor really control the purse strings of Texas. Our office of governor is a relatively weak office. Our constitution was written at the conclusion of the Civil War. And a Democratic legislature wrote a new constitution and wrote the governor of Texas-- the office of the governor of Texas into a relatively weak position.

DAN RATHER:
We had the draft. What was called Universal Military Training at that time. How did that fit into the picture and the tumultuous events surrounding the Vietnam War?

BEN BARNES:
I was a supporter of President Johnson's position on the Vietnam War and I traveled through the United States passing resolutions at various organizations that I was a member of and supporting his position on Vietnam. As did almost all of the elected officials in Texas.

It was a very turbulent time, Dan. It-- young people were taking to the streets. President Johnson spoke on an event on the University of Texas campus. And there were some 2,000-3,000 students and other people in the streets. And interrupted the president's speech. And it was really-- almost unsafe for President and Mrs. Johnson to return to their car that night and for us all to depart that building. It's hard for people that weren't alive at that time to understand the animosity and the outright-- despising, even as far as hate, that existed in people that were opposed to war.

DAN RATHER:
And the attitude toward the draft by this time had become what?

BEN BARNES:
Well, it had become-- it had become very, very difficult for moms and dads who had young men that were draft age to accept-- particularly later in the Vietnam conflict. To accept the fact that their son or dau-- or their son-- was gonna have to go to Vietnam. And that was not something that anybody wanted for their children to do. Certainly not anybody that I (UNINTEL).

DAN RATHER:
You almost corrected yourself. You said son or daughter and then you said sons because daughters are not eligible for the draft?

BEN BARNES:
They were not in that. And it's changed in the last 30 years with women playing such an important role in our military. But not in the '60s.

DAN RATHER:
I want to ask you to go back and tell me the story. Tell me the whole story. Tell me the truth, the whole truth about what happened with George W. Bush and the draft and the National Guard. Start at the beginning. Take me right through it.

BEN BARNES:
Well, first of all I want to say that I'm not here to bring any harm to George Bush's reputation or his career. I was contacted by people from the very beginning of his political career when he ran for governor, and then when he ran for president and now he's running for re-election. I've had hundreds of phone calls of people wanting to know the story.

And I've been quoted and misquoted. And the reason I'm here today, I really want to tell the story. And I want to tell it one time and get it behind us. And again it's-- this is not about George Bush's political career.

This is about what the truth is. About the time in which I served and the role I played. Sid Adger (PH), a friend of the Bush family, came to see me and asked me if I would recommend George W. Bush for the Air National Guard. And I did.

And I talked to a Gen. Rose, who was the commander of the Air National Guard. I don't know whether my recommendation was the absolute reason he got in the Guard. He was a Congressman's son. He graduated from Yale. He was a person that would have been eligible.

But there was a long list of people waiting to be, or hoping to be a candidate for the Air National Guard, and for the Army National Guard. That was one route that young men had to go to-- or that was available to a very special few to-- be able to avoid being drafted and being able to avoid going to Vietnam. Although some National Guard people later went to Vietnam.

DAN RATHER:
Sid Adger. Who is he?

BEN BARNES:
Sid Adger is a-- was an oil man.

DAN RATHER:
Sid Adger.

BEN BARNES:
He's deceased now, Dan. He was a friend of the Bush family and a success oil man in Texas that was a friend of Bush family and a friend of mine.

DAN RATHER:
Was he a contributor to your political campaign?

BEN BARNES:
I don't know. I would be surprised if he was not a contributor. I've tried to make everybody a contributor to my political campaigns in Texas that had any money. But I suspect he probably gave a small contribution. I don't remember that. That's nearly 40-some odd years ago now.

DAN RATHER:
What-- people such as Mr. Adger frequently gave money to political campaigns on both sides?

BEN BARNES:
Oh, that's true in Texas. And-- and-- but you also gotta remember that there was a Democratic side that had about 200 elected officials and a Republican side that had two elected officials. So it was very easy to people to get to Democrats as well as Republicans. I think later, it may be that maybe Sid Adger might have been a card-carrying Republican. But I don't remember what his party affiliation was.

DAN RATHER:
When he came to see you, how did he get access to you? Did he call you? Write you a letter?

BEN BARNES:
Oh, he just called. I was a young, ambitious office holder. I don't think I probably turned down very many-- very few people. Or I-- everybody got to see me that wanted to see me. I tried to make that possible.

DAN RATHER:
So he came here to see you. Do you remember what he said?

BEN BARNES:
Well, it's been a long time ago, but he said basically, would I help young George Bush get in the Air National Guard?

DAN RATHER:
And you said to him that you would. You could do that?

BEN BARNES:
I said that I'd be happy to call Gen. Rose, who was the commander there at National Guard.

DAN RATHER:
Help people understand what's the relationship between -- you were then-speaker of the House?
BEN BARNES:
Yes.

DAN RATHER:
What's the relationship between the speaker of the House and the general of the National Guard?

BEN BARNES:
Well, I don't know that there's an automatic relationship there. But Gen. Rose happened to be a personal friend of mine also is what-- as well as a political friend. But the National Guard is really a branch of the state government.

While they receive federal appropriations, they still rely on the state legislature for various and sundry legislations. So any speaker or lieutenant governor or governor is gonna have some influence with the national guard. And the governor of Texas appointments the general, who is the commander of the of the National Guard?

DAN RATHER:
It's been a long time ago, but do you remember whether you called him or wrote him?

BEN BARNES:
No, I really don't. Whether I called him or wrote him. More than likely I called him, but I don't think I wrote him. The Air National Guard was in Austin, where the state capital was. And more than likely I picked up the phone, called Gen. Rose.

DAN RATHER:
And roughly, what would you have said to him?

BEN BARNES:
Dan, I got a lot of young men from prominent families in Texas in the National Guard. Not that I'm necessarily proud of that. As I reflect back, particularly after I walked through the Vietnam Memorial recently in Washington and saw the thousands of names of the young men who lost their lives there -- it's a fact that I'm not really proud of.

But I was a young, ambitious politician -- doing what I thought that was acceptable, that was important to make friends. And I recommended a lot of people for the National Guard during the Vietnam era -- as speaker of the house and as lieutenant governor.

DAN RATHER:
And you recommended George W. Bush?

BEN BARNES:
Yes, I did.

DAN RATHER:
Had you ever met him?

BEN BARNES:
No, I had not.

DAN RATHER:
Met his father?

BEN BARNES:
I met his father. I knew his father. And his father was a fine congressman who worked very closely with those of us in Texas who were trying to get things done.
DAN RATHER:
And you said you did this for others. Had you done it for others before you asked for some-- like we normally call preferential treatment?

BEN BARNES:
I'm--

DAN RATHER:
--for President Bush?

BEN BARNES:
I'm sure that I had done it previously. I don't remember the exact order. But I know I had done it for others, I'm certain, but-- at that time.

DAN RATHER:
Well, I used the phrase "preferential treatment." Perhaps I shouldn't have. Would you describe it as that? A request for preferential treatment? Or how would you describe it?

BEN BARNES:
Oh, I would describe it as preferential treatment. There were hundreds of names on the list of people wanting to get in the Air National Guard or the Army National Guard. I think that would have been a preference to anybody that didn't wanna go to Vietnam that didn't wanna leave. We had a lot of young men that left and went to Canada in the '60s and fled this country.

But those that could get in the Reserves or those who could get in the National Guard meant that they could serve and get their military training. And chances are they would not have to go to Vietnam. The Vietnam era was different from the era now in that Air Natio-- all National Guards and Reserve units-- have been called into military fighting now.

DAN RATHER:
And what year was this, Ben?

BEN BARNES:
1968.

DAN RATHER:
By 1968, casualties in Vietnam were running high.

BEN BARNES:
Yeah.

DAN RATHER:
Did you or did you not think at that time, "I'm a little uncomfortable with this." Or did you have long talks with your conscience? A lot of our best young men were going into that green jungle hell and dying or being maimed for life.

Did you say to yourself, "I'm a little uncomfortable with doing this?" Or were you at that stage of your life and your political career where you just said, "Look, this is the way business is done." Help me understand that?

BEN BARNES:
It would be very easy for me to sit here and tell you, Dan, that I had-- I wrestled with this and lost a lot of sleep at night. But I wouldn't be telling you the truth. I-- very-- not eagerly, but I was readily willing to call and get those young men into the National Guard that were friends of mine and supporters of mine.

And I did it. Reflecting back, I'm very sorry about it. But, you know, it happened. And it was because of my ambition, my youth, my lack of understanding. But it happened. And it's not, as I said, it's not something I'm necessarily proud of.

DAN RATHER:
You've thought about it a lot since then?

BEN BARNES:
I've thought about it an awful lot. And you walk through the Vietnam memorial, particularly at night as I did-- a few months again. And-- I tell, you'll think about it a long time.

DAN RATHER:
How do you feel about it now?

BEN BARNES:
Well, I don't think that I had any right to have the power that I had to be able to choose who was gonna go to Vietnam and who was not gonna go to Vietnam. That's a power. In some instances when I looked at those names, of-- maybe of-- of determining life or death. And that's not a power that I wanna have.

DAN RATHER:
Too strong or not to say that you're ashamed of it now?

BEN BARNES:
Oh, I think that would be a-- somewhat of an appropriate thing. I'm very, very sorry.

DAN RATHER:
Okay. Did George Bush Sr. call you to thank you or write you to thank you?

BEN BARNES:
I've been asked that question many times and I don't think that he called me. And newspaper reporters have gone through my-- the archives and looked for letters. I-- it'd be impossible for me to remember if I'd gotten a letter.

Or it could-- if-- at that time that George-- that President Bush appeared on the scene, that was 32 years at that time. Now, it's almost been 42 years. To remember would have been difficult. But I think everyone has ascertained that there's-- no such letter exists. And I don't remember him calling me or running into me and saying thank you.

DAN RATHER:
Anytime since that time? It's been a long time and you've crossed paths any number of times since then?

BEN BARNES:
Well, we've kind of crossed paths. He's never said thank you for that. I mean we've had very warm conversations. But, you know, a lot of time-- a lot of time has passed. It's not-- sometimes people don't think if it-- 20 or 30 years has gone by that they even remember that they need to say thank you.

DAN RATHER:
OK. What was your relationship with the Bush family at that time you made this request for the National Guard to make a place for George W. Bush? Did you know the family well? Did you know the father well?

BEN BARNES:
I knew the father. I didn't know him well. He was a congressman. If people are historians or remember history that far back in Texas, that were people that were speculating that in 1970, George Bush was gonna run for the Senate.

And there were people speculating that I was gonna run for the Senate in 1970. I didn't run and Lloyd Bentsen did run. And he defeated Sen. Yarborough in the primary. And then he ran and defeated President Bush in the-- President Bush I, as you correctly said.

President Bush I in the general election. So there was a possibility at that time that I was making that decision that he and-- that his father and I might have been even running against one another for the Senate. But I don't know that that was a part of my thought process when I agreed to do the recommendation for Sid Adger.

DAN RATHER:
You say it's been a long time ago. It's inside Texas politics. But what an irony, you were up and coming, fair to say a rising star in the Democratic party, with a -- not only a Democratic president, but a fellow Texas president. Talk of you possibility running for a Senate seat in 1970.

George Bush won. Was a Republican congressman, a rarity in Texas, fair to say, at that time,who was thinking of running in 1970. And at that time, you used your influence to help get his son his place in the National Guard, it was being pretty well speculated you might be running against George Bush the first in 1970?

BEN BARNES:
Well, that was probably a correct assumption. If I had to run, I don't think Sen. Bentsen would have run. And that-- and so-- politics might have-- the history might have been a little different.

But remember that in Texas we really still had just one party. And the fact that I helped a Republican, that's that was not out of the ordinary because everybody that was in office -- was very interested in having all of the people of Texas to vote for them. Particularly the business community. Particularly the people that were prone to be Republican . So, that was-- that was not anything unusual.

DAN RATHER:
Well, fair or unfair to say that George Bush I had some power himself. He was a Republican congressman and seen as a rising star of his party. Representing a very wealthy district in the largest county in the state in terms of population.

BEN BARNES:
That's correct. He was well known and well liked.

DAN RATHER:
Let me get back to the facts of the matter. By calling the head of the Texas National Guard and recommending George W. Bush for one of his coveted places, did it or not give him an advantage over somebody else who was applying for one of those spots?

BEN BARNES:
Well, I would say that being the son of a congressman, and from Texas, and having a recommendation by my state official, certainly that would give a person-- a leg you.

DAN RATHER:
When you made that call, was there any doubt in your mind that he probably would get the spot?

BEN BARNES:
I don't really remember, but I would think that I was not surprised when I learned that he'd gotten in the Air National Guard. And I don't remember when I learned and at what time it-- and what stage of the process that I even learned-- that he may have been in the Guard before I ever was told that he'd gotten the position.

DAN RATHER:
By the way, I asked you whether his father ever thanked you or not. You said you have no recollection of him ever doing that. Don't think he did. Did George W. Bush himself, even as an aside or perhaps with some humor, say to you, "We appreciate what you did?"

BEN BARNES:
Well, he dropped me a note saying that he appreciated-- my memory being-- that is his father, that we'd never talked about it. He had no idea-- probably as a 22-year-old or 21-year-old graduate of Yale what was happening-- as far as his application was concerned. And he said that he was pleased that I was able to remember for a mutual friend of ours-- how the process had worked.

DAN RATHER:
When was that? I mean the last five years, 10 years?

(OVERTALK)

BEN BARNES:
Oh, that was in 19-- it was-- after he'd gotten elected governor.

DAN RATHER:
Well, in at least one and I think several of the authorized biographies of President Bush, it's been said that his deal was he-- and I quote from the book, "Just happened to get one of these spots." Did anybody just happen to get one of these spots in the Air National Guard?

BEN BARNES:
I can't answer that with any real certainty, Dan. I would be somewhat surprised if a lot of people got in the Guard, particularly during the late '60s when Vietnam was at the really height of its intensity. It-- 'cause there were such long lists of people and so many people wanted to get into the Guard.

DAN RATHER:
You haven't talked about this in a very long time. Why?

BEN BARNES:
Well, I really don't believe in the politics of gotcha. I really don't appreciate what's happening today in the American politics. I really didn't think that what happened that long ago had a lot to do with a man's ambition to be governor or even later to be president.

I-- that's-- that's not my nature to get involved and wanna be political. And that's not why I'm here today. I really think that politics have gone the wrong direction rather than right direction in this country. And that's another thing that I'm not very proud of. I'm not real proud of our political system today.

DAN RATHER:
I wanna follow up on that. But first, did anybody ever ask you, let me put it directly, to keep your mouth shut?

BEN BARNES:
Oh, well, I've been encouraged to be quiet-- by-- starting with-- be quiet about a lot of things. My wife encourages me to be quiet a lot about a lot of things. But no, there's obviously a lot of people that don't want this issue discussed. And some people that do want it discussed.

But I'm not-- I-- again, I wanna repeat, I'm not here because of people's telling me that I should talk about it or that people are telling me that I shouldn't talk about it. I'm here because I feel that I needed to set the record straight.

DAN RATHER:
And you thought you needed to set the record straight because?

BEN BARNES:
Because I think it was wrong what I did. And it was wrong what happened. But it's been talked about and been speculated on by so many different people in several, different ways. And I really wanted the American people to know exactly what the facts were.

DAN RATHER:
You said because it was wrong. What was wrong with it?

BEN BARNES:
Well, I think the system was wrong. That a young 28-year-old or 29-year-old speaker of the House could pick up the phone and call a general, and say, "I want so-and-so in the National Guard." And some of the time it happened.

DAN RATHER:
When I asked if anybody that-- ask you or indicated to you to keep your mouth shut, going back through the '70s, '80s, and '90s, anybody say to you, "Why don't you just forget that?" Or did anybody say to you, "You better not say anything about that?

BEN BARNES:
Well, I don't really wanna talk about what people said or what they didn't say. You-- in politics-- in this partisan days, everybody wants to have an opinion and everybody -- you can get advice in the barbershop on whether you oughta talk about something or not. So I've had a lot of advice. But I'm following my own conscience today.

DAN RATHER:
You said, I'm gonna come back to what you said was the current atmosphere in American politics. How would you describe that atmosphere?

BEN BARNES:
I think the country is probably more divided today then it's been since the Civil War. I certainly was not alive, although some people probably think I was alive at the conclusion of the Civil War. So I wasn't there firsthand.

But I believe that this country is very severely divided. Families are divided. Friends are divided. Communities are divided. Churches, schools. It's not healthy.

I have a letter in my possession from my grandfather who wrote to my uncle who was on Iwo Jima. And in the first paragraph, he talks about the crops are in the ground. We've had ground rain. He's trying to write a kind of letter to cheer my uncle up. But he says in the next paragraph that, "I'm very concerned about the fact that the religious right in this country--" and he talked about a person that was on the radio that was talking about the religion and politics had to mix. And that we should get involved because God was telling us to do this. And God was telling us to do that.

And I'm like-- my grandfather in 1943 speculated that he was very concerned because he thought it was very important in this country to keep the separation between church and state. And I believe that very strongly also.

DAN RATHER:
Did or did not-- what's become known as the "swift boat negative campaign ad attacks" on Sen. Kerry influence your decision to come forward in any way?

BEN BARNES:
No, I've-- matter of fact the speech that I made-- about four or five months again when I talked about the seein'-- being-- visitin' the Vietnam memorial and talking about the fact that I've, that I was not proud of what I've done. That was five-- four or five months before the swift boats. So that's not what caused me to come forward.

DAN RATHER:
This-- an excerpt from that talk is what's been on the Internet here--

BEN BARNES:
Yes (UNINTEL).

DAN RATHER:
--for a little while.

BEN BARNES:
Yes.

DAN RATHER:
I wanna come back to some of the characters involved in (UNINTEL) profile. Gen. Rose. Did Gen. Rose have the make-or-break decision on who went in the Air National Guard?

BEN BARNES:
Yes, he was commanding general.

DAN RATHER:
That's the person you called to--

BEN BARNES:
Yes.

DAN RATHER:
--put in a word for George W. Bush. What kind of person was Gen. Rose? Was he political? Apolitical? Was he connected? If so, how?

BEN BARNES:
Well, I would describe him as a very able, military commander. And I'm not in the position to be very judgmental about a (UNINTEL) is good. But he seemed to be very serious about his duties and take it very seriously.

He was a very personal fella. He, the Rose family. He and his two sons and wife were all wonderful people. And Gen. Rose is deceased now. But I had very high regard for him.

DAN RATHER:
Was he a Democrat or Republican?

BEN BARNES:
Oh, he was a general.

DAN RATHER:
Politically connected? Did he know the Bushs? Did he know the Johnsons? Connollys?

BEN BARNES:
Well, he knew he had to know Gov. Connolly because Gov. Connolly was in office and he was there at St. General. I'm sure he knew-- President Johnson, being from Texas. I don't know whether he knew Congressman Bush or not. I've never discussed it with him.

DAN RATHER:
Did you know the man Gen. Stout, who was in the direct line of command?

BEN BARNES:
Yes. I met Gen. Stout.

DAN RATHER:
Who was he and what was he like?

BEN BARNES:
Well, he was an assistant. I guess he-- maybe he had the title of-- of assistant-- Air (UNINTEL) General. And he was-- the assistant to Gen. Rose. I didn't ever have a lot of contact with Gen. Stout. So I had no personal relationship with him.

DAN RATHER:
I've been told that he was well connected in the Houston community and with the Bushs. Do you know that to be a fact?

BEN BARNES:
No, I don't have any knowledge of that.

DAN RATHER:
Let me come back to what would have been the consequences if you had not put in a word for George W. Bush?

BEN BARNES:
Well, I don't think there would have been any consequences. Sid Adger might not have been happy with me. But I didn't -- I never thought-- never even thought about what the consequences would have been if I hadn't made a recommendation.

DAN RATHER:
Did he have any power to punish you in any way other than to say, "Well, Ben Barnes is not a good fellow because he didn't do what I told him to do?"

BEN BARNES:
Oh, I-- probably not. But, you know, as a young office holder and an ambitious young man, you never really thought about the consequences if you didn't do something. You were all looking for something else to do to make some more people happy. And that would have been what was going through my mind.

DAN RATHER:
Some people are going to ask, "Well, was this something unique to Texas? This kind of political influence in getting these National Guard slots?" Do you have any recollection? Do you have any information or knowledge of whether this happened in other states? Or was it something that just happened in Texas?

BEN BARNES:
Dan, I have no first hand knowledge. But I knew other speakers and other presidents of the Senate and I have, just from very vague memory-- some discussions that I had with them that they were working with their National Guards. Getting people in during the Vietnam conflict. So I'm sure that it was not something that's unique just to Texas.

Read Part II of the transcript.