* CBS News Stands by "60 Minutes" National Guard Report
* Bush Back On The Bus
* Cheney Takes the Bus, Too
* Kerry Talks Health Care
* Edwards Takes Friday Off
* West Virginia Rouge
CBS News Stands Firm: We here at the Washington Wrap are not crazy about talking about ourselves, but we thought you would be interested in a statement put out by CBS News regarding the controversy over the authenticity of records on President Bush's National Guard service in Wednesday's "60 Minutes" report.
For the record, CBS News stands by the thoroughness and accuracy of the 60 MINUTES report this Wednesday on President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. This report was not based solely on recovered documents, but rather on a preponderance of evidence, including documents that were provided by unimpeachable sources, interviews with former Texas National Guard officials and individuals who worked closely back in the early 1970s with Colonel Jerry Killian and were well acquainted with his procedures, his character and his thinking. In addition, the documents are backed up not only by independent handwriting and forensic document experts but by sources familiar with their content. Contrary to some rumors, no internal investigation is underway at CBS News nor is one planned. We have complete confidence in our reporting and will continue to pursue the story.
CBS News Vice President Betsy West concludes, "We are continuing to pursue the story and will report tonight on the CBS Evening News." Stay tuned.
Bush Busing: Mr. Bush will abandon the luxury of the presidential limousine for his 11th campaign bus trip as he travels from Huntington, West Virginia to Portsmouth and Chillicothe, Ohio. In Ohio, there will be new Kerry-Edwards advertisement called (cleverly) "Portsmouth" to greet him, alleging broken promises to people in the city.
For its part, the Bush-Cheney campaign is releasing its own ad entitled "Medicare Hypocrisy." The ad says, "John Kerry...Attacking the President on Medicare. But it was Senator Kerry who voted five times to raise Medicare premiums. Kerry voted to require premium increases...calling passage of the bill 'a day of vindication.' The same John Kerry who was absent for 36 of 38 Medicare votes last year...even one giving seniors prescription drug coverage. John Kerry he actually voted for higher Medicare premiums...before he came out against them."
Undoubtedly, the Bush-Cheney team is hoping its ad resonates with voters more than the Kerry spot.
On Thursday, there was a lot of buzz about President Bush's service in the National Guard but Bush himself stayed out of the line of fire. CBS News' Mark Knoller reports:
Knoller Nugget: In neither of his two campaign speeches on Thursday did President Bush make any mention of the new questions about his service in the National Guard. Nor were reporters given a chance to ask him about it. The strategy for Mr. Bush was to stay decidedly "on message." And that he did - ridiculing John Kerry for his policies on the economy and on Iraq.
It fell to White House spokesman Scott McClellan to handle the Guard matter. He called the latest round of charges a coordinated attack by Kerry and his surrogates. McClellan said it's the "same old recycled attacks" that come up every time Mr. Bush runs for office.
On Thursday, the son of the officer who reportedly wrote the memos says he doubts they're authentic. And on Friday, McClellan waded further into the controversy over the authenticity of the newly uncovered documents saying, "We don't know if they were fabricated or not...CBS won't disclose the source of the documents. However, they don't change the fact that the President fulfilled his obligation..."
Papers from the files of the late Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, one of Mr. Bush's commanders in the Texas Air National Guard, clearly show that Killian did not think that then-Lt. Bush satisfactorily completed his military obligations. He suspended Mr. Bush from flight duty for failing to submit to a required physical.
The bottom line defense by the White House is that Mr. Bush would not have been honorably discharged if he hadn't completed his obligations.
Even if he stayed quiet this week, Mr. Bush will definitely make reference to his military service when he addresses the National Convention of the National Guard Association of the United States. That's next Tuesday in Las Vegas.
The president was firing back Thursday at the Kerry campaign's near-daily attacks on his economic policies. At a speech in Colmar, Pennsylvania, Mr. Bush said it's his rival who poses a threat to the economy.
"He wants to give more power to Washington by raising taxes and spending more money," said Mr. Bush. And, he portrayed Kerry as a serial tax-raiser. "If you drive a car, Senator Kerry's voted for higher taxes on you. If you have a job, he's voted for higher taxes on you. If you're married or have children, he voted for higher taxes on you."
The president also argued that his policies, including two rounds of tax cuts, have served to strengthen the economy and create new jobs.
"Our country has seen twelve straight months of job gains," he said. "Over the past year we've added 1.7 million jobs. That is more than Germany, Japan, Great Britain, Canada and France combined," said Mr. Bush. He made no mention of the record-size deficits run up on his watch.
On Saturday, Mr. Bush marks the third anniversary of the 9/11 attacks leading the White House staff in observing a moment of silence on the South Lawn at 8:46 a.m., the time the first of the hijacked aircraft struck the World Trade Center.
Cheney Takes the Bus, Too: Vice President Cheney has coffee with prospective voters in Green Bay Friday morning and then hops on the bus for town hall meetings in Sheboygan Falls and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Before embarking, in a Cincinnati Enquirer interview, Cheney stepped back from his Tuesday comments on Kerry and a terrorist attack. CBS News' Josh Gross reports:
Trail Byte: Vice President Cheney looked to blunt some of the furor caused by his "wrong choice" comments from earlier in the week as he returned to the campaign trail Thursday in two swing states.
In Des Moines on Tuesday, Mr. Cheney told members of a town hall meeting they had a crucial decision to make on Election Day. "It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice," he stated. "Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again."
The comments, which were part of a larger discussion about the differences between the two campaigns' mindsets on terrorism, caused an uproar across the country. John Edwards labeled them as scare tactics and 'un-American' and newspapers and cable news ran the sound bite and subsequent political commentary throughout the week.
Campaign spokespeople and Republican supporters were quick to point out that the sentence was taken out of context but that did little to smooth the turbulence. On Thursday, the vice president had an opportunity to address the situation personally when he met with the editorial board of the Cincinnati Enquirer after a campaign stop in Ohio.
Echoing the response of campaign officials earlier in the week, he told the paper, "I did not say if Kerry is elected we will be hit by a terrorist attack."
"Whoever is elected president has to anticipate more attacks. My point was the question before us: Will we have the most effective policy in place to deal with that threat? George Bush will pursue a more effective policy than John Kerry," he said.
It remains to be seen if this response will defuse the situation or if the comments will become part of the political dialogue throughout the remaining election season.
Before meeting with the Enquirer, the vice president conducted a town hall meeting in Cincinnati where his opening remarks were more focused and direct than the ones in Des Moines, successfully avoiding another verbal slip-up.
Before the convention, Mr. Cheney always opened his remarks on the war on terrorism. But since leaving New York, he has led off with the economy, crediting the tax cuts for any positive moves. When it's time to open the floor to questions, the audience follows the lead and asks questions in suit.
And if there is to be a controversy over some of the comments on Thursday it will be the result of a question put forward by a small business owner asking about the unemployment numbers.
Kerry Taking about Health Care: On Friday, John Kerry holds town hall meeting on healthcare in St. Louis and then heads to a Allentown, Pa., CBS News' favorite "swingtown."
Kerry himself has some recent experience with the healthcare system. His wife was hospitalized briefly on Sunday with stomach pains and on Thursday he spoke (again) with the country's number one heart patient, Bill Clinton. CBS News' Steve Chaggaris reports on Kerry's day:
Trail Byte: John Kerry spent Thursday afternoon focused on African-American issues as Rev. Jesse Jackson joined him on his campaign plane for the flight from Des Moines, Iowa to New Orleans.
They both traveled to the Big Easy to address the National Baptist Convention which, according to the convention's web site, broke with tradition by only inviting Kerry - and not President Bush - to speak.
Kerry took the opportunity to unload on Bush, even employing a scare tactic by implying civil rights and affirmative action are in serious trouble if Bush is re-elected.
"George W. Bush has told you that Justices (Antonin) Scalia and (Clarence) Thomas are the kind of judges he will put on the Supreme Court," declared Kerry.
"We have fought too hard and come too far to let George Bush roll back generations of progress. John Edwards and I know that the whole future of civil rights and affirmative action may hinge on a single Supreme Court vote."
About halfway through the passionate 38-minute speech, Kerry indicated he had chatted earlier in the day with former President Clinton, who is still recovering from heart bypass surgery in a New York City hospital.
Kerry told the crowd that Clinton asked him "to say hello to all of you and extend his best to you and to tell you together we can make this happen."
Campaign spokesman David Wade said that Kerry called Clinton just before the speech to see how the former president was doing and the two "chatted for a couple of minutes."
Throughout his remarks, Kerry also regularly alluded to events sensitive to African-Americans to make his points: lynchings, Jim Crow, "separate but unequal" schools, and the voting problems in Florida in 2000.
Ultimately, using a Bible reference, Kerry tried to convince the audience that Bush doesn't care about African-Americans.
"I also know that George Bush has asked the question, 'Does the Democratic Party take African American voters for granted?' Well, here is my answer. The Book of Matthew reminds us, 'Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing,'" Kerry said
"The president who in the last four years couldn't even find the time to meet with the NAACP, couldn't even find the time to meet with the Black Caucus, couldn't find the time to meet with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. The president who turns away from African American needs, who scorns economic justice and affirmative action, who traffics in the politics of division - and then claims he is a friend of Black America can not conceal his identity no matter what clothes he wears."
Edwards Off: John Edwards is taking Friday off, but on Thursday he kept pressing on the Cheney terrorist remarks. CBS News' Bonney Kapp reports:
Trail Byte: For the third day running, John Edwards took issue on Thursday with Vice President Cheney's "wrong choice" means "we'll get hit again" by terrorists statement.
"This statement by Dick Cheney is dishonorable and undignified and was calculated to divide the American people, and it's wrong and the President of the United States should say that it's wrong," he said to about 800 New Hampshire supporters in Nashua.
Cheney's attempt to "clean up" his remarks in a Friday interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer isn't enough, according to the Edwards campaign. In a response to the article, press secretary Mark Kornblau wrote, "We all saw Dick Cheney's remark, and we all understood the disgraceful and dishonorable implications. How about instead of more spin we actually get the truth from Dick Cheney, or an apology? Is that so hard?"
In the meantime, it is safe to expect Edwards to continue with his anti-Cheney repertoire, which he developed more in Washington, D.C. "And by the way, while I'm on the subject of Dick Cheney, let me say a couple other things," Edwards joked to a roomful of donors at a $200,000 fundraiser in a Washington hotel Thursday evening.
Blasting Halliburton, Edwards was sure to tie the Vice President to the company whose name is a dirty word to most Democrats. "We're talking about a company that is doing business with the American people, funded by taxpayers-Dick Cheney's company, the company from whom he still receives money."
Next up in Edwards' Cheney riff was the allegation the Vice President met with energy industry lobbyists "behind closed doors" to set American energy policy. After the D.C. crowd gave an adequate boo, the senator reassured, "One thing I can tell you, and you can take this to the bank, when John Kerry is your president and me as your vice president, we're going to give the White House back to the American people."
Edwards' grand finale was a late addition to include what the Vice President said about the on-line auction website, E-bay, earlier in the day at an Ohio campaign stop. Paraphrasing Cheney, Edwards mocked, "'Well, wait a minute, the economy's actually doing better than most people in the country are aware of, because there are a lot of people selling things on E-bay.'" He continued, "I'm here to tell you, if we include the lemonade stands and the bake sales, this economy's roaring. What in creation are these people talking about? I mean, they obviously have no idea what's happening out here in the real world."
Edwards will attend the Congressional Black Caucus' 34th annual Legislative Conference Prayer Breakfast on Saturday, September 11th, before beginning another week of campaigning Sunday.
West Virginia Rouge? Should George Bush repeat his 2000 performance and win West Virginia, his advisors will undoubtedly be thrilled to receive the state's Electoral College votes. But even though W. Va. has six electors in the college, one of them, South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb, is threatening to break ranks with his party if Bush succeeds.
Robb told the AP, "I think President Bush needs to get the message from people across this country, including Republicans, that his strategy in national security and his economic policies need revisited." As a result, "Robb said it is unlikely he would cast his electoral vote for Democrat John Kerry or anyone else but he is considering withholding it."
Although it is statistically unlikely that a single elector would be the deciding vote (even though 2000 came terribly close), the W. Va. Republican Party says it is not worried about Robb going AWOL. Gary Abernathy, executive director of the state party, told CBS News that Robb is a "colorful character" but that when it comes down to voting time, "we are of the firm belief that elector in question, Richie Robb, will do the right thing."
And if he doesn't? Abernathy says, "We are exploring whatever options might be available to us to make sure there's not a problem."
Quote of the Day: "You're in the right state for that." --NFL commentator Al Michaels, after his colleague John Madden called a fumble a "flip-flop." The two were calling the calling the Colts-Patriots game in Massachusetts. (ABC)