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Memos: Bush Refused Order While in Guard

[ The dust has yet to settle on questions regarding the memos at issue in the story below. CBS insists its sources are “unimpeachable.” Either way, it’s worth remembering that the memos were not the whole 60 Minutes scoop.

Oklahomans won a victory in connection with this story, which broke on CBS’s 60 Minutes: the affiliate in Oklahoma City, KWTV, had planned to preempt the show, but decided to air it due to an overwhelming volume of calls. Grassroots action! Thanks to Alexandra Dadlez for sending the AP piece below.

In a related piece, the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof wrote yesterday:

President Bush claims that in the fall of 1972, he fulfilled his Air National Guard duties at a base in Alabama. But Bob Mintz was there – and he is sure Mr. Bush wasn’t…. “I’m sure I would have seen him,” Mr. Mintz said yesterday. “It’s a small unit, and you couldn’t go in or out without being seen. It was too close a space.” There were only 25 to 30 pilots there, and Mr. Bush – a U.N. ambassador’s son who had dated Tricia Nixon – would have been particularly memorable.

–BL ]

9 Sept 2004 | Associated Press

by PETE YOST

WASHINGTON – Addressing questions that have lingered for years, newly unearthed memos state that George W. Bush failed to meet standards of the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam war, that he refused a direct order and that his superiors were in a state of turmoil over how to evaluate his performance after he was suspended from flying.

One military official “is pushing to sugar coat it,” one memo says of a proposed evaluation of Bush.

“On this date I ordered that 1st Lt. Bush be suspended from flight status due to failure to perform to USAF/TexANG standards and failure to meet annual physical examination … as ordered,” says an Aug. 1, 1972 memo by a superior officer, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who is now dead. Killian said in the memo that he wanted a formal inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the flight suspension. No records have surfaced that one was ever conducted.

“I conveyed my verbal orders to commander,” Killian’s memo stated.

The same memo notes that Bush was trying to transfer to non-flying status out of state and recommends that the Texas unit fill his flying slot “with a more seasoned pilot from the list of qualified Vietnam pilots that have rotated.”

The Vietnam-era documents add details to the bare-bones explanation of Bush’s aides over the years that he was suspended simply because he decided to skip his flight physical.

The White House said in February that it had released all records of Bush’s service, but one of Killian’s memos stated it was “for record” and another directing Bush to take the physical exam stated that it was “for 1st Lt. George W. Bush.”

“I can’t explain why that wouldn’t be in his record, but they were found in Jerry Killian’s personal records,” White House communications director Dan Bartlett told CBS’s “60 Minutes II,” which first obtained the memos.

Bartlett said Bush’s superiors granted permission to train in Alabama in a non-flying status and that “many of the documents you have here affirm just that.”

“These are the same old recycled attacks that we see every time the president is up for election,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday. McClellan called the latest disclosures “a coordinated effort by Democrats to attack the President when Senator Kerry is falling behind in the polls.”

McClellan declined several times to address questions from reporters on why Bush had defied a direct order. In a transcript of McClellan’s remarks, the White House inserted a comment of its own, stating that the memos “in fact, show the president was working with his commanders to comply with the order.”

A memo dated May 19, 1972 summarizes a telephone discussion with Bush, saying “we talked about him getting his flight physical situation fixed before his date. Says he will do that in Alabama if he stays in a flight status.” The memo stated the two discussed “how Bush can get out of coming to drill from now through November.” It says Bush was “told he could do ET for three months or transfer.” ET referred to equivalent training, a procedure for meeting training requirements without attending regularly scheduled drills.

The same memo also makes clear that Killian was concerned about the fact that the military had spent a substantial amount of money training Bush to fly.

“I advised him of our investment in him and his commitment,” stated the memo.

Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe said, “George W. Bush’s cover story on his National Guard service is rapidly unraveling. … George W. Bush needs to answer why he regularly misled the American people about his time in the Guard and who applied political pressure on his behalf to have his performance reviews ‘sugarcoated'”

Bartlett told CBS, “As it says in your own documents, President Bush talked to the commanders about the fact that he’d be transferring to a unit … in Alabama that didn’t fly that plane,” the F-102, the type Bush was trained in.

Using only last names, one of the newly disclosed documents points to sharp disagreement among Bush’s superiors in Texas over how to evaluate his performance for the period from mid-1972 through mid-1973.

“Staudt has obviously pressured Hodges more about Bush,” Killian wrote on Aug. 18, 1973. “I’m having trouble running interference and doing my job _ Harris gave me a message today from Grp regarding Bush’s OETR and Staudt is pushing to sugar coat it. Bush wasn’t here during rating period and I don’t have any comments from 187th in Alabama. I will not rate.” Grp refers to a military unit and OETR stands for officer efficiency training report.

The memo concludes: “Harris took the call from Grp today. I’ll backdate but won’t rate. Harris agrees.”

At the time, Walter B. Staudt was commander of the Texas National Guard; Lt. Col. Bobby Hodges was one of Bush’s superiors in Texas who two years earlier had rated Bush an outstanding young pilot; and Lt. Col. William D. Harris Jr. was another superior of Bush’s.

Records released this year when Bush’s military service re-emerged as a campaign issue contain no evidence that he showed up for duty at all for five months in mid-1972 and document only a few occasions later that year.

Asked about Killian’s statement in a memo about the military’s investment in Bush, Bartlett told CBS: “For anybody to try to interpret or presume they know what somebody who is now dead was thinking in any of these memos, I think is very difficult to do.”

Documents released by the White House are available.

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