Not Forged: Authenticity Backed on Documents Harmful to Bush Campaign

[ This story follows up an earlier piece. –BL ]

September 11, 2004 | Boston Globe

by Francie Latour and Michael Rezendes

After CBS News on Wednesday trumpeted newly discovered documents that referred to a 1973 effort to ”sugar coat” President Bush’s service record in the Texas Air National Guard, the network almost immediately faced charges that the documents were forgeries, with typography that was not available on typewriters used at that time.

But specialists interviewed by the Globe and some other news organizations say the specialized characters used in the documents, and the type format, were common to electric typewriters in wide use in the early 1970s, when Bush was a first lieutenant.

Philip D. Bouffard, a forensic document examiner in Ohio who has analyzed typewritten samples for 30 years, had expressed suspicions about the documents in an interview with the New York Times published Thursday, one in a wave of similar media reports. But Bouffard told the Globe yesterday that after further study, he now believes the documents could have been prepared on an IBM Selectric Composer typewriter available at the time.

Analysts who have examined the documents focus on several facets of their typography, among them the use of a curved apostrophe, a raised, or superscript, ”th,” and the proportional spacing between the characters — spacing which varies with the width of the letters. In older typewriters, each letter was alloted the same space.

Those who doubt the documents say those typographical elements would not have been commonly available at the time of Bush’s service. But such characters were common features on electric typewriters of that era, the Globe determined through interviews with specialists and examination of documents from the period. In fact, one such raised ”th,” used to describe a Guard unit, the 187th, appears in a document in Bush’s official record that the White House made public earlier this year.

Meanwhile, ”CBS Evening News” last night explained how it sought to authenticate the documents, focusing primarily on its examiner’s conclusion that two of the records were signed by Bush’s guard commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian. CBS also said it had other sources — among Killian’s friends and colleagues — who verified that the content of the documents reflected Killian’s views at the time.

One of them, Robert Strong, a Guard colleague, said the language in the documents was ”compatible with the way business was done at that time. They are compatible with the man I remember Jerry Killian being.”

But William Flynn, a Phoenix document examiner cited in a Washington Post report Thursday, said he had not changed his mind because he does not believe that the proportional spacing between characters, and between lines, in the documents obtained by CBS was possible on typewriters used by the military at the time.

Flynn told the Globe he believes it is ”highly unlikely” that the documents CBS has obtained could have been produced in 1972 or 1973.

Flynn said his doubts were also based on his belief that the curved apostrophe was not available on electric typewriters at the time, although documents from the period reviewed by the Globe show it was. He acknowledged that the quality of the copies of the documents he examined was poor.

Also suspicious is Killian’s son, Gary D. Killian of Houston. ”I still contend that my father would not have written these documents. I know the type of man he was — if he felt he was being pressured, he’d confront it head on, not write a memo about it,” Killian, 51, said in a telephone interview. His father died in 1984.

The controversy over the authenticity of the documents has all but blocked out discussion of their content. In the first document, dated May 4, 1972, Killian appears to order Bush to show up for a flight physical ”no later than 14 May, 1972.” On Aug. 1, 1972, a document bearing Killian’s signature notes that he had suspended Bush from flight status ”due to failure to perform to USAF/TexANG standards and failure to meet annual physical examination (flight) as ordered.”

At the time of the memo, Bush had not flown since April. He moved to Alabama in May of that year to work on a political campaign, and had not attended drills for more than four months.

In a ”memo to file” dated May 1972, Killian appeared to write that he had counseled Bush about his commitment to the Guard. And the final memo obtained by CBS, dated Aug. 18, 1973, said that the group’s commanding general had sought to have Killian ”sugar coat” Bush’s annual fitness report — even though Bush had apparently not trained at his Houston airbase during the year in question.

But reporters and political figures focused much of their attention yesterday on the suggestion that CBS might have been the victim of a hoax.

Bouffard, the Ohio document specialist, said that he had dismissed the Bush documents in an interview with The New York Times because the letters and formatting of the Bush memos did not match any of the 4,000 samples in his database. But Bouffard yesterday said that he had not considered one of the machines whose type is not logged in his database: the IBM Selectric Composer. Once he compared the Bush memos to Selectric Composer samples obtained from Interpol, the international police agency, Bouffard said his view shifted.

In the Times interview, Bouffard had also questioned whether the military would have used the Composer, a large machine. But Bouffard yesterday provided a document indicating that as early as April 1969 — three years before the dates of the CBS memos — the Air Force had completed service testing for the Composer, possibly in preparation for purchasing the typewriters.

As for the raised ”th” that appears in the Bush memos — to refer, for example, to units such as the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron — Bouffard said that custom characters on the Composer’s metal typehead ball were available in the 1970s, and that the military could have ordered such custom balls from IBM.

”You can’t just say that this is definitively the mark of a computer,” Bouffard said.

Meanwhile, the political fray over the documents continued unabated. At a news conference yesterday, Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, again accused Bush of lying about his record.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan defended the president’s service record, but offered no view on whether the CBS documents are authentic.

Globe reporters Stephen Kurkjian and Walter V. Robinson contributed to this report.

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