Bush records don't tell the whole story


Geraldine Sealey
February 11, 2004 12:35AM (UTC)

The White House today released pay records that it says show the president fulfilled his obligations to the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. In a press briefing (Transcript here) White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "When you serve, you are paid for that service. These documents outline the days on which he was paid. That means he served. And these documents also show he met his requirements. And it's just really a shame that people are continuing to bring this up."

A reporter asked McClellan why the White House hasn't produced anyone who actually served with Bush during the period in question, and he said: "Obviously we would have made people available," then merely pointed to a memo written at the request of the White House by a retired lieutenant colonel who is former personnel director for the Texas Air National Guard. The memo says Bush put in "satisfactory years" for the period of 1972-73 and 1973-74, "which proves that he completed his military obligation in a satisfactory manner."

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Is McClellan right? Should people stop "bringing up" the gaps in Bush's Guard duty? Kevin Drum at the blog Cal Pundit dissects the significance of these documents and whether they clear up or just further confuse the situation.

"First, payroll records alone are simply not enough. If Bush wants to put this controversy to rest, he needs to commit to opening up his complete record. So far he appears to [be] hedging mightily on this. Second, many of these documents have been available for years. It's just that no one ever thought to look for them. Bob Fertik of Democrats.com (not associated with the Democratic Party) got copies of the ARF attendance records back in 2000 via a FOIA request, something that any reporter could have done as well. Finally, the reason this is all controversial is because the existing record is both fragmentary and contradictory, a toxic combination that inevitably leads to lots of speculation as well as some outright conspiracy theorizing. A little Googling will show you what I mean."

More Drum: "My advice: don't go there. A bit of speculation is OK, but stay away from the wilder stuff. At the same time, there's also no reason to blindly accept whatever White House spin Dan Bartlett places on these documents. There are at least two good reasons to be skeptical about Bush's story: (1) some of it simply doesn't add up and (2) he has refused to release his entire military record. Considering the trouble it's causing, why would he do that unless there were something awfully embarrassing in there? Bottom line: if Bush's story is really true, he can put a stop to all this speculation instantly by simply ordering all the relevant archives to release his entire record, warts and all. Why won't he?"

By the way, Bush told Tim Russert on Sunday that he would release all of his records, although he added that he had done so in 2000, as well, which isn't true.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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