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Democratic Group's Ad Revives "AWOL" Allegation Against Bush

"Texans for Truth" group features another Alabama Guardsman who doesn't recall seeing Bush in 1972.

September 8, 2004

Modified: September 10, 2004

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Summary

 

An ad unveiled Sept. 8 by the Democratic-leaning group "Texans for Truth" features a former officer in the Alabama Air National Guard saying neither he nor his friends saw George W. Bush at their unit in 1972, when Bush was temporarily assigned there.

The TV spot adds little to what was already known. Bush's pay records -- released nearly seven months earlier -- reflect a six-month gap in paid attendance during a time when he was working on an Alabama Senate campaign.

There were these other developments:

  • A Boston Globe report Sept. 8 concluded that Bush "fell well short of meeting his military obligation" because of irregular attendance at Guard drills. The Globe said Bush's superiors "could have disciplined him or ordered him to active duty in 1972, 1973 or 1974. But they did neither."
  • The Associated Press reported Sept. 8 that newly obtained records show Bush's Texas unit continued operating the type of airplane that Bush was trained to fly until 1974, long after Bush's last flight in April 1972. Bush aides once suggested that a reason he stopped flying and later skipped a flight physical, leading to his official grounding, was that his services weren't needed because the F-102 Delta Dagger planes were being phased out.
  • The CBS program 60 Minutes aired an interview Sept. 8 with former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who said he used his political influence to get Bush into the Texas Air National Guard in 1968, when the Vietnam war was raging. "I would describe it as preferential treatment," said Barnes, a Democrat who is supporting Kerry. "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 that could get in the National Guard -- chances are they would not have to go to Vietnam."

Analysis

 

This ad is hardly more than a video news release. Its sponsors say they plan to air it mainly on cable-TV outlets in five states at a cost of $110,000 -- a very light "buy." But it was already being aired on TV news programs Sept. 8, long before its first scheduled appearance as a paid ad on Monday Sept. 13.

 Texans for Truth Ad

"AWOL"

(Graphic: Was George W. Bush AWOL in Alabama?)

Bob Mintz : I heard George W. Bush get up there and say, "I served in the 187th Air National Guard in Montgomery, Alabama."

I said, "Really, that was my unit? And I don't remember seeing you there." So I called my friends and said, "Did you know that George Bush served in our unit?" and everyone said, "No I never saw him there."

(On screen: Tell us whom you served with Mr. President.)

Bob Mintz : It would be impossible not to be seen in a unit of that size.

(On screen: George Bush has some explaining to do.)

Partisan Sponsorship

As might be imagined, the sponsoring organization is partisan. "Texans for Truth" describes itself as an offshoot of an Austin-based group called "DriveDemocracy.org," which in turn says it was "initially funded through a generous start-up grant from MoveOn.org," a liberal group dedicated to defeating Bush. Texans for Truth spokesman Glenn W. Smith is described by the Austin American-Statesman as a "long-time Democratic operative" and "Moveon.org's man in Austin." He ran Democrat Tony Sanchez's 2002 campaign for governor in the state.

In a conference call with reporters, Smith said initial funding for the TV ad is coming from mostly small donors. The group hasn't yet filed any financial disclosure statements.

"I never saw him"

The title of the ad is "AWOL" and a graphic on screen asks the question "Was George W. Bush AWOL in Alabama?" Then former Guard pilot Bob Mintz appears saying "I don't remember seeing you there . . .  I called my friends and said, 'Did you know that George Bush served in our unit?' and everyone said, 'No I never saw him there.'" Mintz adds that it would be "impossible" for Bush not to have been seen.

In a telephone conference call with reporters, however, Mintz conceded that he is not certain whether he himself was present on the dates when pay records show Bush being paid for drill attendance, and he volunteered that he can't say that Bush failed to meet his military obligations:

Mintz: I can't say that he didn't do his duties, but I can say for sure that I was there and I never met George Bush.

In the telephone conference, Mintz recalled that he and other bachelor pilots were looking forward to meeting a new officer with "political connections" whom they had heard was going to report to their Montgomery, Alabama unit, the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group.

"We were anxious to meet the young lieutenant," Mintz said. But the new arrival never showed, and Mintz says he put it out of his mind until recently when he heard Bush say he had served in the same unit. Then he called some friends, and none of them recalled seeing Bush there either.

The Six-month Gap

Mintz actually adds little to what had previously been known about a six-month gap in Bush's service. The New York Times reported last February that it had interviewed 16 retired officers, pilots and senior enlisted men who served at the unit and found none who recalled Bush attending drills.

Pay records released in February show Bush wasn't paid for any drills between April 16, 1972 -- the last time he flew with his old unit in Houston -- and October 28 and 29 of that year, just before the conclusion of the Alabama senatorial campaign in which Bush was working. He was also paid for Nov. 11, 12, 13 & 14, shortly after election day. The pay records don't indicate where Bush was on those dates, but Bush has also produced a dental examination record  showing he was at the Alabama base on January 6, 1973.

Mintz conceded during the telephone conference that he wasn't sure if he himself had been at the base on the specific dates Bush was paid in October and November, and said it was possible that Bush performed office work at the base without his knowing it. By October Bush could only have been paid for non -flying service because he had been officially grounded for failing  to take a required flight physical.

Obligation Fulfilled?

Bush has always pointed to his honorable discharge as evidence that he eventually made up any deficiencies in drill attendance and fulfilled at least minimum requirements for service. But The Boston Globe  reported Sept. 8 that it had conducted a "reexamination of the records" and concluded that Bush failed to meet the commitments he signed in May 1968, and again before he transferred out of his unit in mid-1973 to attend Harvard Business School.

Boston Globe: The reexamination of Bush's records by the Globe, along with interviews with military specialists who have reviewed regulations from that era, show that Bush's attendance at required training drills was so irregular that his superiors could have disciplined him or ordered him to active duty in 1972, 1973, or 1974. But they did neither.

The Globe contacted retired Lieutenant Colonel Albert C. Lloyd Jr., the former Texas Air National Guard personnel chief who in February said the records showed Bush had fulfilled his minimum obligations. This time Lloyd agreed that Bush should have joined a reserve unit in the Boston area when he moved to Cambridge in September 1973.

Lloyd: (Bush) took a chance that he could be called up for active duty. But the war was winding down, and he probably knew that the Air Force was not enforcing the penalty. . . . There were hundreds of guys like him who did the same thing.

Actually, the Vietnam war was officially over by the time Bush went to Harvard. The US and North Vietnam signed a cease-fire agreement in January of 1973, and the last US combat troops came home in March (leaving only advisers and Marines protecting US installations). The last person drafted into the Army entered service June 30, 1973.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan disputed the Globe  conclusion:

McClellan:  If the President had not fulfilled his commitment he would not have been honorably discharged. He was honorably discharged in October of '73. The President is proud of his service in the National Guard. . . . The President met his commitments in Texas. He met his commitments in Alabama. He met his commitments when he returned to Texas in 1973.

Q: Did he meet his commitments in Boston?

McClellan: As I said, Caren, if he had not fulfilled his commitments, he would not have been honorably discharged.

Later in the day, the White House said Bush had been assigned to an Air Force Obligated Ready Reserve unit in Denver, Colorado, -- as reflected by previously released documents -- absolving him of any requirement to report for duty in Massachusetts. "These documents show the President fulfilled his obligations," said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan, as quoted by Reuters.

Still Flying in 1974

Separately, The Associated Press said it had obtained new records showing that Bush's Houston unit continued to operate the F-102 Delta Dagger aircraft long after Bush stopped flying in April 1972.

The AP said the Pentagon released the records under pressure from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, after previously saying it could not find them.

The AP said the two dozen new pages of records show that Bush's Texas unit flew the F-102A until 1974, and also used the jets as part of an air defense drill during 1972, despite a suggestion by Bush's 2000 campaign that he had skipped his medical exam in part because the F-102A was nearly obsolete.

The AP said the records also show that Bush ranked No. 22 in a class of 53 pilots when he finished his flight training at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia in 1969. (That seemed to conflict with what Bush’s flight instructor, retired Col. Maurice H. Udell, was quoted by The Boston Globe as saying in 2000, when he said he would rank Bush "in the top 5 percent of pilots I knew.”)

The AP said the records reflect Bush logging a total of 326.4 hours as a pilot and an additional 9.9 hours as a co-pilot. Of those, 278 hours were in the F-102A, including about 77 hours in the two-seat trainer version of the aircraft, the TF-102A.

How He Got In

Bush got into the Texas Air National Guard in 1968 when more than 16,000 Americans were dying in the Vietnam war, the deadliest year by far for US troops. Five years ago former Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes issued a statement through his lawyer saying he had helped Bush get into the Guard at the request of a Bush family friend, a Houston oilman named Sidney Adger who has since died. In 1968 Bush's father was a Republican congressman and Barnes was and remains a Democrat. Barnes said in his 1999 statement that neither then-Congressman Bush nor any other member of the Bush family had contacted him directly.

Now Barnes is talking more openly than in the past, saying he got Bush into the Guard while helping lots of "wealthy supporters" and "family names of importance" get in, thereby avoiding conscription into combat.

Barnes granted his first public interview with CBS for its program 60 Minutes,  which aired it Sept. 8.

Ben Barnes: I would describe it as preferential treatment. There were hundreds of names on the list of people wanting to get into the Air National Guard or the Army National Guard . . . I think that would have been a preference to anybody that didn't want to go to Vietnam or didn't want to 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 that could get in the National Guard - chances are they would not have to go to Vietnam.

Barnes is a partisan source: he is listed on Kerry's website as among those who have raised $100,000 or more for the campaign, acquiring the honorary title of campaign "Vice Chair."

Earlier, Barnes spoke of his help for Bush at a rally staged by a pro-Kerry group in Austin, Texas on May 27th, and a video  of his remarks was posted on a pro-Kerry website June 25th.

Ben Barnes: I got a young man named George W. Bush in the National Guard when I was Lieutenant Governor of Texas, and I’m not necessarily proud of that, but I did it. And I got a lot of other people in the National Guard because I thought that was what people should do when you’re in office: you helped a lot of rich people. And I walked through the Vietnam Memorial the other day and I looked at the names of the people that died in Vietnam , and I became more ashamed of myself than I’ve ever been. Because it was the worst thing I did, was help a lot of wealthy supporters and a lot of people who had family names of importance get in the National Guard. And I’m very sorry of that, and I’m very ashamed. And I apologize to you as the voters of Texas.

(Note: Actually, what Barnes said could not have been strictly accurate. He was Speaker of the Texas House in 1968 when Bush entered Guard service, and wasn't sworn in as the state's Lieutenant Governor  until 1969. However, he said in his 60 Minutes interview that he had helped get young men into the Guard both as Speaker and as Lieutenant Governor.)

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the Barnes video statement was "discredited", according to The Associated Press :

McClellan: It is not surprising coming from a longtime partisan Democrat. The allegation was discredited by the commanding officer. This was fully covered and addressed five years ago. It is nothing new.

McClellan may have been referring to a comment made in 1999 when Buck Staudt, the former commander of the Texas Air National Guard, denied helping Bush jump ahead of others on the waiting list to get in. "Nobody did anything for him," Staudt said in an interview, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times . "There was no goddamn influence on his behalf. Neither his daddy nor anybody else got him into the Guard."

Sources


Mark Memmott, "'Texans for Truth' ad challenges Bush on Guard service," USA TODAY 8 Feb 2004.

David Barstow, "Seeking Memories of Bush At an Alabama Air Base," The New York Times , 13 February 2004: A5.

Walter V. Robinson and The Globe Spotlight Team, " Bush fell short on duty at Guard ; Records show pledges unmet," The Boston Globe 8 Sep 2004: A1.

"Press Briefing by Scott McClellan," White House news release, 8 Feb 2004.

Greg Frost, "New Questions Raised on Bush Military Record," Reuters, 8 Sep 2004.

"New Questions On Bush Guard Duty," CBS News 60 Minutes 8 Feb 2004.

"New Campaign Kicks Off With TV Ad Spotlighting Bush Absence From Alabama National Guard" News Release, Texans for Truth, 8 Sep 2004. 

September 8, 2004, Wednesday, BC cycle

Matt Kelly, "Lawsuit prompts release of new records showing Bush grades as Guard pilot," The Associated Press 8 Sep 2004.

"Parties plan to be persuasive," Austin American-Statesman 13 Dec 2003: B2.

Ben Barnes, "on getting Bush into the National Guard,"  video, Austin4Kerry.org, taped 25 May 2004.

"The Kerry Campaign Release Updated Top Fundraisers : JohnKerry.com is tops with $20 million raised in 2004," John Kerry for President,  news release 19 March 2004.

Bobby Ross Jr., "Ex-Lawmaker Regrets Helping Bush In Guard," The Associated Press, 29 August 2004.

Richard A. Serrano, "Bush Received Quick Air Guard Commission," Los Angeles Times, 4 July 1999: A1.

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