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Memos say Bush pushed for move

Politics and GovernmentGeorge W. BushWhite HouseTelevisionEntertainmentDemocratic PartyDeath

When President Bush was a lieutenant in the Texas Air National Guard, an official complained that Bush was "talking to someone upstairs" in his bid for transfer to duty in Alabama to work on the campaign of a family friend, documents released late Wednesday by the White House show.

The unsigned memo on May 19, 1972, outlined a "phone call from Bush," who was discussing how to "get out of coming to drill now through November." Bush, who had trained to fly fighter jets for the Guard in Texas and served stateside during the Vietnam War, insisted on seeking a transfer to Alabama any way possible, the memo writer said, because he is "working on another campaign for his dad."

The late-night release of the memos added another layer of complexity and intrigue to the renewed examination of Bush's time in the National Guard in the Vietnam era, the war from more than 30 years ago that has taken an unexpectedly prominent role in this presidential campaign. Bush's challenger, Democrat John Kerry, has been forced to defend his combat service in Vietnam, where he received several awards for heroism.

The release of the documents comes seven months after the White House disclosed what it said was an exhaustive list of the president's National Guard records. The documents were released two hours after CBS News raised new questions during a prime-time broadcast about whether Bush was awarded a coveted slot out of favoritism.

In the May 1972 memo, the author also said that Bush was told he would need written approval for a transfer.

A second memo, signed by Lt. Col. Jerry Killian on Aug. 1, 1972, showed that Bush was ordered suspended from flight status for failure to perform to Air Force and Guard standards and failure to meet an annual physical exam as required. Bush's transfer to an Air Reserve Squadron was recommended, but not allowed, this memo reported. Bush "has made no attempt to meet his training certification or flight physical," the colonel wrote. Bush wanted to transfer to a non-flying unit. Killian recommended that the unit fill Bush's slot with "a more seasoned pilot" from a list of Vietnam pilots who rotated out.

Bush was told he would need a flight physical, the May document shows. Bush replied that he would get that in Alabama.

The next year, in August 1973, an unnamed official wrote, "I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job," noting that Bush was not present for his pilot rating and as such he would not rate Bush.

This Aug. 18, 1973, memo was titled "CYA"--which could have been meant as an abbreviation for a slang term meaning cover your behind.

In a related development, a new television ad by a Democratic-leaning group also questioned whether Bush fulfilled his obligations.

The shift of scrutiny from Kerry to Bush marked a pivot in a presidential campaign that has to a surprising degree been focused on Vietnam-era war records.

Former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who acknowledged he helped secure Bush a coveted position in the Texas Air National Guard, said in a television interview that he regretted making "life or death" decisions based on a man's connections.

Pentagon records

Democrats, meanwhile, seized on Pentagon records released this week suggesting that Bush may not have met his full obligations in the Guard. Party leaders accused the president of skirting his duty in a war but also lying about it.

"We didn't want to spend our time in this campaign talking about a war 35 years ago, but it's George Bush's activity 35 years ago that speaks to his credibility today," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

A group called Texans for Truth, financed by the Democratic-leaning organization MoveOn.org, began airing ads in five battleground states Wednesday in which a retired lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Guard questioned whether Bush served in that state. The ad asks, "Was George W. Bush AWOL in Alabama?" before demanding: "Tell us whom you served with, Mr. President."

The group said it invested $110,000 in the initial advertising volley, giving it a small reach compared with the multimillion-dollar flood of other political ads. But like a similar ad aired last month by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the commercial has a far wider reach because of media coverage and the Internet.

The increased examination of Bush's service record in the National Guard came as the death toll of American troops in Iraq has surpassed 1,000. Democrats are urging Americans to keep their skepticism about the war alive as they try to erase the advantages polls indicate the president gained last week during the GOP convention.

"We have a commander in chief who dodged his own military duty during Vietnam," said Glenn Smith, a Democratic operative and the executive director of Texans for Truth. "We think the husbands, wives, mothers and fathers of these soldiers deserve to know the truth about George W. Bush."

In a taped interview broadcast Wednesday evening on CBS News' "60 Minutes," Barnes said he regretted giving special treatment to Bush and other well-connected young men so they could avoid the draft.

"That's power," Barnes said. "In some instances, when I looked at those names, I was maybe determining life or death and that's not a power that I want to have."

The comments by Barnes contradicted a sworn statement he made in the 2000 campaign when he said he could not recall giving Bush special treatment. Republicans rejected Barnes as an agent of the Democrats.

Other questions

Meanwhile, the White House and the Bush campaign also downplayed questions raised by The Boston Globe on Wednesday that said the president fell short of commitments outlined in his agreement with the Air National Guard.

The newspaper, citing 30-year-old documents released by the Pentagon this week, reported that Bush failed to register with a Massachusetts Guard unit upon his entry into Harvard Business School in 1973. In his race against Al Gore four years ago, a spokesman told the Globe that Bush completed his obligation with a Boston-area unit, an assertion the spokesman, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett, acknowledged to the Globe was incorrect.

But when asked Wednesday during a briefing with reporters, White House press secretary Scott McClellan declined to directly answer questions about whether the president served in Boston, declaring, "If the president had not fulfilled his commitment, he would not have been honorably discharged."

The military records were obtained under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by The Associated Press even though Bush and the Pentagon insisted for months that the records did not exist. The documents showed that while Bush said he was in Alabama training with a Guard unit in 1972, his home unit in Texas was defending skies over the Southern U.S. by keeping two jet fighters poised for launch within five minutes' notice.

"When his unit was placed on a 24-hour alert mission to protect our country from surprise attack, why did George Bush not report for duty?" McAuliffe asked in a conference call with reporters.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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