Published February 10, 2004
WASHINGTON – Pummeled by election-year questions about President Bush's military record, the White House on Tuesday released documents it says proves the president did serve out his term with the Air National Guard (search) during the Vietnam War.
Barraged by reporters at the daily White House briefing, press secretary Scott McClellan waved pay records and other papers at the media and repeatedly said the Bush administration has been upfront from the start about his military background.
"These are the records that reflect his service," McClellan said. "We talked about this issue fully during the 2000 campaign." He called claims that Bush was AWOL — absent without leave — "outrageous."
At issue is whether Bush fulfilled his complete duty as a member of the National Guard during the Vietnam War.
Bush's military record became a point of contention in the 2000 campaign and was revived this year by Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe (search), who called Bush "AWOL" during a period of his service when he was in Alabama.
Appearing on Fox News' "Dayside with Linda Vester," Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt dismissed the contentious press conference as nothing more than political sniping.
"The Washington press corps seemed highly irritated and got exactly what they asked for —black and white proof that the president served in the National Guard," he told Fox. "I fail to see this is anything more than a political issue."
The subject has certainly come up on the campaign trail, though Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, declined to get involved in the debate on Tuesday.
Kerry, who is regularly accompanied by a "band of brothers" of military veterans who served with him in Vietnam, said Tuesday he has said all he is going to say about Bush's record.
"I just don't have any comment on it," Kerry told reporters between campaign stops in Tennessee and Virginia, which were holding their primaries Tuesday night. "It's not an issue that I chose to create. It's not my record that's at issue and I don't have any questions about it."
The papers McClellan showed the press corps included annual retirement point summaries and pay records to show that Bush served.
The pay information documented the dates when Bush showed up for Guard duty, the spokesman 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," McClellan said. "And it's just really a shame that people are continuing to bring this up.
"These documents clearly show that the president fulfilled his duties," McClellan said.
Photocopied payroll records distributed by the White House were not all legible. The White House promised clearer copies later Tuesday afternoon.
The documents indicate that Bush received credit for nine days of active duty between May 1972 and May 1973, the period that has been cited by Democrats as evidence that Bush shirked his military responsibilities.
A memo written by retired Lt. Col. Albert Lloyd Jr., at the request of the White House, said a review of Bush's records showed that he had "satisfactory years" for the period of 1972-73 and 1973-74, "which proves that he completed his military obligation in a satisfactory manner."
Lloyd was personnel director for the Texas Air National Guard (search) from 1969 to 1995 and also had reviewed Bush's military records at the request of his campaign four years ago.
Asked why the White House had not publicly brought forward any comrades who had served during the period with Bush, McClellan said, "Obviously we would have made people available," then pointed to Lloyd's statement.
The point summaries were released during the 2000 presidential campaign but the pay records were not obtained by the White House until late Monday from the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, Colo., McClellan said. He said the center, apparently acting on its own, reviewed Bush's records and came up with the pay information.
"It was our impression from the Texas Air National Guard — they stated they didn't have them," he said. "It was also our impression those records didn't exist."
Bush on Sunday authorized the release of his Guard records. McClellan said the latest material apparently is all of Bush's records.
Asked if the records should end the controversy about Bush's service, McClellan said, "You have to ask those who made these outrageous accusations if they stand by them in the face of this documentation that demonstrates he served and fulfilled his duties."
Bush enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard in 1968 shortly before graduating from Yale University.
Questions have been raised about whether family connections helped him get into the Guard when there were waiting lists for what was seen as an easy billet. Bush says no one in his family pulled strings and that he got in because others didn't want to commit to the almost two years of active duty required for fighter pilot training.
A central issue is whether he showed up for duty while assigned to Guard units in Alabama, where he worked on a political campaign in 1972. "There may be no evidence, but I did report," Bush said in a televised interview on Sunday. "Otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged."
Another question is why he was allowed to end Guard duty about six months early to attend Harvard Business School. Bush said Sunday that he had "worked it out with the military. And I'm just telling you, I did my duty."
Lloyd has said that Bush's early discharge was not uncommon for pilots or other crewmen who were to leave soon and had been trained on now-obsolete jets, as was Bush's case.
Fox News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.