WASHINGTON – The White House has provided documentary evidence that President Bush completed his National Guard (search) service during the Vietnam War, but Democrats are still demanding proof he reported for duty as ordered in Alabama.
"The president recalls serving both when he was in Texas and when he was in Alabama," White House spokesman Scott McClellan (search) said Tuesday, holding up a 13-page packet of military records. "We have provided you these documents that show clearly that the president of the United States fulfilled his duties and that is the reason that he was honorably discharged from the National Guard."
The records, some being released for the first time, didn't satisfy Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe (search). He argued that the payroll and summary service records posed more questions than they answered.
"The fact remains that there is still no evidence that George W. Bush showed up for duty as ordered while in Alabama," McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe helped resurrect long-running questions about Bush's National Guard record earlier this month when he charged that the president had been "AWOL," or absent without leave during his time in Alabama. Democrats have been raising questions again about Bush's service, especially since Vietnam War veteran John Kerry has taken the lead to become Bush's opponent in the upcoming presidential election.
Kerry stayed silent on the subject Tuesday.
"I just don't have any comment on it," he told reporters between campaign stops in Tennessee and Virginia. "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."
Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard in 1968, and spent most of his service time based near Houston. From May to November 1972, however, Bush received permission to perform his duties in Alabama while he worked as political director on the Senate campaign of Winton "Red" Blount," a Bush family friend.
In a memo included in the packet of payroll and other records, retired Lt. Col. Albert Lloyd Jr., former personnel director of the Texas Air National Guard, stood behind Bush's service record. He wrote that the records show Bush had "satisfactory years" for the period of 1972-73 and 1973-74 "which proves that he completed his military obligation in a satisfactory manner."
But while McClellan insists that Bush "recalls serving in Alabama," the records do not show that Bush was paid for any service between May and September 1972. Records show he requested and received permission for the temporary Alabama duty in May and that a three-month transfer to a unit in Montgomery was formally approved on Sept. 6. Bush was paid for two days in October 1972 and four days in November 1972, but the pay records do not say where he served on those days, or what he did.
"This paperwork doesn't say where he was or what type of training he conducted," said Lt. Col. Scott Gorske, a military fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "What it does say is the days that he did train and that he got paid."
He said National Guard members are not necessarily required to attend a drill each month, but rather to train a certain amount of time over a 12-month period. That is why Bush could have met his yearly service requirements even if there were some months in which he did not attend a drill, Gorske said.
Retired Brig. Gen. William Turnipseed, who commanded the 187th Tactical Recon Group in Montgomery, told The Associated Press in May 2000 that he did not recall Bush reporting for duty there. "To my knowledge, he never showed up," Turnipseed said then.
On Tuesday, he told the AP that he was not sure whether he was even on the base during the time Bush was assigned there. Moreover, he said: "In 1972, I didn't even know he was supposed to come. I didn't know that until 2000. I'm not saying that he wasn't there. If he said he was there, I believe it. I don't remember seeing him."
McClellan accused the Democrats of resurrecting a controversy that the Bush campaign tamped down in 2000. Calling allegations by McAuliffe and others as "baseless" and "outrageous," McClellan said they want to twist the facts to seek a partisan, political, election-year advantage.
While Kerry, who earned three Purple Hearts, surrounds himself with fellow veterans on the campaign trail, the White House has not been able to produce fellow guardsmen who could attest to Bush's attendance at meetings and drills. "Obviously we would have made people available" if they had been found, McClellan said.