WASHINGTON – The White House Wednesday began showing its impatience with questions over President Bush's National Guard (search) service, saying it is done meeting Democratic demands for more information.
"This goes to show that some are not interested in the facts on whether or not he served, they're interested in trolling for trash, using this issue for partisan political gain," said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. "There are some that want us to engage in gutter politics. I'm not going to engage in gutter politics."
The "enough is enough" sentiment came one day after McClellan distributed documents that included retirement records released during the 2000 campaign and payroll records obtained Monday from the Air Reserve Center (search) in Colorado. Included in the documents was also an affidavit certifying the president met the requirements for an honorable discharge (search).
The records showed that Bush served only six days from May to December of 1972, when he was working on a family friend's political campaign.
But he appeared to make up a lot of time between May and July of the following year, when he was discharged six months early. The papers also indicate that the president's rating as a pilot lapsed, but Bush said he was doing odds and ends near the end of his service other than flying.
There were even dental records released.
Military officials say it's not always necessary to serve a certain amount of days every month, except to keep current on a specialized skill like being a pilot.
Democrats, however, question how a young first lieutenant like Bush could have skipped out on his active duty obligations in order to work on a political campaign. They say some questions have been left unanswered with the release of the documents, including whether anyone actually witnessed Bush performing his duties in Alabama.
Ohio Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown and Secretary of State Colin Powell nearly got into a spat during a congressional hearing on Wednesday, when Brown suggested the president did not serve.
"The president may have been [absent without leave]. The vice president said he had other priorities during Vietnam. Other high administration officials never served," Brown said before asking Powell for his understanding about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (search) program.
Powell, however, did not let the comment slip by and the two participated in a brief, but testy exchange.
"First of all, Mr. Brown, I won't dignify your comments about the president because you don't know what you're talking about. Second, let me get to the points that you were raising," Powell said.
"I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean, Mr. Secretary," Brown responded.
"You made reference to the president," Powell said.
"I said he may have been AWOL," Brown replied.
"Mr. Brown, let's not go there. Let's just not go there. Let's not go there in this hearing. If you want to have a political fight on this matter that is very controversial — and I think is being dealt with by the White House — fine, but let's not go there here," Powell said.
On Tuesday night, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (search), reeling from large margins of victory in Virginia and Tennessee that have propelled him closer to the Democratic presidential nomination, told Fox News that he did not want his surrogates to raise the issue of Bush's Guard service.
"I have asked surrogates not to, in fact, when I have heard of a surrogate doing that I have said please don't, it is not an issue to me, and I have never made an issue in the course of my entire career out of what choices anybody made about where they served or didn't serve," Kerry told Fox News.
But 10 minutes before Kerry's interview aired, Kerry's top surrogate, former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland (search), who like Kerry served in Vietnam, appeared on Fox News' "Hannity and Colmes" show, at which time he criticized the president for not fulfilling his obligations in the Guard in 1972. Cleland added that it is a fair issue to raise in the campaign.
"First of all the president said ... that he worked it out with the military that he could get a short out, in other words, that he could get eight months cut off his tour of duty in the States, and I know of about three and a half million Vietnam veterans that wish they could have done that. But the key is that John Kerry's military record has been out there ever since he came back from Vietnam," he said.
But some political analysts say that in the long run, Bush's National Guard service may not resonate the way they hope.
"I think this might be a case of the Democrats just don't know when to quit when you're ahead," said National Public Radio national political correspondent Mara Liasson. "From the Democrats' point of you, the president's National Guard record is getting a lot of attention and that's what they want. I think trying to inject it into a hearing with Colin Powell was completely ill-advised and, you know, didn't really get them anything."
"I think they want to keep reminding voters that the president served in the Air National Guard whereas the presumptive nominee, John Kerry, was a war hero in Vietnam and that contrast is important because clearly I think security will be the main issue if not the top issue of this campaign," said Fortune magazine Washington bureau managing editor Jeff Birnbaum. "Every opportunity to whittle away at the president's authority as a war president, the Democrats will take, and they think they have at least a sliver to hold onto."
Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes said that Democrats may want to hope the attention doesn't backfire on Kerry, whose anti-war record after Vietnam could be controversial.
"That's not something he wants played up," Barnes said. "He echoed in Senate testimony ... that atrocities were being committed by American troops on a day-to-day basis, from chopping off ears and limbs and so on."
The analysts said the dispute will stick with Democratic partisans, but won't matter to Republicans. They said it's too early to tell if it will make a difference to independent voters.
Fox News' Carl Cameron, Teri Schultz and Sharon Kehnemui contributed to this report.