WASHINGTON – After weeks of John Kerry's military record being dogged by a group known as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search), President Bush's National Guard record is now under assault by a group calling itself Texans for Truth (search).
Launched in April, DriveDemocracy is run in part by Glenn Smith, who helped manage MoveOn’s Defending Democracy campaign and the failed 2002 Texas gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Tony Sanchez.
The group this week is releasing an ad in which a former lieutenant in the Alabama Air National Guard says neither he nor his friends saw Bush when he supposedly was with their unit in 1972. The president served as a pilot with the Texas Air National Guard and sought a transfer in 1972 to work on a political campaign.
Ret. Lt. Colonel Robert Mintz (search), who served in the 87th Tactical Squadron of the Alabama Air National Guard, is featured in the ad, which is titled, "AWOL."
"I heard George Bush get up and say 'I served in the 187th Air National Guard in Montgomery, Ala.' I said, 'Really? That was my unit and I don't remember seeing you there.'" Mintz says in the ad. "So I called friends, you know, 'did you know that George served in our unit?' And everyone said, 'No, I never saw him there.'"
Mintz said it would be "impossible to be unseen" in a unit that size and the Texans for Truth say that Bush has some explaining to do.
Mintz told Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times that he remembered hearing that Bush — described as a young Texas pilot with political influence — had transferred to the Montgomery base and that he was a bachelor. Asked why he remembered Bush was a no-show for drills, Mintz said: "Young bachelors were kind of sparse. For that reason, I was looking for someone to haul around with."
Mintz said he's coming forth now because, "I just feel it's my duty to stand up and do the right thing" but it's "up to the American people to decide" whether the Guard issue raises questions about Bush's credibility.
The ad comes as more of Bush's records of his Guard service were released by the Defense Department. The president's report card for flight training and dates of his flights were released under the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Associated Press.
The Pentagon and the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign have claimed for months that all such records were made public but defense officials said Tuesday they found two dozen more.
"For months George Bush told the nation that his military records were public," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Jano Cabrera. "Now we know why Bush was trying so hard to withhold these records. When his nation asked him to be on call against possible surprise attacks, Bush wasn't there."
But White House spokesman Claire Buchan said, "these documents confirm that the president served honorably in the National Guard."
Ernie Angelo, a former Republican National Committeeman from 1976 to 1996, told FOX News that despite the records, Bush's service stands for itself.
His "National Guard service was honorable then and it's honorable today and I think what really counts is Bush's record as president the last four years as compares to Kerry's record in the Senate and Bush wins, hands down," Angelo said.
"They're [Kerry camp] going after whatever issue they can dredge up — I think they're making a big mistake."
Jennifer Millerwise, spokeswoman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, told FOX News it's no coincidence that "only 48 hours from the time the Kerry folks suddenly started to slip in the polls," more attacks against Bush have been launched, including the Texans for Truth ads, which she called "trash ads."
"The Kerry campaign has been stuck in absolute time war," Millerwise said.
"The president served honorably. We said John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam. We want to talk about the war we're currently facing and that's the War on Terror and I think that's something the American people are a heck of a lot more interested in."
But Kerry senior adviser Debra Deshong denied the Kerry camp has anything to do with the Texans for Truth and said the new questions about Bush's service arose from the Pentagon's release of his Guard records.
"I think these are questions the American people want answers to," Deshong told FOX News.
Report: Bush Didn't Meet Service Obligations
Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reported Wednesday that twice during Bush's Guard service — first when he joined in May 1968 and again before he transferred out of his unit in mid-1973 to attend Harvard Business School — he signed documents pledging to meet training commitments or face a punitive call-up to active duty.
But the Globe reports that Bush didn't meet those commitments nor did he face punishment. Bush had 60 days after signing the document to find a new unit but he never signed up with one in the Boston area, the newspaper reported.
Bush also didn't serve at all for six months in 1972 or for three months in 1973, the records show, as examined by the Globe, despite the fact that Bush's attendance was required. Yet he received no punishment for that, either, and his unit certified in late 1973 that his service was "satisfactory."
Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said Bush wouldn't have been honorably discharged if he hasn't met his requirements and later told the Globe: "And if he hadn't met his requirements you point to, would have called him up for active duty for two years."
To add more fuel to the fire, former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes (search), a Democrat, appeared on "60 Minutes II" Wednesday night, bemoaning his role in placing Bush in the National Guard.
Barnes apparently told close friends that he recommended Bush for a pilot's slot during the Vietnam War because he was eager to "collect chits" from an influential political family. There's been a long-running stink over how Bush got a slot in an outfit known as the "Champagne Unit" because it included so many sons of prominent Texans.
The White House has dismissed Barnes as a "partisan Democrat." In a recent television interview, former president George H.W. Bush described charges that he used his influence to get his son into the National Guard as "a total lie."
The Ties That Bind
The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — an unregulated 527 group (search) that has cast doubt on some of Kerry's claims of valor while he served in Vietnam — has caused a firestorm surrounding so-called "shadowy groups" that are supposed to have no connection to political campaigns but which sponsor ads against certain candidates. The issue has also brought to the fore just how acceptable it is for political operatives to advise official campaigns, the national Republican or Democratic committees and 527 groups simultaneously
In fact, there are many political campaign insiders that legally advise these so-called outside groups. But loyalists to both the Kerry and Bush camps have taken slaps at each other for too-close connections between some groups sponsoring the ads and the campaigns themselves.
"The real point is that this group, the so-called Texans for Truth, is directly linked to the Kerry campaign. This is an attack by the Kerry campaign directed by the Kerry campaign," Ben Ginsberg, former counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign, told FOX News on Wednesday, adding that the Kerry camp is "so desperate about the damage the swift boats has done" that they're now supporting the Texans for Truth.
Kerry has claimed the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is directly supported by the Bush camp as a smear campaign against the Massachusetts senator.
Ginsberg recently disclosed that he was providing legal advice to the group while serving his role in Bush's corner and resigned from the campaign to, as he said, refocus the campaign on Bush and Kerry.
Joe Sandler advises the Democratic National Committee and MoveOn.org. The Kerry campaign also recently acknowledged that Bob Bauer, a lawyer advising the campaign on voting rights, is part of the same team that advises America Coming Together, a Democratic 527.
"It's happened for years," said Larry Gold, a lawyer for America Coming Together and counsel for the AFL-CIO. "So long as they are not passing along instructions or working with the Bush campaign to influence the message of an independent organization …there's nothing wrong with doing that, whether it be on the Democratic side or the Republican side."