Published September 10, 2004
WASHINGTON – Questions continued to swirl Friday around the authenticity of memos purporting to show discrepancies in President Bush's (search) Texas Air National Guard service over 30 years ago.
Documents aired by CBS' "60 Minutes" Wednesday night were described as having been written by Bush's commanding officer during his Guard days. They seemed to show that Bush, then a pilot, violated a direct order and tried to avoid his duties.
But many experts say the memos' typeface, formatting, paragraph spacing and other attributes indicate that they were written on a modern-day personal computer, possibly using the Microsoft Word word-processing program — not on a 1970s typewriter.
The documents were purportedly written in 1972 and 1973.
The documents appeared to say Bush ignored a direct order from a superior officer and lost his status as a Guard pilot because he failed to meet military performance standards and undergo a required physical exam. They also show Bush required two passes to land an F-102A fighter on March 12 and April 10, 1972. His last flight as an Air National Guard (search) pilot was on April 16.
Valid Questions or 'Character Assassination'?
Bush's Guard service became a focus of Democratic criticism this week. Democrats and some like-minded groups, such as Texans for Truth, say Bush shirked his National Guard duties, a claim Bush denies.
On Friday, Sen. Tom Harkin (search), D-Iowa, told FOX News that despite the chance that some of the documents may be fake, there was other proof that Bush got special privileges to get into the Guard, didn't take his physical and didn't fulfill all his duty requirements.
"So when George Bush, in the Oval Office earlier this year, said 'I did my duty,' I'm sorry, we now know he didn't do his duty," said Harkin, who told reporters Thursday that Bush "lied to the American people."
Republican National Committee spokesman Jim Dyke released a statement calling such statements "character assassination."
"The Democrat playbook is wide open," Dyke said. "Faced with the reality that John Kerry's (search) record is too far out of the American mainstream and without an agenda on which to base his campaign, extreme partisans like Tom Harkin, Al Gore and James Carville are attempting to fill the vacuum of positive policies with character assassination. Bad news for the Democrats because the American people know the difference between a legitimate policy discussion and personal attacks."
Republican critics and various outside groups, including the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, have accused Democratic presidential nominee Kerry, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, of fabricating the incidents that led to his five medals.
Also Thursday, prisoners of war who endured torture, isolation and interrogation at the hands of their North Vietnamese captors raised Cain over anti-war statements Kerry made after returning from service.
Some former POWs who appear in a documentary film released Thursday say Kerry's 1971 Senate testimony alleging widespread and militarily-condoned war crimes made their time in prison worse. They claim that prison guards used Kerry's testimony to demand confessions of war crimes and as justification for brutalizing them.
"The words he used were devastating, because as a war prisoner, we were being called war criminals, he was giving them at home what we were being tortured to say," said former POW Jim Warner.
Experts Question Bush Docs
Independent document examiner Sandra Ramsey Lines said the memos looked like they had been produced on a computer using Microsoft Word. Lines, a document expert with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (search), pointed to a superscript — a smaller, raised "th" in "111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron" — as evidence indicating forgery.
"I'm virtually certain these were computer-generated," Lines said. She produced a nearly identical document using her computer's Microsoft Word software.
CBS on Friday defended the authenticity of the Guard memos, which were supposedly produced by Lt. Col. Jerry Killian (search), who died in 1984.
"The documents are backed up not only by independent handwriting and forensic document experts but sources familiar with their content," CBS News said.
The network's statement said typewriters were available in the early 1970s which were capable of printing superscripts. CBS pointed to other Texas Air National Guard documents released by the White House that include an example of a "th" superscript.
But one of Killian's fellow officers, an independent document examiner and Killian's own son doubted the veracity of the memos.
In an interview with FOX News, Gary Killian, who served in the Guard with his father and retired as a captain in 1991, said he is "very dubious" about the genuineness of the documents.
[Click here for more on the interview.]
He said his father was "not in the habit of keeping secret files," didn't have a home office, didn't work after leaving his office and didn't have available to him at work the kind of typewriter that was apparently used to compose the documents.
Gary Killian said the sentiments in the documents didn't reflect his father's "true feelings" about Bush, and that if his father had actually written the papers, he would have signed them using his full name, not just "CYA," which is on the documents.
He also said his father would have typed such a document himself, "hated" typing and was a "very poor" typist. "He did not type memos to himself," Gary Killian added, saying it was "too much effort" and "very dangerous … not a good practice."
The personnel chief in Killian's unit at the time also said he believes the documents are fake.
"They looked to me like forgeries," said Rufus Martin. "I don't think Killian would do that, and I knew him for 17 years."
Killian's widow, Marjorie Connell, described the records to The Washington Post as "a farce," saying she was with her husband until the day he died in 1984 and that he did not "keep files." She said her husband considered Bush "an excellent pilot."
"I don't think there were any documents. He was not a paper person," she said, adding that she was "livid" at CBS journalists who did not, she said, ask her to authenticate the records.
CBS said it has "complete confidence" in its reporting and will continue to pursue the story.
"For the record, CBS News stands by the thoroughness and accuracy of the "60 Minutes" report this Wednesday on President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard," CBS said. "This report was not based solely on recovered documents, but rather on a preponderance of evidence, including documents that were provided by unimpeachable sources, interviews with former Texas National Guard officials and individuals who worked closely back in the early 1970s with Colonel Jerry Killian and were well acquainted with his procedures, his character and his thinking."
Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday the White House, which distributed the memos after obtaining them from CBS, was not trying to verify their authenticity. "We don't know if the documents are fabricated or authentic," McClellan told reporters traveling with the president to West Virginia.
McClellan suggested the memos surfaced as part of "an orchestrated effort by Democrats and the Kerry campaign to tear down the president."
Bush String-Pulling Questioned
Adding even more fuel to the military records fire were accusations by a woman claiming to be Amy Barnes, daughter of former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes (search).
The woman said Thursday that Ben Barnes had fabricated claims that he used his influence to pull strings and get Bush into the Texas Air National Guard 36 years ago.
In a phone call to WBAP's Mark Davis radio show in Dallas, Texas, the so-called Amy Barnes said the former lieutenant governor was an "opportunist" who had lied about Bush's Guard record.
"I love my father very much, but he's doing this for purely political reasons," the woman said. "He is a big Kerry fund-raiser, and he is writing a book also. And [the Bush story] is what he's leading the book off with ... He denied this to me in 2000 that he did get Bush out [of Vietnam service]. Now he's saying he did."
The radio station confirmed that Barnes does have a daughter named Amy, but it was not confirmed that the woman on the air was in fact her.
"Mr. Barnes has told a lot of different stories about that particular time -- it's a period of time in which his credibility was also impacted in a very negative way," Texas Gov. Rick Perry told FOX News, noting that Barnes left office amid his own controversies and wasn't even lieutenant governor when Bush joined the Guard.
"Using Ben Barnes as an individual may be inherently dangerous for the Kerry campaign. He may be fine for raising money for him, but from the standpoint of telling a story that has any credibility to it, he may be the wrong one," Perry added.
Does It Even Matter?
Voters and war veterans may not be so much concerned about the particulars of Kerry's Vietnam heroism or Bush's Guard pilot logs as they are about the bigger picture, according to some observers.
"They're not concerned about whether George W. Bush made every drill or not," Ret. Marine Col. Oliver North, host of FOX News' "War Stories," told FOX News on Friday. "I think they are going to be concerned if they find out these documents are forgeries, because it's going to be a pattern of deception that has plagued John Kerry since Vietnam."
Harkin said it wasn't so much the devil in the details that counted, but what those details said about Bush's character and other issues.
"I think in any presidential race, character counts, and George Bush has staked a lot on his character," Harkin told FOX News.
If it's true that Bush lied about his Guard service, Harkin said the next question would be "'Will he mislead us also about Iraq, how we got into Iraq?' ... This counts because it's not something that happened 30 years ago. ... It's something that happened this year."
Bush loyalists labeled the Guard-service issue as nothing more than pure desperation from the Kerry camp.
"We do know that George Bush has the respect and support of the people of America," Sen. George Allen, R-Va., told FOX News. "This is desperation. It is very pitiful that they're coming up with these things ... and it shows just how pitiful the desperation is.
"The reality is, who in the future if best to lead this country? And I think you're seeing from polls the American people see greater comfort in George Bush than they do in Senator Kerry."
The White House has argued that recent polls showing Kerry slipping slightly among America's electorate is the reason for the recent Democratic criticism over Bush's record.
GOP strategist Rich Galen said it's the Kerry camp that's keeping the focus on things that happened decades ago, to avoid talking about today's issues, but Democratic strategist Bob Beckel said the Bush-Cheney campaign is the one focusing on the past.
Both agreed these issues are delaying debate on real issues.
"It's going to take another week now away from what Kerry absolutely has to do, which is to get the debate going on domestic issues ... it's in the Bush campaign's interest to keep this thing focused in the 1960s and 1970s," Beckel said. "I have no doubt Bush dodged his responsibilities, but so what? People want to hear about the future, but this is going to take another week and we only have eight weeks left."
FOX News' Major Garrett and James Rosen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.