WASHINGTON – While new memos suggest President Bush (search) may have failed to meet standards for the Air National Guard and may have received preferential treatment years before he was elected to the White House, a new documentary released Thursday attacks John Kerry (search) for his anti-war actions during the Vietnam era.
The firestorm over Bush's Guard records took a new turn Wednesday night after the White House released memos saying a younger George W. Bush was suspended from flying fighter jets for failing to meet the standards of the Texas Air National Guard.
The White House is charging that Kerry's campaign is behind the new allegations that Bush shirked his Guard duties.
Republicans have accused Kerry, a decorated combat veteran, of fabricating Vietnam-era events which led to his five medals. Democrats point to gaps in Bush's stateside Air National Guard service in 1972 and 1973 and say Bush shirked his duty in the war.
Previously, Bush's aides have said the president was suspended simply because he decided to skip his annual physical exam, which was scheduled during a year in which Bush left Texas, where he had been flying fighter jets, to work on a U.S. Senate campaign in Alabama.
Democrats held a news conference Thursday morning to showcase the new documents. They say the issue is how the president's Guard service has been characterized, and that the old documents speak to current credibility.
"Character counts. Especially in the president of the United States, character counts. And we want a president that will be truthful and honest and level with the American people," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "If the president will lie about this, will he lie about how we got into Iraq, for example?"
Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe said, "George W. Bush's cover story on his National Guard service is rapidly unraveling. ... George W. Bush needs to answer why he regularly misled the American people about his time in the Guard, and who applied political pressure on his behalf to have his performance reviews 'sugarcoated.'"
Bush himself has said his service in the Guard was less heroic than that of the soldiers who went to Vietnam, but he has also said that he served his country and his honorable discharge is proof that he fulfilled his military obligations.
White House communications director Dan Bartlett told CBS' "60 Minutes II," which first obtained the memos, that Bush's superiors granted permission to train in Alabama in a non-flying status and that "many of the documents you have here affirm just that."
Some of those memos were written by Lt. Col. Jerry Killian on Aug. 1, 1972.
"On this date I ordered that 1st Lt. Bush be suspended from flight status due to failure to perform to USAF/TexANG standards and failure to meet annual physical examination ... as ordered," Killian's memo states.
A memo a year later says there was no "feedback" from Guard officials in 1972 and 1973 in Alabama, where Bush had been largely inactive.
A third Killian memo shows that he was concerned over Bush's plan to go to Alabama, because the military had spent a substantial sum of money turning Bush into a pilot.
"Phone call from Bush," Killian wrote in a May 19, 1972, memo. "Discussed options of how Bush can get out of coming to drill from now through November. ... Says that he is working on another campaign for his dad. ... We talked about him getting his flight physical situation fixed ... Says he will do that in Alabama if he stays in a flight status."
The memo added that Bush "has this campaign to do and other things that will follow and may not have the time. I advised him of our investment in him and his commitment."
Asked about Killian's memo which gives two reasons for Bush's suspension, Bartlett told CBS: "That might be official language.
"The records have been clear for years that President Bush did not take a physical because he did not need to take a physical because, obviously, the choice was that he was going to be performing in a different capacity," he added.
WH: Kerry Behind Service Attacks
White House spokesman Scott McClellan insisted Thursday that the report of the suspension is nothing new -- and that it happened because Bush was transferring to non-flight duty in Alabama. He added that Bush fulfilled all his duties honorably.
McClellan said the fact that the documents are surfacing now -- after Kerry has slipped in the polls -- is no accident. In fact, he said it was "coordinated" by Democrats, and that Kerry will do anything he can to avoid defending his record.
The documents come as former Democratic Texas Lt. Gov. and Speaker of the Texas House Ben Barnes (search) said in a television interview that in the late 1960s, he did a favor for the Bush family by pulling strings to get the younger Bush a coveted spot in the Air National Guard.
During the Vietnam War, the Guard was often an alternative way to serve while avoiding service overseas. The president has said before that he wasn't granted preferential treatment; the White House dismisses the accusation.
"I don't think it should surprise anybody that a partisan Democrat who is the vice chair of John Kerry's fund-raising effort would be making these claims with 55 days left in the campaign and, oh, by the way, right when President Bush takes the lead in the national polls," Bartlett said.
Polls of four battleground states conducted earlier this week and released Wednesday show Bush with a slight lead over the Massachusetts senator in three of the four states.
According to the Gallup poll, Bush-Cheney has 55 percent support in Missouri, compared to the 41 percent for Kerry-Edwards; 52 percent support in Ohio compared to Kerry-Edwards' 44 percent; 48 percent in Pennsylvania as compared to Kerry Edwards' 47 percent; and Kerry-Edwards is leading Bush-Cheney 52 percent to 44 percent in Washington.
Democrats are salivating about the prospect of shifting the focus away from the Swift Boat Veterans for (search) Truth stories and turning it on to the current commander in chief. The swift boat veterans say Kerry's stories of valor about the war aren't true, and that he doesn't deserve his three Purple Hearts.
This week, a group calling itself Texans for Truth (search) released an ad questioning Bush's Guard service. Kerry advisers say they have nothing to do with the group.
On Tuesday, the Defense Department released more than two dozen pages of records about Bush and his former Texas unit in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by The Associated Press.
'Stolen Honor' Released
Meanwhile, former Sen. Bob Dole, a Republican, joined various Vietnam prisoners of war to unveil a documentary Thursday entitled, "Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal."
The documentary details how when Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the spring of 1971, his anti-war testimony accusing American soldiers of barbaric acts in Vietnam sent shock waves throughout America and the world.
In the film, former POWs tell their stories of what they describe as their brutal life as prisoners of war in North Vietnam and the additional suffering and extended captivity they endured after their North Vietnamese captors read to them Kerry's testimony accusing American soldiers of atrocities. Their jailors demanded they confess to Kerry's "war crimes" allegations, the POWs say.
Funding for the documentary was made possible by Pennsylvania veterans.
FOX News' Wendell Goler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.