Democrats planned this week to launch a new nationwide ad campaign accusing President Bush of shirking his Texas Air National Guard duties over 30 years ago, even as doubts lingered over the authenticity of several documents purporting to show official displeasure with the young Bush's service record.
A Democratic National Committee (search) spokesman said "Operation Fortunate Son" and related campaign events would be launched in key battleground states.
The Democrats plan to raise questions about fliers from Bush's 1978 congressional campaign in Texas which claimed he served in the regular Air Force, not the Guard.
Meanwhile, a woman claiming to be the daughter of former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes (search) said her father lied when he said he pulled strings to get the younger Bush into the Guard as a favor to the Bush family.
Barnes has said in recent television interviews that, as the lieutenant governor of Texas, he helped Bush get into the Air Guard, which was seen as a way to avoid serving in Vietnam.
"[My father] told me in 2000 that he did not help Bush get into the National Guard, because I asked him during the election of 2000 when this first came out, and he said no," Amy Barnes told FOX News. "And then in 2004, just about three months ago, he told me that he did and that he — in fact, he was writing a book, and kind of an autobiographical book."
Retired Major Gen. Bobby Hodges, a key source behind a "60 Minutes II" story that claimed Bush shirked his guard duty, said over the weekend that upon having seen the memos, he did not believe they were authentic.
Hodges told FOX News that CBS did not call him until two days before the piece aired on the network Wednesday night, never offered to show him the memos and wanted to discuss only their content, not their authenticity.
CBS, however, is standing behind its report that Bush both refused a direct order to take a required medical examination and also discussed with his Guard fighter squadron commander, the late Lt. Col. Jerry Killian (search) how Bush could skip drills in order to work on a political campaign.
The memos, which carry Killian's signature, have been disputed by Killian's son and wife, who said Killian did not keep such records. Killian died in 1984. Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard from 1968 to 1973.
"What this is about is the politics of distraction," said FOX News political analyst Eleanor Clift. "After this election is over, there's going to be lots of navel-gazing among media organizations about how we allowed a campaign to be hijacked by this."
"This is what our campaigns have come down to — these peripheral issues," she continued, adding that the Kerry campaign needs to find a way to "pivot" toward current campaign issues.
Details Not Adding Up
On Saturday, the Dallas Morning News reported that one of the officers who allegedly pushed to clean up Bush's record in August 1973 had, in fact, retired 18 months earlier, on March 1, 1972.
The "60 Minutes II" report relied on a memo from Col. Walter "Buck" Staudt, former commander of the Texas Guard, who allegedly pressured another officer to "sugarcoat" Bush's record. But the paper reports that Staudt was long gone by the time the memo was supposed to have been written.
"Anybody that knew anything about the Guard in that period can just read those memos and see that they are completely unrealistic," U.S. Air Force Col. Earl Lively (search), director of operations for the Texas Air National Guard State Headquarters during 1972 and 1973, told FOX News on Monday.
Staudt "went out of the Guard in March of 1972, so 18 months before that memo said he was putting pressure on them from higher headquarters was ridiculous."
When asked whether Guard typewriters were capable of producing fonts such as the one on the memos, Lively said: "We sometimes referred to the Guard as the 'raggedy militia,' because we didn't always have the latest of everything. In those days, sometimes, we flew outdated airplanes. I can guarantee there was no such high-end typewriter, if it was even available, which I still doubt. We didn't have them government-issue in the National Guard."
Lively also said he explained to The Boston Globe — which called him about the story — that Bush was allowed to be excused for periods of time by his commander, and wasn't AWOL. He said the newspaper misquoted him and "totally distorted" what he had to say.
As for claims by Barnes that strings were pulled to get Bush into the Air National Guard, Lively added that there was a long waiting list to get into the Guard as a basic airman, but no wait to go directly into flight training as an officer, which Bush did.
Lively said he thinks the documents came from someone trying to discredit the president and that he resents statements that Killian, who he considered a friend, authored them.
"I resent very much anybody trying to put words in the mouth of a dead man for political purposes," he said.
CBS News responded to news reports questioning the documents in its Saturday evening broadcast, and issued a statement on its Web site.
"We believed General Hodges the first time we spoke with him. We believe the documents to be genuine. We stand by our story and will continue to report on it," the network states.
Among the claims questioning the veracity of the documents is that the superscript that elevates the abbreviation after numbers — for instance a raised "th" in "111th" — was not available in 1972 when the documents were allegedly written. But, the network says, other military records released by the White House show superscript used as far back as 1968.
Another claim is that the Times New Roman typeface was not available back then.
"But the owner of the company that distributes this typing style told CBS News that it has been available since 1931," the network reported.
The network also cites document expert Phillip Broussard, who had expressed suspicions about the documents, telling CBS News that he could not dismiss the documents as fake and would need to do more analysis before making a decision.
However, document examiner Sandra Ramsey Lines of Paradise Valley, Ariz., told The Associated Press that she was "virtually certain" the papers were generated by computer.
"Basically, there's a consensus forming among the experts ... that the documents aren't what they're purported to be," said Weekly Standard writer Stephen Hayes, who has also investigated the documents. If CBS would just pressure its source for the original documents instead of copies, he added, "we could settle this dispute within a matter of hours."
"It strikes me as very strange that CBS continues to be the only news organization that continues not to investigate the authenticity of these documents," Hayes added.
The White House has not contested the authenticity of the documents, but Bush aides have said the president's honorable discharge proves he fulfilled his duties for the Guard.
Spokesman Scott McClellan added that the memos may have surfaced as part of "an orchestrated effort by Democrats and the Kerry campaign to tear down the president."
Hodges said CBS anchor Dan Rather (search) called him Friday night after the controversy hit, at which time he said he took Rather through the memos and explained why he believed they are not real. Hodges said the anchorman told him that document experts have confirmed their authenticity and would stand by the story.
Robert Strong, a former colleague of Killian's, said he's not a forensic expert and isn't vouching for the documents, but he didn't see anything about the memos that would make him think they were fakes.
"I didn't see anything that was inconsistent with how we did business," Strong said. "It looked like the sort of thing that Jerry Killian would have done or said. He was a very professional guy."
Retired Col. Maurice Udell, the unit's instructor pilot who helped train Bush, said Friday he thought the documents were fake.
"I completely am disgusted with this [report] I saw on '60 Minutes,'" Udell said. "That's not true. I was there. I knew Jerry Killian. I went to Vietnam with Jerry Killian in 1968."
FOX News' Megyn Kendall, Julie Kirtz, Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.