WASHINGTON – A federal judge has ordered the Pentagon to find and make public by next week any unreleased files about President Bush's Vietnam-era Air National Guard service to resolve a Freedom of Information Act (search) lawsuit filed by The Associated Press.
U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. (search) handed down the order late Wednesday in New York. The AP lawsuit already has led to the disclosure of previously unreleased flight logs from Bush's days piloting F-102A fighters and other jets.
Pentagon officials told Baer they plan to have their search complete by Monday. Baer ordered the Pentagon to hand over the records to the AP by Sept. 24 and provide a written statement by Sept. 29 detailing the search for more records.
"We're hopeful the Department of Defense will provide a full accounting of the steps it has taken, as the judge ordered, so the public can have some assurance that there are no documents being withheld," said AP lawyer David Schulz.
White House officials have said Bush ordered the Pentagon earlier this year to conduct a thorough search for the president's records, and officials allowed reporters to review everything that was gathered back in February.
Through a series of requests under the federal open records law and a subsequent suit, the AP uncovered the flight logs, which were not part of the records the White House released earlier this year.
Both Bush's and John Kerry's service records in Vietnam have become a major issue in the presidential race. New records that have surfaced in recent weeks have raised more questions.
Bush's critics say Bush got preferential treatment as the son of a congressman and U.N. ambassador. Critics also question why Bush skipped a required medical examination in 1972 and failed to show up for drills during a six-month period that year.
Bush has repeatedly said he fulfilled all of his Air National Guard obligations.
The future president joined the Texas Air National Guard in 1968, when he graduated from Yale. He spent more than a year on active duty learning how to fly and then mostly flew in the one-seat F-102A fighters until April 1972.
The pilot logs show a shift to flights in two-seat trainer jets in March 1972, shortly before Bush quit flying. Former Air National Guard officials say that could have been because F-102A jets were not available for Bush to fly or because of other reasons, such as concerns about Bush's flight performance.
Bush skipped his required yearly medical exam in 1972 in the months after he stopped flying in April. Bush has said he moved to Alabama to work on the unsuccessful Senate campaign of a family friend.
Bush never showed up for Guard service between late April and mid-October 1972. He won approval to train with an Alabama Air National Guard unit during September, October and November 1972, but more than a dozen members of the unit at that time say they never saw him there.
The only direct record of Bush appearing at the Alabama unit's base is a January 1973 dental exam performed at that base. Bush's Texas commanders wrote in May 1973 they never saw him between May 1972 and April 1973, a time when his pay records show he trained on 14 days.
Although military regulations allowed commanders to order two years of active duty for guardsmen who missed more than three straight months of drills, that never happened to Bush. Commanders had leeway at the time to allow guardsmen to make up for missed drills.