AUSTIN, Texas – A retired Texas National Guard official mentioned as a possible source for disputed documents about President Bush's service in the Guard said he passed along information to a former senator working with John Kerry's campaign.
Also Saturday, a White House official said Bush has reviewed disputed documents that purport to show he refused orders to take a physical examination in 1972 and did not recall having seen them previously.
The long-running story on Bush's Texas Air National Guard service took an unusual twist when CBS broadcast a report on what it said were the newly discovered records. The authenticity of the documents has come into doubt.
In his first public comment on the CBS documents controversy, the president told The Union Leader of Manchester, N.H., "There are a lot of questions about the documents, and they need to be answered."
The retired Guard official, Bill Burkett (search), said in an Aug. 21 e-mail to a list of Texas Democrats that after getting through "seven layers of bureaucratic kids" in the Democrat's campaign, he talked with former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland (search) about information that would counter criticism of Kerry's Vietnam War service. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the e-mail Saturday.
"I asked if they wanted to counterattack or ride this to ground and outlast it, not spending any money. (Cleland) said counterattack. So I gave them the information to do it with," Burkett wrote.
Burkett, who lives just outside of Abilene, wrote that no one at the Kerry campaign called him back.
The e-mail was distributed to a Yahoo list of Texas Democrats. The site, which had about 570 members Saturday, is not affiliated with the state party.
Republican National Committee spokesman Jim Dyke (search) suggested collaboration between Burkett and the Kerry campaign. "The trail of connections is becoming increasingly clear," he said.
In the telephone interview published Saturday, Bush replied "I don't know" to a question whether the White House had evidence that either the Kerry campaign or the Democratic Party were involved in releasing the disputed papers.
"The Kerry campaign had absolutely nothing to do with these documents, no ifs, ands or buts," spokesman David Wade said. "Jim Dyke inhabits the fantasy world of spin where George Bush pretends we haven't lost millions of jobs and everything in Iraq is coming up roses. He'd be better served getting answers from the president, not hurling baseless attacks."
Burkett, who identifies himself as a Democrat, did not return several phone messages left by The Associated Press over the past week. There was no answer at his telephone number Saturday.
Burkett's lawyer, David Van Os, a Democratic candidate for the Texas Supreme Court, issued a statement this week saying Burkett "no longer trusts any possible outcome of speaking to the press on any issue regarding George W. Bush."
Burkett, who retired from the National Guard (search) in 1999, has been cited in media reports as a source for the CBS News "60 Minutes" story about documents allegedly written by one of Bush's former commanders that indicated the future president ignored an order to take a physical.
The authenticity of the documents has been called into question by some experts and relatives of the late Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who supposedly wrote them when he supervised Bush in 1972 and 1973. One of the memos indicated that Killian had been pressured to sugarcoat Bush's performance.
CBS has stood by its reporting, but said the network would redouble its efforts to determine the authenticity of the documents.
Leading operatives for the Texas Democratic Party did not receive Burkett's August e-mail, said Kelly Fero, one of the state party's strategists.
"The Democrats who run the party and are sort of the main strategists in Texas never saw it," Fero said. "We have lots of groups of Democrats who communicate among themselves constantly by e-mail."
Burkett, 55, told the AP in a lengthy telephone interview in February that he now is a supporter of Democrats, although at the time he said he didn't necessarily back Kerry.
He said he overheard a conversation in 1997 between then-Gov. Bush's chief of staff, Joe Allbaugh, and then-Adjutant Gen. Daniel James of the Texas Air National Guard in which the two men spoke of getting rid of any military records that would "embarrass the governor."
Burkett said he saw documents from Bush's file discarded in a trash can a few days later at Camp Mabry in Austin. Burkett described them as performance and pay documents. Allbaugh and James denied the allegations.
Burkett retired from the National Guard after more than 28 years of service because of medical reasons. He was involved in a lawsuit against the Guard over his medical benefits, which he lost on appeal.