February 9, 2004
Russert's Near Miss
BUZZFLASH GUEST COMMENTARY
No one is likely to get the same opportunity given to Tim Russert of NBC’s Meet the Press. But George W. Bush did not sit down with the interviewer because he wanted to share his thinking with the American people. The president exposed himself to this kind of scrutiny only because his credibility is finally in a free fall. Russert had a chance to, not just make news, but maybe even make history. And he almost did.
An exceedingly well-prepared interviewer, Russert went after the president on his time in the Texas Air National Guard. In fact, he was the first to ask Mr. Bush if he would release his pay records for days spent on duty. Each day he reported to fly his F-102, Mr. Bush would have been paid and there should be a record. These receipts, or stubs, are the simplest method for determining if the president was carrying out his sworn commitment to defend the U.S. None have ever been seen. Mr. Bush told Russert that, of course, he would release the records, and that he had already done so during the 2000 campaign.
Not exactly, Mr. President.
Mr. Bush has authorized only the release of his records from Texas National Guard files. And his Military Personnel Records Jacket from Texas is missing many things. There should be pay stubs for every day served, a roll-up of total retirement points earned for service, and, most likely, an Officers’ Board of Inquiry Report on why a pilot, who had spent $1 million dollars learning to fly a jet in war time, was suspended. These records, if they exist, have been committed to microfiche and are on file at the Air Reserve Personnel Headquarters in Denver. And, regardless of the president’s parsing of language, he has not yet authorized the release to the public of his full service record from Denver.
Why not? Every president in American history has signed a form to provide the public with all information on his time in the military. In South Carolina, when John McCain was getting beaten up by Karl Rove operatives over possible mental health problems from too many years in captivity, McCain ordered the full release of his military file. Immediately, the issue went away. John Kerry, John Kennedy, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and everyone who has ever aspired to or held the office of the presidency, has given every detail of their military service to the people who had to decide whether they were fit to lead the country. George W. Bush has not.
In 1994, I was the first person to publicly ask Bush about how he got into the National Guard. I had tried to get in myself, desperately, knowing that it might protect me from combat, if the war were still being prosecuted when I graduated from college. I was told, as were thousands of other young men, that the waiting list for enlistment as a guard soldier was about three years. Anyone wanting to be a pilot found themselves in a five year queue. But not George W. Bush. He just walked in and signed up and went off to flight training. As a panelist on the televised debate when Bush first ran for governor against Ann Richards, I felt compelled to ask Mr. Bush how he did it. More than that, I was obligated. My home town, Flint, Michigan, was filled with kids drafted out of the factories and high schools, (and a disproportionate number were African-Americans,) who went to Vietnam and died. Their fathers were not congressmen.
Ever since asking Bush that question almost a decade ago, I have been obsessed with finding the truth. Inadvertently, I may have done him a favor. A source within the Texas National Guard told me that the day after I had posed the question that Bush people were calling the guard’s offices and contacting the future president’s roommates and commanders to get the story straight. Clearly, the subject left them both angry and exposed. After the debate broadcast had concluded, Bush advisor Karen Hughes came up to me wanting to know why I asked such a question. “It just seemed so irrelevant, Jim. What was the point? I think it was absurd. What does that have to do with governing Texas?” She was energetic, animated, and angry.
The Bush file in Austin at Camp Mabry remained inactive from 1974 until 1999, and then, suddenly, a document was discovered, which was supposed to prove Mr. Bush served in Alabama, as he claimed. Unfortunately, the document is torn, has no months, only the letter “W” for identification, and, at the bottom where “total points accrued” is listed, there is no tally. This torn document, of scant worth, is supposed to confirm the president’s claims. It does not. The evidence to show Mr. Bush’s behavior is shown in what’s missing. There is still not one witness nor one incontrovertible military document to verify the president ever served a day after April of 1972.
Presidential “positioners” are hard at work on this matter. They have an approach that is arguing the president would not have been given an honorable discharge had he not completed his service. This is hardly true. The National Guard is, and always has been, a political operation. The “champagne unit” in Houston, where Bush served, was run by a commander who filled the air wing with the sons of politicians like U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, U.S. John Tower, Gov. John Connally of Texas, and a number of Dallas Cowboy football players. In fact, Col. Buck Staudt was not in the office the day Bush enlisted, so he staged a swearing-in ceremony at a later time and invited Houston reporters. Staudt also missed Bush’s promotion to 2nd Lt., and decided to stage another photo op with Bush’s father, the congressman. It doesn’t take a great leap of faith to assume Staudt would engineer an “honorable discharge” to help the Bush family avoid embarrassment over their son’s disappearance from duty.
The other tactic being deployed by the White House is to accuse his critics of attacking the National Guard. No one is diminishing the honorable service of men and women who serve in the guard. Their service, and their serious commitment to it, is what separate them from the president. Even though the guard is political, it has always played a vital role in our nation’s defense. The guard itself is not the issue. Fair questions are being asked about Mr. Bush’s failure to take his oath seriously. He got in with privilege, and then unilaterally decided to walk away to Alabama. He had not even received permission and did not ask for it until he was in Alabama. The cover up of Mr. Bush’s two missing years involved even more privilege.
He is not a leader.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST COMMENTARY
James C. Moore is co-author of "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential." Moore has a new book coming out this spring, "Bush's War for Reelection: Iraq, the White House, and the People," that includes material on Bush's National Guard record.
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