April 6, 2004
Picking Up the Trail of Bush's National Guard Records
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
The recent White House document dump of several hundred pages of George W. Bush's National Guard documents had the desired effect of both quieting and muddying the sea of questions surrounding his long ago service. Faced with this confusing goo most journalists simply looked at the mess and moved on.
But that puddle of papers also raised the eyebrows of those who have observed the periodic airing of Bush's files through an evolving series of releases. Among them was Mimi Swartz who, in a recent New York Times column, noted of this disconcerting progression, "each election cycle comes with a new set of 'complete' documents."
Simply put, this shifting history has fueled widespread speculation that George W Bush somehow concealed, changed or altered his records.
Indeed, we have no need to speculate. There is clear evidence that George W Bush's records have seen changes.
In early 1999, the Bush campaign enlisted the services of an old friend, Albert Lloyd, to help sort through the gaps and holes in the candidate's records. But Lloyd’s long years as top personnel officer of the Texas Air National Guard weren't enough to fit all the pieces together. After his search was completed, there were still uneasy gaps and discrepancies to account for.
However Lloyd did make a few discoveries in his search of Texas records. These were the three documents, one "torn" undated document and two general orders from April and May of 1973, first described by Walter Robinson in a May 2000 article for the Boston Globe. And now, thanks to James Moore's new book "Bush's War For Reelection," we have a further confirmation from Albert Lloyd about his discovery of these documents in an old box at Camp Mabry near Austin Texas. "I found it in a general orders file. It wasn't a part of his personal file," Lloyd stated to Moore. Adding further emphasis to his discovery, Lloyd continued, "these were general Guard records, not Bush's records."
These "found" documents are important because they served as the Bush campaign's sole evidence of any Guard service performed by Bush between April 30,1972, and May 1, 1973. The Bush campaign shopped these documents around to several sources during the 2000 presidential campaign. Those who were given access included Jo Thomas, then with the New York Times, and Peter Keating, then with George Magazine. Both writers used the all three of the documents found by Lloyd to establish some duty for Bush in this questioned period.
I obtained both the "torn" document and the May general orders document in the packet I received in August of 2000 as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request.
To ascertain that these documents had not been included in earlier FOIA releases, I contacted a widely respected senior journalist who had obtained and examined many of Bush's documents. He confirmed that neither the May general order nor the torn document had been included in the pre-1999 document releases he had obtained.
Furthermore, neither document had been referred to in print prior to Robinson's piece in May of 2000. Nor have the Washington Post or Los Angeles Times mentioned the documents in any articles on Bush's service. This is important since both of these papers received their documents prior to July 1999 stories on Bush's records printed by the respective papers.
I am not questioning the authenticity of the documents found by Lloyd. Rather, my interest focuses on how the documents came to be included in the official record file of George W Bush.
At first look, Lloyd seems an obvious suspect. His prior position as the chief personnel officer for the Texas Air National Guard meant Lloyd had a working knowledge of the record processes and connections to those in charge of their keeping. And Lloyd has had a personal involvement in Bush’s records stretching back over a span of thirty years, from when he first served as signator on several of Bush’s records until recently when the Bush campaign turned to him to help research the candidate's service. Still, I want it understood that I believe Lloyd when he denies having inserted any documents into the official record. I consider it more likely that someone with political motivations and connections caused the documents to be placed into the Bush’s official files.
Picking up the trail
From 1974 - 1999, a span of 25 years, there are no dated additions in the copies of Bush’s file I received through the FOIA. Then, 17 pages from the Interceptor, a monthly newsletter-type magazine put out by Bush’s former National Guard unit, are marked "fax received" March 31, 1999. These include a quote which the Bush campaign manager must have found irresistible: "George Walker Bush is one member of the younger generation who doesn't get his kicks from pot, hashish or speed. Oh he gets high, all right, but not from narcotics."
The spring of 1999 saw the Bush campaign cranking up to speed for the primary season. The Interceptor addition to the records at this time seems to be just a little harmless tweaking of the files for PR effect. And, in fact, the "gets his kicks" quote appeared in a July 4th article by the Los Angeles Times after they had received a packet of Bush's documents through a FOIA request.
The next fax date is a year later: July 6, 2000. This was five weeks after the Bush campaign had been rocked by Walter Robinson’s story about Bush’s records, and during a period when others were raising similar questions. This is a May 1973 general order, and it is one of the three documents I had mentioned above as being found during the Bush campaign search of Camp Mabry.
With these recent fax dates in mind, I wrote the National Archives and Records Administration about the proper procedures for making changes to a serviceman’s files.
I soon had an interview with Charles Pellegrini of the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis. From him I learned that changes to such old files are mostly limited to fixing mistakes. This position is confirmed by a search of the Air Force Board For Records Correction website, where they note that the "purpose of a record correction is to restore the member to the position he would have held if the error or injustice had not occurred." I also learned from Mr. Pellegrini that records are kept of all changes to a veteran’s files.
Seeking such a paper trail was something that had not occurred to me before. I quickly filed a FOIA request seeking "access to and copies of records or logs of any changes or additions made to the military records file of George W Bush, AFSN FG324xxxx."
The response to my FOIA request again established that there "is a formal process to accomplish changes" and that "individual veterans, or their representatives, are required to use specific forms to request changes to their records." And a careful reading of their response does not rule out that these records were changed, only that the record center search "did not locate any requests for change" to these files.
Indeed, and despite the presence of the documents Lloyd discovered, the last recorded addition to these files is listed as "Mr. Bush's discharge from the Air Force Reserve on November 21, 1974."
NARA’s reply did not shed any light on who may have changed Bush’s official records. But included at the end of their response was this caveat: "It should be noted that tampering with or changing Federal records is a criminal offense under Title 18, Chapter 101, Section 2071, and is punishable by fine and or imprisonment." As always with this story, every new discovery leads to more question. We still have documents that are missing, as the February 12 Boston Globe reported, there should be records pertaining to Bush's suspension from flying and there are none to be found. Given that we know someone was able to place documents into Bush's files, shouldn't we now ask whether someone was able to take them out?
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
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