I’ve never quite understood all the arcana of the Bush Air National Guard story, so I never know quite what to make of new reports. But there’s an article out in Salon on Tuesday which makes a pretty straightforward case that the ‘complete’ service record the White House released last February, actually wasn’t complete at all.
Here are the key grafs …
The president and his staff are doing a very good job of convincing the public he has released all of his National Guard records and that they prove he was responsible during his time in Alabama and Texas. But the critical documents have still not been seen. The mandatory written report about Bush’s grounding is mysteriously not in the released file, nor is any other disciplinary evidence. A document showing a “roll-up,” or the accumulation of his total retirement points, is also absent, and so are his actual pay stubs. If the president truly wanted to end the conjecture about his time in the Guard, he would allow an examination of his pay stubs and any IRS W-2 forms from his Guard years. These can be pieced together to determine when he was paid and whether he earned enough to have met his sworn obligations.
Unlike lawyers, journalists pay little attention to concepts like chain of custody for evidence. In the case of the president’s Guard records, whoever possessed them and had the motive and opportunity to clean them up is a critical question. When Bush left the Guard about a half year early to attend Harvard Business School, his hard-copy record was retained in a military personnel records jacket at the Austin offices of the Texas Guard. Eventually, those documents were committed to microfiche. A copy of the microfiche was then sent to the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver and the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Those records are considered private, and they cannot be released to anyone without the signature of the serviceman or woman. The White House has never indicated that Bush has signed the authorization form. And this is what prompts unending suspicion.
The documents given to Washington reporters were printed from one of those two microfiches. According to two separate sources within the Guard who saw the printout and spoke with me, the microfiche was shipped to the office of Maj. Gen. Danny James, commander of the Air National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va. James’ staff printed out all of the documents on the film and then, according to those same sources, James vetted the material. Subsequent to being scrutinized by James (who commanded the Texas Guard and was promoted to Washington by Bush,) the records were then sent to the White House for further scrutiny prior to release to the news media.
This is a considerably different process from what was practiced by Sen. John McCain during the 2000 presidential campaign … McCain signed a release form, and his entire record, a stack of papers more than a foot tall, was made available to reporters without being vetted by the campaign.
Needless to say, the aforementioned <$Ad$>James is the same James who is accused of assisting in scrubbing the paper copies of the president’s record back in 1997 — a charge that is of course roundly denied, but which is also discussed at some length in the Salon piece.
Now, as I say, I just don’t know the details of all this well enough any more to make a judgment about these various claims and accusations.
But why exactly can’t the president just release his records the way McCain did?
And, is that story about James getting a chance to go over these files true? If it is, I’d say some scribblers in town got suckered.
Big time, as the vice president would say.