Josh Marshall

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Scott McClellan seems intent on saying that <$Ad$> a dental exam the president had at Dannelly Alabama Air National Guard base in January 1973 proves he fulfilled his Guard duty that year in Alabama.

That, of course, and the ambiguous pay stubs -- a number of which seem to show he was in Texas.

This is, of course, all in addition to the fact that the president has gone back on his promise to just make this whole thing easy and release all his military service records -- something he, through his aides, now refuses to do.

But look at this testy exchange this morning about whether the president was required to perform community service during the time he was in the Guard ...

Q: Did the President ever have to take time off from Guard duty to do community service?

Scott McClellan: To do community service? I haven't looked into everything he did 30 years ago, Helen. Obviously, there is different community service he has performed in the past, including going back to that time period --

Q: Can you find out if he actually had --

Scott McClellan: Helen, I don't think we remember every single activity he was involved in 30 years ago.

Q: No, this isn't an activity. Was he forced to do community service at any time while he was on --

Scott McClellan: What's your interest in that question? I'm sorry, I just --

Q: Lots of rumors. I'm just trying to clear up something.

Scott McClellan: Rumors about what?

Q: Pardon?

Scott McClellan: Rumors about what?

Q: About the President having to do community service while he was in the National Guard, take time out for that.

Scott McClellan: I'm not aware of those rumors. But if you want to --

Q: Could you look it up? Would you mind asking him?

Scott McClellan: That's why I'm asking what's your interest in that? I just don't understand your interest in that.

Q: It's what everybody is interested in, whether we're getting the true story on his Guard duty.

Scott McClellan: Well, you have the documents that show the facts.

Q: I'm asking you to try to find out from the President of the United States.

Scott McClellan: Like I said, it's well known the different jobs he had and what he was doing previously, that we know. That goes back to --

Q: I didn't say "previously." I said, while he was on Guard duty.

Scott McClellan: But you're asking me about 30 years ago. I don't think there's a recollection of everything he was doing 30 years ago.

Q: Well, he would know if he had to take time out.

Scott McClellan: Again, I mean, the issue that was raised was whether or not the President was serving while he was in Alabama. Documents reflect that he was --

Q: Well, this is another issue.

Scott McClellan: -- hold on -- that he was serving in Alabama. That was the issue that was raised. We went through, four years ago, other issues related to this.

Q: So you won't answer the question or you won't try to find out?

Scott McClellan: Well, I'm asking you, what's your interest in that question? I'm just curious, because rumors --

Q: Did he have to do any community service while he was in the National Guard?

Scott McClellan: Look, Helen, I think the issue here was whether or not the President served in Alabama. Records have documented --

Q: I'm asking you a different question. That's permissible.

Scott McClellan: Can I answer your question? Sure it is. Can I ask you why you're asking it? I'm just -- out of curiosity myself, is that permissible?

Q: Well, I'm interested, of course, in what everybody is interested in. And we have a very --

Scott McClellan: Let me just point out that we've released all the information we have related to this issue, the issue of whether or not he served while in Alabama. Records have documented as false the outrageous --

Q: I asked you whether he had to do any community service while he was in the National Guard.

Scott McClellan: Can I walk through this?

Q: It's a very legitimate question.

Scott McClellan: And I want to back up and walk through this a little bit. Let's talk about the issue that came up, because this issue came up four years ago, it came up four years before that -- or two years before that, it came up four years before that --

Q: Did my question come up four years ago, and was it handled?

Scott McClellan: Helen, if you'll let me finish, I want to back up and talk about this --

Q: Don't dance around, just give us --

Q: It's a straightforward question.

Q: Let's not put too fine a point on it. If I'm not mistaken, you're implying that he had to do community service for criminal action, as a punishment for some crime?

Q: There are rumors around, and I didn't put it in that way. I just --

Q: Could you take that question? I guess apparently that's the question, that he had to take time out to perform community service --

Scott McClellan: That's why I wanted to get to this because --

Q: -- as a sentence for a crime.

Scott McClellan: No, that's why I wanted to get to this because I want to step back for a second. I want to go back through a few things. Look, the -- I think we've really exhausted the issue that came up. The issue that came up was related to whether or not he had served while he was in Alabama. Records have documented as false the outrageous, baseless accusation that he did not serve while in Alabama. The conspiracy theory of one individual, that the National Guard cleansed documents, has been discredited.

Q: How so?

Scott McClellan: Read The Boston Globe today.

Q: Well, we want answers from you, not --

Scott McClellan: Read the Boston Globe. No, the answers are from the people that would have knowledge of that. But read --

Q: Why do you think this person made those allegations?

Scott McClellan: Hang on, hang on.

Q: What? Just read The Boston Globe --

Scott McClellan: Just read The Boston Globe. Read The Boston Globe. I would draw your attention to that. What I think we're seeing now is just politics. And we're not going to engage in it, because there are great challenges facing our nation, and there should be an honest discussion of the actions the President is taking to make our world safer and better and make America more prosperous and secure.

You want me to go --

Q: -- the personal record of a President is --

Scott McClellan: No, hang on, Helen, hang on. I've said from this podium, if we have new information that comes to our attention that relates to this issue, we have made it clear we will share that information. You're asking me to go and chase rumors. There was a conspiracy theory --

Q: I think --

Scott McClellan: Hold on, hold on, Helen. There was a conspiracy theory made by one individual, when everybody he accused of being involved in that said, it's ridiculous, didn't happen.

Q: This is not based on a conspiracy theory.

Scott McClellan: And there was a lot of attention given to this individual, and he's been discredited. There's a Boston Globe article on it this morning. And there are some --

Q: That says what? Your point --

Scott McClellan: You can go read it. I mean, we've got other things to move on to. I mean, you can go read it. But there are some, unfortunately, who simply are not interested in the facts. Again, the documents -- the records document that he did serve while in Alabama. And now there are people that are bringing up issues that were addressed four years ago.

Q: But you still haven't answered Helen's question. She asked you a simple question.

Scott McClellan: There are people that want to replay the 2000 campaign all over again, Bill, and --

Q: You still haven't answered her question about community service.

Scott McClellan: -- there are too many important -- there are too many important policies and decisions that are being made that we need to discuss.

Q: Why does a "yes" or "no" elude you on this?

Scott McClellan: I didn't say that. I said that these were all issues addressed four years ago. If there's additional information --

Q: This issue quite obviously wasn't addressed four years ago.

Scott McClellan: Oh, issues -- these issues were addressed four years ago.

Q: This issue was? The community service issue was addressed four years ago?

Scott McClellan: The issues -- the issues that we're going to here --

Q: I don't recall --

Scott McClellan: This is called chasing a rumor. And I'm not going to engage in this kind of politics, Bill.

Q: -- finding out whether a rumor is true or false.

Scott McClellan: No, this issue, absolutely --

Q: Why can't you say whether or not he performed community service?

Scott McClellan: Absolutely, this issue came up four years ago. And if you all want to play politics, then go call the RNC, call the campaign.

Q: The best defense is offense. We know that. Just, all you've got to say is you don't know.

Scott McClellan: Helen, it was -- this issue was addressed four years ago. I think people that were involved in the campaign will know --

Q: -- if they know --

Scott McClellan: -- that the issue that you're trying to bring up was addressed four years ago. It's about chasing rumors.

Q: It isn't a question of four years ago. The issue has come up now, very large.

Scott McClellan: I'm not going to get into chasing rumors.

Q: Headlines.

Scott McClellan: I'm not going to get into chasing rumors.

Q: So you refuse to answer the question?

Scott McClellan: You're saying that people said he was forced to do something, and you're asking me to chase a rumor.

Q: Everything is politics today, of course.

Q: She asked you a "yes" or "no" question.

Scott McClellan: Look, if you all want to -- this is just politics. That's what this is. And if there's any more information I have to share with you all, I will always -- I will do that.

Q: Scott, I have a question of this individual, and I confess, I haven't read the Boston article. But who -- what do you believe was this person's motivation, that if they have been discredited, for making these allegations?

Scott McClellan: Just -- I would read The Boston Globe. Everybody that he accused of being involved in this has said it was totally ridiculous. And there are others that --

Q: So are you saying -- was it politically motivated?

Scott McClellan: There are others that are quoted in The Boston Globe today, that you might want to see what they said.

Q: Speaking of politics, has the President authorized his campaign --

Scott McClellan: And we've got to --

Q: -- to release a video attacking Senator Kerry?

Scott McClellan: You need to talk -- you need to talk to the campaign. But let me go to the week ahead because we've used up more than 15 minutes.

Q: So the President did authorize --

Q: Scott, I've got --

Scott McClellan: I'm going to go to the week ahead.

Houston, do we have a problem?

You don't think president Bush has had a rough ride over the last few weeks? Take a look at this new ABC/Washington Post news poll which has him losing a presidential match-up to John Kerry by a 52%-43% margin among registered voters.

Now, registered voters aren't 'likely voters', though figuring out who counts as a 'likely voter' is difficult so many months out from an election. But that still means that the president is getting knocked by almost ten points by an opponent who is, to most Americans, still largely an unknown quantity.

And the more ominous news comes down in the details. Put simply, a majority of Americans now believe that the president bamboozled them on Iraq. In the more temperate phrasing of the Post: "A majority of Americans believe President Bush either lied or deliberately exaggerated evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in order to justify war." The precise numbers are 21% who say he lied and 31% who say he deliberately exaggerated.

Only 52% find the president "honest and trustworthy". And to borrow the title of the last book of the great J. Anthony Lukas, for Bush, that means big trouble.

Every president has characteristic strengths and weaknesses. For better or worse, by the end of his term of office, Bill Clinton's reputation as a truth-teller was in tatters. But that was never his strong suit with voters anyway. The measure of his enduring strength with voters is best guaged in a question pollsters usually frame as 'does candidate X care about/understand the problems that affect people like you.'

Clinton always did very well on that question. It's the politics of empathy -- a topic which, when it comes to Clinton, one could literally write a whole book.

People never warmed to President Bush as a literary critic or a raconteur. And he's usually done okay, but not great, on the 'care about/understand' question. His strong suit has always been honesty and trusthworthiness -- that and the closely related quality of 'leadership'. If he loses that, politically speaking, he's finished.

Ironically, the Post notes that President Bush's ratings on honest peaked at 71% in the summer of 2002. I say 'ironically' because the summer of 2002 was really not a high point for honesty or trustworthiness. But I guess that's what folks are starting to realize.

Credit, I always say, where credit is due.

And with that in mind, tonight we're awarding Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R-NM) the first annual Heather Wilson "I think the American people are a bunch of god-forsaken idiots" Award.

Last night, Wilson was on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 show, carrying water for the president on the WMD shenanigans. Fair enough, I guess. Everyone's gotta try to make the best of a bad situation.

She would have at least gotten an Honorable Mention for a particularly loopy point about a connection between al Qaida and 'Iraq'. But she hit it out of the park with this one.

After detailing all the reasons why the president's pre-war rationales for war make sense in retrospect, she uncorked this beauty. "And to me," she told CNN's Heidi Collins, "the most important thing was his biological weapons program, which we've now confirmed he was continuing to pursue up to the day of the invasion, and the ability to deliver those biological weapons against Americans on American soil."

An on-going biological weapons program? Really ... Continuing research into delivery systems for biological weapons attacks on the United States mainland? She really needs to bring her data to David Kay and the president. The president, I think, would find Wilson's new findings really helpful right now.

In all seriousness, where do they get these jokers? Lie, lie, lie.

Then there's Condi Rice, who gets this year's Honorable Mention.

Condi was on Larry King last night. And I had really high hopes she would take home the big prize since with these two you pretty much know it's going to be a train wreck. Sort of like Barney Fife interviewing Dr. Evil.

As it happened, it was a pretty placid affair. But there was at least this. We'll call it the "certain stocks" defense. (itals added)

It is true that certain stocks of weapons that we thought were there that frankly the intelligence services around the world thought were there, that the United Nations, the inspectors, as late as March of 2003 believed that they were there saying that it wasn't credibility, that Iraq couldn't account for its weapons of mass destruction.

Yes, we've not found those stocks, but what we have found is hundreds of weapons of mass destruction related activities hidden from United Nations inspectors. We found and interviewed people who've talked about how they were hiding these programs from the United Nations.

If it's not immediately clear why this line from Condi represents the silliest and most shameless sort of mumbo-jumbo, see this excellent column by Fred Kaplan in Slate.

If you see statements from anyone who you think should knock Rep. Wilson off her throne, please drop me a line.

There are several new story lines opening up tonight on the Guard issue. In addition to the bizarre dental records release noted below, a number of news outlets are running with the allegations of former Texas Guard official Bill Burkett, who has said for some time that the president's Guard records were "cleansed" by campaign staffers back in 1999.

The most detailed run-down seems to be in USAToday.

Kevin Drum notes how the authors of the piece have a (good) history with the source, Burkett, thus arguably lending his story more credibility.

In general, Drum's site,, continues to be the invaluable source in making sense of all the different moving parts of this story -- which documents mean what, who says the president did what when, etc.

Can I say this is getting a little bizarre?

Thank you.

This is getting a little bizarre.

Scott McClellan says no blanket release of the president's military service records. No medical records. No disciplinary records, if they exist.

But dental records? Bring it on!

Late on Wednesday, according to this story in the Associated Press, the White House released "a copy of a dental evaluation President Bush had in the National Guard in Alabama during the Vietnam War to rebut suggestions from Democrats who have questioned whether the president ever showed up for duty there."

The White House says that this dental exam at Dannelly Air National Guard Base in Alabama on Jan. 6, 1973 provides further proof that the president completed his duties in Alabama. Why it proves that, I'm really not sure.

Then there's this: "The White House obtained the dental record, along with other medical records it did not release, from the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, Colo., McClellan said. The record was accompanied by a statement from Dr. Richard J. Tubb, the president's current physician, who stated that he read Bush's records, which covered a period from 1968 to 1973, and concurred with the doctors' assertion that Bush was "fit" for service. "The records reflect no disqualifying medical information," Tubb said.

What's going on here?

White House gets in trouble on the National <$Ad$>Guard story.

White House can't get out ahead of the story.

White House starts to panic.

White House leaks the story that the president will endorse a constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions.

A) Coincidence or B) An effort to change the subject?

We imply; you decide.

(Oh, by the way, a bunch of the reporters asking McClellan the questions think it's B. But don't let that influence your choice.)

On Meet the Press, President Bush promised Tim Russert he'd authorize the release of all his service records, right?

Not so, says Scott McClellan: "No, I think the question was payroll records, payroll records that would show you served. It was relating to the issue of whether or not you served."

So, those ambiguous payroll records are all he's going to release.

Is the president willing to release any medical or disciplinary records that might clear up the contradictions found in the attendance and payroll records? Thus McClellan ...

"These were all issues that came up four years ago," McClellan told the White House press corps this morning, "as I talked about yesterday, here in this room. I think what you are seeing is gutter politics. The American people deserve better. There are some who are not interested in their facts. They are simply trolling for trash. And there are great challenges facing this country, and the President is acting decisively to meet those challenges. Instead of talking about the choices we face when it comes to policy decisions about our nation's highest priorities, some are simply trolling for trash for political gain. And the American people deserve better. They deserve an honest debate about the choices we face. They deserve an honest discussion and look at what type of leadership the Commander-in-Chief is providing in a time of war, in a time when we are confronting dangerous new threats. It is very clear from the records that the President fulfilled his duties. He was honorably discharged. That's all documented."

I think that's a 'no', right?

That little speech was preceded by this exchange with one of the reporters in the room ...

Q: Quickly, Scott, National Guard records; supposedly there are additional documents in the President's personnel file. Are they being reviewed with an eye to possibly releasing additional documents?

Scott McClellan: Well, if there was new information that came to our attention, we would certainly let you know about that. Q: Has the President's file been forwarded to Washington for review?

Scott McClellan: I don't know the status of where it is. That was, I think, the Department of Defense. It's my understanding the Department of Defense asked that those records be sent here, and we expect that we will receive some information, as well.

Q: So they are reviewing it?

Scott McClellan: -- receive that information, as well. I'm sorry?

Q: So DOD is reviewing his file?

Scott McClellan: I don't know what they're doing with it. I'm just telling you it's my understanding that they have requested that that information be sent to the Department of Defense. We expect that we will have that information, as well.

Can't come clean. Won't release the records he said he would. Sorta seems like there's a problem lurking in there, don't it?

The president hits the 50% approval mark and he comes out for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions.

What lever does he pull when he hits 45%?

Spin, spin, spin. Dodge, dodge, dodge. Withhold, withhold, withhold.

Can you think of another verb? No? Me neither. So let's get started.

On Meet the Press, the president was asked if he'd authorize the release of all his service records.

All of them.

And he said, "Yes, absolutely."

He promised. But he keeps on not doing it. He's sure trying to make it look like he is. But he sure ain't.

For some reason he just can't quite bring himself to sign off on the release.

The idea here is that the president waives his rights under the Privacy Act and tells the relevant authorities, 'Release all my service records to whichever reporters or organizations want to see them.'

But he just refuses to do it.

The payment records out today do give some evidence of what the president was doing during the year in question. But to say they raise further questions is something of an understatement.

It's long been known, for instance, that in the late spring of 1973, Bush's commanding officers in Texas reported that they couldn't write an evaluation of him because "he has not been observed" at the base in Houston. That didn't raise any red flags because, though, because they believed he was then serving in Alabama.

Yet these new records seem to say that Bush actually was doing drills in Houston.

In fact, as the Washington Post notes, on the very day that his commanding officers were writing that he hadn't been seen on base -- May 2, 1973 -- these new payment records say he was actually on base logging in hours.

Go figure.

The president could clear this up by just authorizing the release of all his service records like he said he would. Now we're on to day three. But he still won't do it.

Drip, drip, drip.

Given the president's record as a businessman, and since he's now run the country hopelessly into debt, isn't it about time he sells the country off to some rich friends who will swallow the loss so he can move on to greener pastures?