Thursday, February 12, 2004

Bush AWOL: Witness: Guard records in trash basket 

Under the innocuous headline "Move to Screen Bush File in 90's Is Reported", and on page A33, Ralph Blumenthal reports:

A retired lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard complained to a member of the Texas Senate in 1998 that aides to Gov. George W. Bush improperly screened Mr. Bush's National Guard files in a search for information that could embarrass the governor in future elections.

The retired officer, Bill Burkett, said in the letter to Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, a Democrat from Austin, that Dan Bartlett, then a senior aide to Governor Bush and now White House communications director, and Gen. Daniel James, then the head of the Texas National Guard, reviewed the file to "make sure nothing will embarrass the governor during his re-election campaign."

A copy of the letter was provided to The New York Times ...

Mr. Bartlett denied on Wednesday that any records were altered. General James, since named head of the Air National Guard by President Bush ....

Can you say, "payoff"?

... also denied Mr. Burkett's account. But Mr. Bartlett and another former official in Mr. Bush's administration in Texas, Joe Allbaugh, acknowledged speaking to National Guard officials about the files as Mr. Bush was preparing to seek re-election as governor.

[Bartlett and Albaugh] said their goal was to ensure that the records would be helpful to journalists who inquired about Mr. Bush's military experience.

Right. And we all know how much the Bush administration likes to do that!

In telephone interviews this week from his home near Abilene, Mr. Burkett, 55, a systems analyst with 27 years in the National Guard including service as deputy commandant of the New Mexico Military Academy, said he happened to be in General James' office at Camp Mabry in Austin in mid-1997 and overheard Mr. Allbaugh on a speakerphone telling General James that Mr. Bartlett and Karen P. Hughes, another aide to Governor Bush, would be coming to the Guard offices to review Mr. Bush's military files.

Ms. Hughes, who left the White House in 2002, did not return a call. [James and Bartlett issue strong denials].

Mr. Burkett further said that about 10 days later he and another officer walked into the Camp Mabry military museum and saw the head of the museum, Gen. John Scribner, going through Mr. Bush's personnel records. Mr. Burkett said he saw a trash basket with discarded papers bearing Mr. Bush's name. Mr. Burkett said the papers appeared to be "retirement point certificates, pay documents, that sort of thing."

General Scribner dismissed the account. "It never happened as far as I know," he said. "Why would I be going into records?"

Gee, I don't know...

Mr. Burkett is quoted at length in a book to come out by the end of the month, "Bush's War for Re-election" by James Moore, a former Texas television reporter and co-author of "Bush's Brain."

The other Guard officer who Mr. Burkett says was with him the day he saw General Scribner going though the records, George Conn, declined in an e-mail message to comment on Mr. Burkett's statements. But Mr. Conn, a former chief warrant officer for the Texas Guard and now a civilian on duty with American forces in Europe, said: "I know LTC Bill Burkett and served with him several years ago in the Texas Army National Guard. I believe him to be honest and forthright. He `calls things like he sees them.' "

A retired officer, Lt. Col. Dennis Adams, said Mr. Burkett told him of the incidents shortly after they happened.

Now, the story also gives plenty of reason to believe that Burkett is, shall we say, "disgruntled." However, since he told Adams about this at the time, there's some reason to believe that his story is true.

Of course, all this can be solved very simply: If Bush directs that all his military records be released, they could be examined for gaps.

But he won't do that. Why?

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