Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 11, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WERE BUSH'S NATIONAL GUARD RECORDS "CLEANSED"?....Atrios links today to a Dallas Morning News article that quotes a guy named Bill Burkett as charging that George Bush's National Guard records were tampered with back in 1997. Here's a quick note to explain why I haven't posted about this before.

The reason is simple: I'm not sure Burkett's story hangs together. It started with an article in November 2000 in which Burkett claimed that Bush's files had been "cleansed," followed by a London Times story that interpreted Burkett's remarks as saying that Bush's records had been "doctored." If true, the charges were Watergate-level serious.

However, in a press release the next day clarifying his remarks, Burkett said he was "extremely careful not to point an accusing finger" and then said this:

Did you allege that the Governors staff doctored the records?

No, instead I stated that the way this had been handled by the Bush staff including knowledgeable military officials at the Texas national guard, that it left the implication that the Bush staff had first incompetently provided an incomplete military file for the Governor which was consistent with his autobiography....

In other words, Burkett was saying only that the Bush campaign had been careful to release some files but not others. But then last year he told Greg Palast the following story:

I was in the Generals office, General Daniel James....He gets a telephone call from Joe Albaugh, who was the Governors chief of staff, and Dan Bartlett ....on the voice box....and they wanted General James to assemble all of the Governors files, that [Karen Hughes, Bushs aide] was going to write a book....But Joe told General James, Make sure theres not anything in there thatll embarrass the Governor.

And there wouldnt be. Burkett asked if the generals staff really intended to purge the files; and sure enough, as evidence of the affirmative reply, he was shown the piles of pay and pension records in the garbage pails destined for the shredders.

And today's Dallas Morning News article confirms the Palast version of the story:

Col. Burkett said that a few days later at Camp Mabry in Austin, he saw Mr. Bush's file and documents from it discarded in a trash can. He said he recognized the documents as retirement point summaries and pay forms.

Obviously I don't have any inside information and I've never spoken to Burkett. But I've got a few problems with his story:

  • It's awfully convenient. He just happened to be in General James' office when Allbaugh called? And despite the fact that Burkett's job was investigating irregularities in recordkeeping, James decided to put this call on the speaker? And then Burkett just happened to see the offending documents in the trash a few days later? This is a remarkably sloppy job on the part of Bush's people.

  • When he clarified his remarks in his press release in 2000, why didn't he tell the story he's telling now? It's pretty sensational, and surely deserved an accusing finger.

  • Burkett said of the scrubbing, "For most soldiers at Camp Mabry, this was a generally known event." If that's true, why hasn't anyone else come forward to confirm his story?

  • Burkett has a big time axe to grind. He was a whistleblower regarding problems in the Texas Guard and was later denied medical treatment for an illness he contracted in Panama, an incident that he blames on retaliation by Bush. He sued the National Guard over this incident but lost the case.

Bottom line: Burkett's story might be absolutely true. I don't know. But there are enough red flags that I'm skeptical of it without further backup. In the meantime, caveat emptor.

Kevin Drum 9:26 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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