Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH AND THE MEMOS....One of the reasons I'm annoyed by the whole Killian memo fiasco is that even if they're real they don't really add much to the story. After all, here's what we already know:

  1. Former Texas Speaker of the House Ben Barnes pulled strings in 1968 to get George Bush into the National Guard so that he could avoid the draft. This isn't something Barnes just cooked up recently for Dan Rather, either. He testified under oath about it five years ago.

  2. In early 1972, with two years still left on Bush's Guard commitment, something happened. Nobody knows what happened, but for some reason he started flying again in training jets that he had graduated from two years previously; he began putting in simulator time; he had trouble making landings; and in April 1972 he made his last flight. He then refused to take his required annual physical and was subsequently grounded.

  3. In May 1972, Bush left for Alabama and disappeared from the Guard. He showed up for no drills for the next five months, and, contrary to White House statements, he never made up these missed drills.

  4. Bush returned to Texas in late 1972, but in May 1973 his superior officers in Houston (one of whom was the now famous Jerry Killian) refused to rate Bush, saying he "has not been observed at this unit" for the past 12 months.

    Oddly, though, official payroll records show that Bush was getting paid for attending drills during this period. The problem is that the payroll records documenting his attendance are completely screwy: Bush is credited for the wrong kind of attendance on some dates, he's given the wrong number of points for others, and weekday duty is frequently confused with weekend duty. What's more, even when you add it all up, Bush's attendance still didn't meet minimum National Guard standards.

    The combination of these two things bears all the marks of someone backdating payroll records but doing a sloppy job. The likeliest explanation is that in mid-1973, after his superiors refused to rate him, someone pulled some strings and a bunch of payroll records were submitted for the previous year. However, the person who did it just checked off a few days for each month, instead of carefully making sure that the dates and duty types actually matched up the way they would if they were real.

  5. In October 1973 Bush was discharged from the Texas ANG and moved to Boston to attend Harvard Business School. Although the Bush campaign said in 1999 that Bush transferred to a unit in Boston to finish up his service, they now admit that isn't true. Bush never signed up with a unit in Boston and never again attended drills.

There are plenty more reasons to be skeptical about Bush's National Guard service, but leave those aside for the moment. What we know for sure is that Bush began having problems flying in 1972; refused his physical; was grounded; disappeared for five months; probably disappeared for an entire year; failed to sign up with a unit in Boston for his final year of service; and got an honorable discharge anyway.

And he's never come clean about it. We don't need CBS's memos to remind us of that. We already knew it.

Kevin Drum 3:48 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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