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2004-02-13

AWOL-Gate: Were Portions of Bush’s Military Record Scrubbed in 1997?

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As scrutiny increases over President Bush’s National Guard record, we talk with longtime Texan journalist James Moore, author of the forthcoming Bush’s War For Re-election. The book reports that a Lt. Col. Bill Burkett overheard Bush aides ask the head of the Texan National Guard to throw out portions of his military record. [includes transcript]

The controversy over President Bush’s military service is heating up.

Bush joined the National Guard in 1968, and spent most of his service time based near Houston. But in May 1972 he requested and received a temporary assignment with the Alabama National Guard. Bush says he recalls showing up for drills in Alabama, but critics are demanding proof and the press is beginning to track down and question former guardsmen.

The Memphis Flyer reports that Alabama guardsmen knew a prominent Texan had requested a transfer to their unit and were eager to meet him, but he never showed.

Yesterday, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard came forward and claimed that portions of Bush’s military record were thrown away in 1997 after a top Bush aide asked the head of the Texas National Guard to remove embarrassing items from his file.

Also yesterday, the White House released Bush’s dental records that first provided evidence that Bush spent time at an Alabama base. It doesn’t clarify if Bush fulfilled his full term.

USA Today reports that the portions of Bush’s recently released military records pertaining to past arrests and convictions are blacked out.

USA Today also reports that a Lt. Col. Bill Burkett overheard Bush aides ask the head of the Texan National Guard to throw out portions of his military record.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the phone by James Moore. He is the Emmy Award winning TV news correspond based in Texas, and is author of the book, Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush President. Welcome to Democracy Now!.

JAMES MOORE: Thanks, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us the story as you understand it?

JAMES MOORE: Well, I have been looking at this since 1994, when I first asked Mr. Bush about his service in the National Guard in a televised debate. It’s been a particular topic of interest to me for a decade. I know what exactly has happened and that’s why I place so much credibility in Colonel Burkett’s story. I have looked at that file for almost a decade. There are documents missing from it. There are documents that will clear up a number of things. His medical records are missing. There’s no board of inquiry report on his grounding. There are no pay stubs in there, which would show days that he actually worked, and there aren’t any retirement rollup points documents—any document which shows the total number of points earned for serving in the Guard. If all of that were released by the White House over his signature from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, and were released, the full file, to the public without the White House vetting it, we would know the truth of the matter.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, when you say that these portions of the record are missing, would it be — given the amount of time that’s gone by, would these normally — all of these things normally be in any serviceman’s record who had been in the Guard in those years?

JAMES MOORE: Absolutely, Juan. What happens is there’s a hard copy file. It’s called the "Military Personnel Records Jacket". When you are discharged, that’s committed to microfiche. And then the microfiche—two copies are sent to the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver and another one is sent to St. Louis. I have a statement from Charles Peligriny in St. Louis that the record of George W. Bush has not been altered in any way since it was committed to microfiche in St. Louis, which means —- it is a federal violation of a federal law, by the way, to change a military record—- so what that means is that if we would get that total microfiche printed out and released to the wider public, we would get to the heart of the matter.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us, James Moore, about retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett. You’re doing some interviews in the press along with him, who has been pressing his charges in the national news media this week. And who — what the conversation is he says he overheard. Who the significant players were.

JAMES MOORE: Colonel Burkett is a gentleman who I came across in doing research for my book. I tell his story in great detail in the new book. He is — he is a career National Guardsman, and a number of the people who are stepping forward now to try to discredit him were people in the course of my research who told me that when he opens his mouth, he speaks the truth, and he has got nothing to win by bringing this up. Why would someone who is retired and enjoying their life want to get into this kind of maelstrom? This is a guy who I believe is committed to the truth. And what he has said is that he did have, according to General Danny James, unfettered access to the general who ran the Texas National Guard. He stuck his head in the door one day as a call popped up on the speakerphone and it was Joe Allbaugh, the chief of staff of Governor Bush. He said the governor is thinking about running for a higher office. We’re going to write book about him. Would ya’ll take a look at his National Guard records, clean them up and remove any embarrassments. The same conversation and directive was issued from General James to another general the next morning at a coffee machine when Mr. Burkett was standing there and ten days later, Mr. Burkett was in the museum with another general who had the governor’s military personnel records jacket open in front of him, and was taking documents out and putting them in a wastebasket and Colonel Burkett sifted through the documents and discovered they were points documents and retirement documents and a number of pieces of paper that should not be thrown away. This is the file that reporters, like myself, have been looking at ever since George Bush became a national figure. It is an incomplete file.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But there is a piece that has come out in the Boston Globe now that is questioning some of the lieutenant colonel’s allegations including there’s another colonel involved, a Skrivner, who supposedly was involved in presenting — as being at the same time as some of these meetings, who now denies that a lot of what Burkett said happened.

JAMES MOORE: I understand. And General Skrivner is the one who is being accused by Colonel Burkett of taking the documents out of the file. George Khan, who is also present at the time of this, told me privately, and told a couple of other journalists when the story out of my book broke nationally, that he said he was — I will quote him directly — he would not corroborate the incident, but what he did tell us, "was when Bill Burkett opens his mouth, he speaks the truth. He’s an honorable and I have been his friend all of my — a long, long time." Now, Mr. Kahn works for the United States Army in a federal government position. I know the way this White House works. I have been watching Karl Rove forever and ever. I know the pressure that people in federal jobs are under. Sometimes you have to make pragmatic choices to protect your employment and your family. And my guess is that Mr. Kahn is — is getting a great deal of pressure and is doing what he has to do as necessary. I’d also like to point out that I talked to a number of people, Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Adams. Even Danny James, who is being accused of doing this, by Colonel Burkett, the general who supposedly gave the directive, told me over the phone that — that colonel Burkett was hard-working honest and honorable guy who sometimes worked himself almost to the point of sickness. He never questioned me on his credibility. He just said that this didn’t happen.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what does James say about the whole matter?

JAMES MOORE: James denies it ever happened. He said, I did have regular conversations with Joe Allbaugh, but I don’t recall this conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Allbaugh, key in the election of President Bush, then goes on to be appointed to head FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is now a chief lobbyist and one of those facilitating US Companies in Iraq. James was elevated by President Bush, is that right, to be director of the Air National Guard for the entire country?

JAMES MOORE: Yes. He is in charge of the Air National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C. And he was the commander who was running our air reserves at the time 9-11 happened, and a number of people question his performance on that day, because of the fact that the fighter interceptor jets were not immediately dispatched when those commercial aircraft went off radar.

AMY GOODMAN: What else can we expect from your forthcoming book, Bush’s War for Re-election?

JAMES MOORE: The book has uncovered — my research has uncovered a friendly-fire incident on the day of the war that has — that the White House has yet to speak about where an (inaudible) shot up a bunch of Marines at the battle of Al Nasiriyah that was spun to the media as a fake surrender by the Iraqis who turned their guns on the marines and ambushed them. It has uncovered a connection between what happened to the 507th and what happened to the Marines that day. The true story of what happened to Jessica Lynch’s outfit and the 507th has not been told in context or in proper detail. There are a number of failures that occurred that put our kids at risk in that incident that the government has tried to cover up and make not-known. All of that will be unveiled in the new book.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, finally, James Moore, retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett has made these allegations before, made them years ago before the election of George Bush. They’re resurfacing now. Is there something new, or is it just the way that the press is dealing with it that’s taking them more seriously?

JAMES MOORE: I think what’s changed, Amy, is context. He did make these claims but no one in the Texas capital media, where he was working at the time, took him seriously. Remember, there was a huge groundswell of support for George Bush. Everybody in Texas wanted their guy to be president, and he — and Mr. Burkett wrote a letter to a state senator and told him about this. And contextually, when we went out onto the campaign trail, day in and day out, Bill Clinton had sort of changed things. The public generally viewed him as a sort of longhaired hippy, war protester and draft dodger. I think the reaction of the editors around the country when these allegations were first surfacing was, "Oh, well, so maybe George W. Bush didn’t serve all of his time, but at least he did something. At least he went in the National Guard and flew a plane. That’s more than Bill Clinton did." It’s changed now. Our president is sending young men and women into combat who are National Guard members. Imagine where our country would be today if they took their commitments to the National Guard as capriciously and light-hearted as President Bush took his. We would have no one to go into service on the war on terror in Iraq or anywhere else, if they acted as foolishly and irresponsibly as Mr. Bush did when he was in the National Guard.

AMY GOODMAN: James Moore, I want to thank you very much for being with us. James Moore, the author of the book, Bush’s Brain, is writing a new book that is called, Bush’s War for Re-election. This is Democracy Now!. We’ll be back in a minute.

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