The records contradict the claims of a former Alabama National Guard officer, John B. "Bill" Calhoun, who came forward earlier this year at the behest of "a Republican close to Bush" to testify to vivid memories of Bush taking part in drills during the period in question. No credible witness has come forward to say Bush was seen performing guard duties in Alabama, despite a $10,000 reward offered by "Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau.
White House officials said they have had no dealings with Calhoun and were not responsible for his statements.
The question of whether Bush ever did "substitute service" for the missing drills is controversial, and hinges on technical points in Air National Guard regulations that are almost incomprehensible to outsiders and are much debated by former personnel officers. The bottom line seems to be that Bush did whatever paper-shuffling duties were necessary to satisfy his superiors.
"During the period in Alabama, he did the minimum amount that was required, but he did the minimum amount," said retired Col. Rufus G. Martin, who was Bush's personnel officer in Texas.
Martin said Bush did "a heck of a lot" during his earlier service with the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in Texas but then "changed his mind" and decided "he preferred to be in politics."
By early 1973, Bush was back in Texas, still grounded from flight duties. Records show he crammed in 38 days of office training between May and July 1973, in an apparent attempt to accumulate sufficient "points" to maintain his "satisfactory" standing.
When he entered Harvard Business School in September 1973, his records were transferred to a personnel office in Denver for a final year of service in a unit that existed only on paper.
Whether or not Bush did the minimum necessary to remain in good standing with the guard, it is clear his performance fell well short of the depiction in his 2000 campaign biography, which stated that he flew with the 111th until his release in September 1973.
In a 1999 Washington Post interview, Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett was quoted as saying that Bush's release from the 111th was appropriate because the unit had phased out the F-102s, and that Bush was transferred from Texas to a reserve unit in Boston. Both statements appear to be inaccurate.
Although F-102s were being phased out by 1973, they were still being flown. There is no record of Bush signing up for reserve duty in Boston. Bartlett, now White House communications director, said last week through a representative that he must have either "misspoke" or been "misquoted."
Last week, it seemed as though new documents unearthed by CBS News's "60 Minutes" might shed light on the questions surrounding Bush's substitute service in Alabama.
If the CBS documents are authentic, they would directly contradict the White House claim that Bush's transfer was routine and that no political favoritism was extended to the son of a former Houston congressman. The papers purported to show that Bush's former commander, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, was resisting pressure from his superior, Col. Walter B. "Buck" Staudt, to "sugarcoat" Bush's officer evaluation files.
But document experts began questioning their authenticity almost as soon as they were published on the Internet, citing typographical and formatting issues that suggest they were created by a modern-day word processor rather than a Vietnam War-era typewriter.
CBS officials have declined to say who provided "60 Minutes" with the documents, other than that it was an "unimpeachable source" -- or exactly where they came from, other than the "personal file" of Killian, who died in 1984.