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White House Briefing: Dan Froomkin

Bush's Youth Under Scrutiny

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, September 7, 2004; 11:01 AM

After weeks in which the political discourse was nearly dominated by the scrutinizing of Sen. John F. Kerry's conduct in the Vietnam War era, President Bush now may find himself under the microscope and on the defensive for actions in his past.

Kerry supporters are actively questioning Bush's spotty record as a stateside National Guardsmen during the Vietnam War. A former senior politician in Texas is telling people he pulled strings to get Bush into the guard.

And an Associated Press investigation has concluded that key documents that should have been written to explain gaps in Bush's guard service are missing.

Jill Zuckman writes in the Chicago Tribune: "Across Ohio and into West Virginia over the Labor Day weekend, Kerry supporters took to the campaign stage with mocking, caustic, scornful rhetoric directed at President Bush's military service and Vice President Dick Cheney's lack of service."

It's an obvious response to the group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which Zuckman notes "launched an advertising campaign questioning whether Kerry deserved his medals and criticizing him for his anti-war protests.

"Many of the group's assertions about Kerry have since been discredited, but a new group, Texans for Truth, has sprung up to question Bush's participation in his National Guard unit while in Alabama during the war.

"In a television advertisement to begin airing Friday, Bob Mintz, a lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Air National Guard during the time Bush was supposed to have been there in 1972, will say he never saw Bush at the base even though he looked for him, according to a spokeswoman for the group."

Michael Dobbs writes in The Washington Post: "A former senior politician from Texas has told close friends that he recommended George W. Bush for a pilot's slot in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War because he was eager to 'collect chits' from an influential political family.

"The reported comments by former Texas lieutenant governor Ben Barnes add fuel to a long-running controversy over how Bush got a slot in an outfit known as the 'Champagne Unit' because it included so many sons of prominent Texans. Friends said that Barnes had recorded an interview for the CBS program '60 Minutes' that will address the question of whether Bush pulled strings to evade being sent to Vietnam. . . .

"The White House, which has been anticipating a Democratic counterattack on Bush's military record since a flurry of attacks on Kerry by former Vietnam War veterans funded by prominent Republican contributors, dismissed Barnes as a 'partisan Democrat.' "

Here are some video clips from May of Barnes discussing his actions.

Matt Kelley reports on the Associated Press's exhaustive research into Bush's National Guard records, and concludes: "Documents that should have been written to explain gaps in President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service are missing from the military records released about his service in 1972 and 1973, according to regulations and outside experts."

The AP filed a lawsuit two months ago demanding access to a microfilm copy of Bush's entire Texas Air National Guard personnel record from an archive in Austin. (See my Aug. 27 column for more details.) The government responded that it has released all records it can find.

"Challenging the government's declaration that no more documents exist, the AP identified five categories of records that should have been generated after Bush skipped his pilot's physical and missed five months of training," Kelley writes.

"White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said there were no other documents to explain discrepancies in Bush's files."

The five kinds of missing files identified by the AP are:

• A report from the Texas Air National Guard to Bush's local draft board certifying that Bush remained in good standing in 1972 or 1973.

• Records of a required investigation into why Bush lost flight status.

• A written acknowledgment from Bush that he had received the orders grounding him.

• Reports of formal counseling sessions Bush was required to have after missing more than three training sessions.

Mary Jacoby also wrote in Salon last week about her interview with Linda Allison, the widow of Jimmy Allison, who in the spring of 1972 allegedly received a phone call from George H.W. Bush asking if Allison could find a place on the Senate campaign he was managing in Alabama for his troublesome eldest son.

"Linda Allison's story, never before published, contradicts the Bush campaign's assertion that George W. Bush transferred from the Texas Air National Guard to the Alabama National Guard in 1972 because he received an irresistible offer to gain high-level experience on the campaign of Bush family friend Winton 'Red' Blount," Jacoby writes.

"In fact, according to what Allison says her late husband told her, the younger Bush had become a political liability for his father, who was then the United States ambassador to the United Nations, and the family wanted him out of Texas."

Conflation Watch

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post: "At last week's Republican convention, President Bush and Vice President Cheney repeatedly linked the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the war in Iraq, largely abandoning the rationale offered when the Bush administration invaded the Persian Gulf country."

Bush's initial rationale was about weapons of mass destruction.

"But no such weapons were found after the invasion, and the subject was only fleetingly mentioned from the podium in Madison Square Garden. Instead, the war on Iraq was presented as a part of a seamless thread that stemmed directly from the terrorism of the Sept. 11 attacks."

Cheney Watch

Randal C. Archibold and Rick Lyman write in the New York Times that Cheney yesterday suggested "that President Bill Clinton and even President Ronald Reagan were soft on terrorists. . . .

"He blamed the Clinton and Reagan administrations for teaching terrorists that 'they could strike us with relative impunity' and that 'if they hit us hard enough, they could change our policy.' Mr. Cheney cited the attack on United States Marines barracks in Beirut in 1983, in the first Reagan term, along with the 1993 killings of American soldiers in Somalia, a 1996 truck bombing at a housing complex in Saudi Arabia where many Americans lived, the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa and the attack on the destroyer Cole in Yemen in 2000."

FBI Asking About Cheney's Office

Robin Wright and Dan Eggen write in The Washington Post: "FBI counterintelligence investigators have in recent weeks questioned current and former U.S. officials about whether a small group of Iran specialists at the Pentagon and in Vice President Cheney's office may have been involved in passing classified information to an Iraqi politician or a U.S. lobbying group allied with Israel, according to sources familiar with or involved in the case."

Bob Graham Watch

Frank Davies writes in the Miami Herald: "Two of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers had a support network in the United States that included agents of the Saudi government, and the Bush administration and FBI blocked a congressional investigation into that relationship, Sen. Bob Graham wrote in a book to be released Tuesday.

"The discovery of the financial backing of the two hijackers 'would draw a direct line between the terrorists and the government of Saudi Arabia, and trigger an attempted coverup by the Bush administration,' the Florida Democrat wrote."

Overall, Davies writes in a separate article on Graham's book, "If one theme emerges from his new book, Intelligence Matters, it's that his Senate colleagues, much of the public and, above all, President Bush are not responding to the crisis of poor intelligence in the face of a serious terrorist threat."

The Kerry campaign is making Graham available to reporters in a conference call today.

Even on Labor Day, Focus on Security

Dana Milbank and Spencer S. Hsu write in The Washington Post: "President Bush eschewed his customary Labor Day speech to union workers Monday, keeping his focus on national security issues at a campaign rally here as Democratic challenger John F. Kerry tried to turn the election-year debate to jobs and the economy.

"Since becoming president, Bush has spent Labor Day with a trade-union audience: Teamsters in Michigan in 2001, carpenters in Pennsylvania in 2002 and operating engineers in Ohio last year. But with the election two months away and labor firmly against him, he observed this Labor Day by taking a bicycle ride at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., before flying here to address thousands of supporters in this battleground state's rural southeast corner."

Flat Tax in the Future?

Mike Allen wrote in Monday's Washington Post: "President Bush reasserted his call Sunday for a simpler tax system, and aides said he is considering pushing for a flat tax, which would set the same income-tax rate for most taxpayers, as a major priority if he were to win a second term."

Here's the text of Bush's speech in Missouri on Monday; his speech in West Virginia on Sunday; and his "Ask the President" event in Ohio on Saturday.

Poll Watch

Susan Page writes in USA Today that "a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday shows Bush at 52%, Kerry at 45% and independent candidate Ralph Nader at 1% among likely voters. Before the convention, Bush led Kerry by 2 percentage points."

The complete results also show Bush's approval rating up to 52 percent, with 46 percent disapproving.

According to a Newsweek poll, "Bush now holds an 11-point lead over Kerry in a three-way race with Ralph Nader, erasing the seven-point edge Kerry held during his convention in July. Bush now enjoys his best favorable ratings since February (55 percent), while Kerry's unfavorable ratings are at their highest of the campaign (45 percent). For the first time in more than a year, 53 percent say Bush deserves a second term."

A Time magazine poll also shows Bush up by 11, and his approval rating at 55 percent.

Contest Context

Adam Nagourney writes in the New York Times: "For all of Mr. Bush's success at his convention in New York last week, the underlying dynamics that have made Republicans view him as an endangered incumbent for much of this year remain very much in place: the nation's unease about its future, the deaths in Iraq and the unsteady economy."

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times: "If Bush can lastingly convince a majority that his approach has made the country better off, there's not much Kerry can do to recover -- presidents simply don't lose when most Americans believe they have done a good job. But it's not yet clear that Bush is in such a commanding position. Even the post-convention Time survey showed the country divided almost exactly in half on his handling of the economy and Iraq. And because Bush is so polarizing, even some in his own camp believe his support naturally rests right about 50%."

Ownership Watch

Warren Vieth writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In George W. Bush's America, there seem to be few societal problems a little ownership wouldn't help solve."

Allan Sloan writes in his Washington Post column: "Whenever the government offers to help you grow wealthier and more self-reliant, ask what it costs and who pays. Administrations change, but economic fundamentals don't. No matter which party's in power, there's no such thing as a free lunch. "

Jobs Watch

Eduardo Porter wrote in Monday's New York Times: "There was a time when adding just under 150,000 jobs a month, three years into an economic recovery, would have been considered a disaster. As recently as last December, President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers forecast that in 2004 employment would grow, on average, by about 216,000 jobs a month.

"Yet on Friday, when the Labor Department reported employment growth of 144,000 jobs in August and bumped up its earlier estimates for June and July, yielding a three-month average of 104,000 new jobs a month, many economists said it was good news."

This morning, the Times ran a correction: "A news analysis article in Business Day yesterday about the economy's lackluster rate of job creation misstated the pace of employment growth foreseen by the president's Council of Economic Advisers last December. To realize the council's forecast of the total number of jobs held by Americans in 2004, the economy would have to create more than 300,000 jobs a month this year, not 216,000."

Medicare Watch

Ceci Connolly wrote in Saturday's Washington Post: "Health insurance premiums for senior citizens enrolled in Medicare will rise 17.5 percent in 2005, bringing the total monthly payment to $78.20, Bush administration officials said yesterday."

Johanna Neuman noted in the Los Angeles Times: "The premium increases announced late in the afternoon as the capital emptied for the three-day Labor Day weekend and Republicans wrapped up a jubilant week at their convention in New York -- would affect nearly all of the 41.8 million beneficiaries of Medicare."

Today's Calendar

Pete Yost writes for the Associated Press that Bush is in Missouri today: "Bush speaks at a rally in the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit, stops at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia and appears at a county fairgrounds in the college town of Columbia."

Reuters reports: "President Bush asked Congress on Monday to immediately approve $2 billion for hurricane-battered Florida and the White House announced he would visit the election battleground state on Wednesday."

Bushisms Watch

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post about the latest Bush malapropisms:

" 'We've got an issue in America,' the president said in discussing the need to limit malpractice awards. 'Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country.'

"For Bush, it was the second time in three days that he announced an unintended policy position. In Erie, Pa., on Saturday, he said: 'I went to the Congress last September and proposed fundamental -- supplemental funding, which is money for armor and body parts and ammunition and fuel.'

"Presumably he meant 'money for body armor and parts.' "


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