Documents allegedly written by a deceased officer that raised questions about President Bush's service with the Texas Air National Guard bore markings showing they had been faxed to CBS News from a Kinko's copy shop in Abilene, Tex., according to another former Guard officer who was shown the records by the network.
The markings provide one piece of evidence suggesting a source for the documents, whose authenticity has been hotly disputed since CBS aired them in a "60 Minutes" broadcast Sept. 8. The network has declined to name the person who provided them, saying the source was confidential, or to explain how the documents came to light after more than three decades.
Compare: Memo obtained from Pentagon differs from disputed memo obtained by CBS.
Transcript: Washington Post staff writer Michael Dobbs, who has been following the story about Bush's Vietnam-era service, was online Monday.
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Expert Cited by CBS Says He Didn't Authenticate Papers (The Washington Post, Sep 14, 2004)
Gaps in Service Continue to Dog Bush (The Washington Post, Sep 12, 2004)
Some Question Authenticity of Papers on Bush (The Washington Post, Sep 10, 2004)
Records Say Bush Balked at Order (The Washington Post, Sep 9, 2004)
Democrat Says He Helped Bush Into Guard to Score Points (The Washington Post, Sep 4, 2004)
There is only one Kinko's in Abilene, and it is 21 miles from the Baird, Tex., home of retired Texas National Guard officer Bill Burkett, who has been named by several news outlets as a possible source for the documents.
Robert Strong, who was one of three people interviewed by "60 Minutes," said he was shown copies of the documents by CBS anchor Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes on Sept. 5, three days before the broadcast. He said at least one of the documents bore the faxed header "Kinko's Abilene."
Strong's comments came as CBS News President Andrew Heyward in an interview acknowledged that there were "unresolved issues" that the network wanted "to get to the bottom of." Since the broadcast, critics have pointed to a host of unexplained problems about the memos, which bore dates from 1972 and 1973, including signs that they had been written on a computer rather than a Vietnam War-era typewriter.
"I feel that we did a tremendous amount of reporting before the story went on the air or we wouldn't have put it on the air," Heyward said in an interview last night, while acknowledging "a ferocious debate about these documents."
Asked what role Burkett may have played in CBS's reporting, Heyward said: "I'm not going to get into any discussion of who the sources are."
Burkett, who has accused Bush aides of ordering the destruction of some portions of the president's National Guard record because they might have been politically embarrassing, did not return telephone calls to his home. His lawyer, David Van Os, issued a statement on Burkett's behalf saying he "no longer trusts any possible outcome of speaking to the press on any issue regarding George W. Bush and does not choose to dignify recent spurious attacks upon his character with any comment."
In news interviews earlier this year, Burkett said he overheard a telephone conversation in the spring of 1997 in which top Bush aides asked the head of the Texas National Guard to sanitize Bush's files as he was running for a second term as governor of Texas. Several days later, he said, he saw dozens of pages from Bush's military file dumped in a trash can at Camp Mabry, the Guard's headquarters.
The Bush aides Burkett named as participants in the telephone conversation were Chief of Staff Joe M. Allbaugh and spokespeople Karen Hughes and Dan Bartlett. All three Bush aides and former Texas National Guard Maj. Gen. Daniel James have strongly denied the allegations.
Suspicions that Burkett could have been a source for the CBS documents first surfaced earlier this week when Newsweek magazine reported that Mapes flew to Texas to interview him over the summer. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that a CBS staff member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Burkett was a source for the "60 Minutes" report but "did not know the exact role he played."
Yesterday, reporters from several news organizations were camped near Baird, Tex., outside Burkett's home, which is on a working ranch, with a gate barring access to a one-story farmhouse and a pickup truck outside. At 6 p.m. Central Time, Burkett walked to the gate on his cane with a black dog by his side to collect his mail. He refused to answer questions about whether he provided the documents to CBS.
"Get out of my way," he told the reporters. "You need to go home."
Earlier this year, Burkett gave interviews to numerous news outlets, including The Washington Post, alleging corruption and malfeasance at the top of the Texas National Guard, much of which have never been substantiated. He has also been a named source for several reports by USA Today, which reported Monday that it had independently obtained copies of the disputed memos soon after the broadcast.