President Bush failed to carry out a direct order from his superior in the Texas Air National Guard in May 1972 to undertake a medical examination that was necessary for him to remain a qualified pilot, according to documents made public yesterday.
Documents obtained by the CBS News program "60 Minutes" shed new light on one of the most controversial episodes in Bush's military service, when he abruptly stopped flying and moved from Texas to Alabama to work on a political campaign. The documents include a memo from Bush's squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, ordering Bush "to be suspended from flight status for failure to perform" to U.S. Air Force and National Guard standards and failure to take his annual physical "as ordered."
The new documents surfaced as the Bush administration released for the first time the president's personal flight logs, which have been the focus of repeated archival searches and Freedom of Information Act requests dating to the 2000 presidential campaign. The logs show that Bush stopped flying in April 1972 after accumulating more than 570 hours of flight time between 1969 and 1972, much of it on an F-102 interceptor jet.
White House officials have said there was no reason for Bush to take the annual physical required of fighter pilots because there were no suitable planes for him to fly in Alabama, where he applied for "substitute training" to replace his required service with the Texas National Guard. But the new documents suggest that Bush's transfer to non-flight duties in Alabama was the subject of arguments among his National Guard superiors.
Release of the documents came as Democrats and some veterans stepped up their criticism of Bush for allegedly failing to meet his sworn obligations to the Texas Air National Guard. A new advocacy group called Texans for Truth, which has links to anti-Bush groups such as MoveOn.org, yesterday unveiled a TV ad to be screened in swing states asserting that Bush failed to show up for Guard duty in Alabama.
White House officials dismissed the latest criticism of Bush's service as partisan attacks in the midst of a heated campaign. In an interview with "60 Minutes," White House communications director Dan Bartlett said "partisan Democrats" were "recycling the very same charges we hear every time President Bush runs for reelection" and added: "It is dirty politics." But he did not contest the authenticity of the documents, which could not be verified independently by The Washington Post.
A spokeswoman for "60 Minutes," Kelli Edwards, declined to say exactly how the new documents were obtained other than that CBS News understood they had been taken from Killian's "personal office file." In addition to the order to Bush to report for a physical, the documents include various memos from Killian describing his conversations with Bush and other National Guard officers about Bush's attempts to secure a transfer to Alabama. Killian died in 1984.
"Phone call from Bush," Killian recorded in a "memo to file" dated May 19, 1972. "Discussed options of how Bush can get out of coming to drill from now through November."
According to "60 Minutes," Killian's personal files show that he ordered Bush "suspended from flight status" on Aug. 1, 1972. National Guard documents already released by the White House and the Pentagon show that Bush was suspended from flight status on that day for "failure to accomplish annual medical examination" but do not mention his alleged failure to comply with National Guard and Air Force standards.
In another "memo to file," dated Aug. 18, 1973, Killian complained that he was under pressure from his superior, Col. Walter B. "Buck" Staudt, to "sugar coat" Bush's officer evaluations. "I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job," he wrote in a memo titled "CYA." "I will not rate."
Staudt has insisted that he was not influenced by Bush's status as the son of George H.W. Bush (R), a Texas congressman in 1968 and later head of the CIA. He has also rejected the assertion by former Texas lieutenant governor Ben Barnes (D) that Barnes intervened with the head of the Texas Air National Guard to secure a position for Bush there at the request of a Bush family friend. Barnes, who has raised money for Democrat John F. Kerry's presidential campaign, repeated the assertion last night on "60 Minutes."
In releasing Bush's flight records, White House spokesmen yesterday expressed frustration over what they depicted as the Pentagon's failure to produce a full and complete record of the president's military service.
"It's clear that DOD [the Department of Defense] did not undertake as comprehensive a search as had been directed by the president," said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan, just days after assuring The Post that Bush's full personnel file had already been released. "We have again asked that they ensure that any and all documents [relating to Bush's military service] are identified and released."
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, said Bush's flight logs were found at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which is the central repository for veterans' records. She said the logs were found among a batch of records sent to St. Louis from Norton Air Force Base in 1993, which were originally thought to contain records of active-duty officers rather than of National Guardsmen such as Bush.
The Bush administration has issued government-wide instructions centralizing the release of information relating to the president's service with the Texas Air National Guard between 1968 and 1973. Officers responsible for implementing the Freedom of Information Act for the National Guard and the Pentagon declined to respond to queries from The Post last week on the completeness of the president's records, referring a reporter instead to Krenke and the White House press office.
The new commercial by Texans for Truth, to be aired on $110,000 worth of television time in battleground-state cities such as Harrisburg, Pa., and Columbus, Ohio, shows Bob Mintz, who served as a lieutenant in the Alabama Air National Guard at the same time Bush was supposed to be serving, speaking to the camera:
"I heard George W. Bush get up there and say, 'I served in the 187th Air National Guard in Montgomery, Alabama.' I said, 'Really? That was my unit. And I don't remember seeing you there.' "
Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, charged that Texans for Truth "is a front group for MoveOn.org that has spent tens of millions of dollars attacking the president. . . . This is a smear group launching baseless attacks on behalf of John Kerry's campaign that will be rejected by the American people."
Glenn Smith, the head of Texans for Truth, is a former political reporter for the Houston Chronicle and Houston Post and has been a Democratic consultant, working on campaigns in Texas and other states. He ran Tony Sanchez's unsuccessful bid for Texas governor in 2002.
Smith said he was angry over ads created by another advocacy group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, attacking Kerry's service in the Vietnam War.
In a conference call with reporters, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe said "relentless negative attacks" on Kerry "made the president's service, or lack thereof, completely fair game."
Republican National Committee communications director Jim Dyke countered that "McAuliffe has a long history of false and reckless statements."
Staff writers James Grimaldi and Howard Kurtz and researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.