Video: Backing Bush on service

Image: Norah O'Donnell
By Norah O'Donnell Chief Washington Correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/13/2004 10:46:52 AM ET 2004-02-13T15:46:52

Questions of credibility are being raised about a man who says he overheard advisers close to President Bush plotting to scrub clean Bush's military records.

In the Boston Globe on Friday, a key witness to some of the events described by retired Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, says central elements of Burkett's story are false.

Burkett, a retired Texas National Guard officer, said Wednesday he overheard a conversation in 1997 between then-Gov. Bush’s chief of staff, Joe Allbaugh, and Lt. Gen., Daniel James, then adjutant general of the Texas Air National Guard, in which he contends those two men spoke about getting rid of any military records that would “embarrass the governor.”

Burkett said he saw documents from Bush’s file discarded in a trash can a few days later at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. Burkett described them as performance and pay documents. He said the documents bore the header: “Bush, George W. 1lt.” — meaning first lieutenant.

Burkett’s credibility questioned
George Conn, a former warrant officer with the Guard and a friend of Burkett's, is the person who Burkett claims led him into a room where the Bush records were being put in the trash. "I have no recall of that," Conn told the Boston Globe.

The report also quotes Conn as saying that although Burkett told him he worried that the Bush record would be sanitized, he never mentioned overhearing the conversation between Allbaugh and General Daniel James III.

Allbaugh's response
In an interview with NBC News, Allbaugh admits he did have "several conversations" with James about getting Bush's National Guard record. But Allbaugh says he never instructed anyone to remove "embarrassing files."

"For anyone to suggest that he or I or a member of his staff wanted to alter any of the records, absolutely false, pure hogwash, that's all it is, hogwash," he said.

Allbaugh says he has "never heard" of Burkett before.

Allbaugh described his conversations with James as an effort to review the files and then to make some of them public.

"We had several conversations about it, that obviously people were going to be asking about his honorable service, and we wanted to know how to make the information available, and we didn't know where the official records were kept" said Allbaugh.

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As for charges by Democrats that Bush shirked his duties, Allbaugh said, "That's unacceptable and inappropriate. AWOL means absent without leave. I remind you at the time of service in the National Guard, it was a very fluid situation, many people served at sporadic times but put their service in. They were allowed to, based upon their unit commanders, to make up their time."

Campaign issue
At issue are records over Bush's service in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. Bush enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard at Ellington Air Force Base on May 27, 1968.

He performed most of his service in Texas, but he transferred to an Alabama unit for a time because he was working as the political director for the Senate campaign of Winton Blount, a Bush family friend.

Democrats have charged there is no proof that Bush actually showed up for duty in Alabama. White House officials say Bush recalls serving both in Texas and Alabama and has provided new documents — a dental record and payroll information — from his file that they say corroborate Bush’s recollections.

The last day Bush was paid for Guard duty was July 30, 1973. Bush was placed on inactive Guard duty six months before his commitment ended because he was starting Harvard Business School, and he was honorably discharged.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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