updated 9/15/2004 12:12:14 PM ET 2004-09-15T16:12:14

Guests: Rep. Joe Wilson, Stacy Bannerman, Karma Kumlin, Jessica Hildebrandt, Kate Zernike

ANNOUNCER:  DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.

DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST:  Rallying the troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Our country is stronger, our freedom is more secure because each of you has volunteered to serve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Word of praise for America‘s soldiers by their commander-in-chief.  But are words enough to calm the growing dissent among National Guard families?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘re still no safer than we were at 9/11.

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NORVILLE:  As questions about the president‘s own National Guard service continue to dog his campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think the president has got to confront this.

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NORVILLE:  Did he enjoy VIP status as the son and grandson of prominent politicians?

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This president served honorably and was then honorably discharged.

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NORVILLE:  Tonight, the flap over President Bush‘s military record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is clear that George Bush has lied to the American public.

BUSH:  I put in my time, proudly so.

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NORVILLE:  And today‘s National Guard.  They used to be called weekend warriors, but manning the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan has become a full-time job for many reservists, while their families struggle to make ends meet at home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  America is grateful for the service and the sacrifice of our Guard families.

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ANNOUNCER:  From studio 3K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.

NORVILLE:  And good evening.  You know, it used to be that the National Guard was counted on to help during natural disasters, things like hurricanes, earthquakes, floods.  And when Guardsmen were called to war, it was usually in support roles, things like truck drivers or working as military police.  But we live in different times.  Many Guard units have been seeing battle in Iraq, the Guards first combat duty since World War II.  Forty percent of U.S. troops in Iraq come from the National Guard, and at least 175 Guard and Reserve troops have died there.  Thousands have had their tours of duty extended, some of them for upwards of a year-and-a-half.

And as the controversy surrounding President Bush‘s own National Guard service in the Vietnam war intensifies, he spoke to the National Guard Association conference today in Las Vegas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  You‘ve had many famous Americans in your ranks, including men named Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln and Truman.  Nineteen individuals have served both in the Guard and as president of the United States, and I‘m proud to be one of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Several hours before the president spoke with the National Guard Association, members of a group which calls itself Military Families Speak Out held a news conference in Las Vegas, where they accused the president of betraying National Guard soldiers for extending their tours of duty.

Joining me now are three wives of National Guardsmen who are currently in Iraq.  Karma Kumlin‘s husband, Brad, is an engineer with the Guard.  He‘s been in Iraq now for seven months.  Stacy Bannerman‘s husband, Lauren (ph), is a sergeant in the Washington state National Guard.  He was deployed to Iraq in March.  And both Karma and Stacy were at today‘s military families news conference.  They both say they‘ve got issues with President Bush‘s policies in Iraq, including the way he‘s using the National Guard.

Also joining us tonight is Jessica Hildebrandt.  Her husband, Scott, is a captain who has been in Iraq for a little bit less than a year.  She supports the president‘s Iraq policies, as does Republican representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina.  He has three sons in the military.  Two of them are serving in the National Guard, and one of them is currently in Iraq.  And I thank you all for being with us.

I want to start first with Karma, you and Stacy, because you have some beefs with the president and the way the Guard is being used.  Karma, I think I read the information about you correctly.  When your husband was first sent to Iraq, he had only one meal ration a day?

KARMA KUMLIN, WIFE OF GUARDSMAN IN IRAQ:  That‘s not quite correct.  There was a period when they moved to the base that they are on right now where they were given about two military rations, or MREs, a day.  And they have since improved that situation.

NORVILLE:  And you were also concerned that he, in your opinion, was not sent over with the kinds of equipment that he needed to have be safe and do his job effectively?  You guys actually had a fund-raiser to help raise money to buy this stuff?

KUMLIN:  There was a fund-raiser that happened for the unit that he was sent with, that helped raise money for purchasing of GPS equipment for them.  He, out of his own pocket, paid for two-way radios that they could use on patrols, so that they could communicate with one another.  And there was some concern for quite a while about whether or not he would be given body armor.  Most of the group that he was deployed with did not receive body armor until after they were in the combat zone.

NORVILLE:  And how long were they in the combat zone before that body armor finally reached them?

KUMLIN:  You know, I don‘t have that exact information.  Basically, I was told that they convoyed in through Iraq and got their equipment at the first base that they stayed at.

NORVILLE:  Stacy, what‘s your biggest beef with the way your husband and the rest of the Guard have been participating in the war in Iraq?

STACY BANNERMAN, WIFE OF GUARDSMAN IN IRAQ:  My concern is for my husband and the Guard, but all of our soldiers who are stationed over there.  And my biggest concern is that this has been a war not of necessity but, really, a war of choice.

NORVILLE:  So yours is more of a political difference that you have about the necessity for American troops to be there in the fist place.

BANNERMAN:  Well, I can assure you, as the wife of an American soldier, a gentleman in the National Guard who‘s already served 20 years for his country, this is not a political issue for me.  This is a personal issue for me.  And it is for all of the 1,700 Military Families Speak Out members.  It is for this country, and it is certainly a personal issue for all of our people overseas.

NORVILLE:  Congressman, I know you can see this issue from many different sides, both as a reservist yourself, having been in for, what is it, about—over 30 years...

REP. JOE WILSON (R-SC), HAS TWO SONS IN NATIONAL GUARD:  For 31 years.

NORVILLE:  ... and also as a father for some men who are participating and a representative of folks who are over there deployed right now.  Where do you come down on this, having heard these two women speak absolutely from the hearts about their fears?

WILSON:  And I appreciate their concerns.  And we have a president who understands this.  That‘s why he provided for the funding for body armor.  Senator Kerry voted against it.  This is why we have a president who‘s providing for health insurance, which is new for those who have Guard membership.  Additionally, he‘s providing for additional education benefits, additional pay benefits.  And so we‘ve got a president—as a former Guardsman who served honorably, we‘re very proud that George W. Bush appreciates the National Guard.

This is the best, shining example of the National Guard service.  And indeed, we served in the Persian Gulf war.  We served in the Korean war.  Many Guard members served in the Vietnam war.  And so this is a continuing tradition, as the president identified, which even pre-dates the American civilization.

NORVILLE:  You understand, though, don‘t you, Congressman, where so many families have felt like they‘ve really been left kind of high and dry.  These changes that have come about are changes that came because of, probably, the frustrations that were expressed by family members.  I mean, the imminent danger pay has been increased by $150 a month to over $200 a month.  Doesn‘t sound like much, but if you‘re in a Guard situation and the primary breadwinner is away, that money really matters.

WILSON:  It really does, and that‘s why we in Congress, Democrat and Republican, are working with President Bush to help Guard families.  And we provide for family support, for legal assistance, which was my job.  And I appreciate the service of all of our Guard members.  And obviously, I‘m very proud that I have a son serving in Iraq today.  I have another son who joined.  Julian (ph) joined the Guard in May.  And so I‘m just so grateful.  And just one son‘s a bit off track.  He‘s in the Navy, but I‘m very proud of him.

And I‘ve never been prouder of the National Guard.  I‘ve been to Iraq three times myself.  I visited with our troops in Kurdistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Turkey.  I‘ve seen it firsthand.  And I appreciate the concern of the spouses, and we are trying to reflect that, trying to correct any problem that could occur.

NORVILLE:  I don‘t think there‘s anyone in this country who isn‘t proud of the service being given by anybody who‘s wearing a uniform in any capacity that it is.

Jessica, when you look at financial impact that your husband‘s departure has meant, how has it changed your family‘s life, your ability to just, you know, pay the bills, keep the mortgage paid, et cetera?

JESSICA HILDEBRANDT, WIFE OF GUARDSMAN IN IRAQ:  Well, for us, we were in the advantage (ph).  Prior to my husband being deployed, he worked full-time with the military anyway.  We did not personally in our family suffer much of a change in our income.

As a family coordinator, I did have families that did, and it did certainly affect them.  We have worked with the military department.  There‘s been a great outpour of support in Oregon.  We have several funds set up.  I have helped several of my families to access those funds to help them pay with their bills.  People come in, if there‘s just household things, yes, they don‘t have $500 laying around to help with the plumbing that just went out.  But what we do have is access to people who are more than willing to come in and help with those things.

So yes, financially, there is hardship for a lot of the families.  There‘s also a great deal of pride, and they accept the sacrifice their soldiers have made going over there...

NORVILLE:  What I...

HILDEBRANDT:  ... and they accept the sacrifice they‘re making.

NORVILLE:  What I get, Jessica, is that in many instances—and I heard about one situation up in Connecticut, where a Guardsman who actually hasn‘t been deployed set up, basically, a toll-free number.  If your toilet‘s backed up, the gutter is not working, you can call this toll-free number, and locally, somebody will come an help.  It might be the guy that set this thing up.  It seems like that is how folks are getting by.  And some would say that‘s a wonderful example of the old barn-building spirit of America.  Others would say, Gosh, you shouldn‘t have to do it like that.

HILDEBRANDT:  And everybody has a right to that opinion.  The point is, you can look at it either way.  Maybe it shouldn‘t be happening, but you know what?  It is.  And what‘s important is that people are stepping up to the plate and helping us, as families, get through this.

NORVILLE:  And Karma, when you look at your situation, how long do you expect your husband to be over there, and when did he think he would be coming back?

KUMLIN:  Well, his orders have him there until, at the least, February of 2005, with a good possibility of going for 18 months, and then, of course, the right to extend any period beyond that.  We‘re hoping for February, and that‘s what he‘s praying for, but we really have no idea.

NORVILLE:  And when you speak to your husband, whether it‘s by letter or e-mail or those very expensive phone calls we know you sometimes are able to make, what does he say about that?  Does he feel that, Gosh, this isn‘t what I thought I signed up for, or is it a sense, This is what I‘m being asked to do, and I will do what I‘m asked to do?

KUMLIN:  Really, both.  It‘s not what he wanted to do, but he knew when he joined the military that it was a possibility.  However, he imagined the situation being quite a bit different and having a lot better idea of why he was there and what he was supposed to be doing there, as well as a lot more support.

NORVILLE:  All right.  We‘re going to take a short break.  When we come back, we‘ll talk more about what some people call the “backdoor draft,” the extension of terms of duty without necessarily knowing about it ahead of time.  More with my guests in just a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  We need the service of Guardsmen and women because of the times we live in.  These are dangerous times.  My most solemn duty as the president is to protect the American people.  If America shows uncertainty and weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy!  This is not going to happen on my watch!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY:  There‘s been criticism of the length of time.  And it‘s not knowable precisely.  This task we have is to do everything humanly possible to try to protect the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  That was secretary of state (SIC) Donald Rumsfeld last week, talking about the unknown.  The question being, When will Guardsmen and regular soldiers, servicemen, military, be allowed to come back from Iraq, and when will those tours of duty end?

Back now talking with some wives of National Guardsmen who are serving in Iraq, Karma Kumlin, Stacy Bannerman and Jessica Hildebrandt.  Also with us is Congressman Joe Wilson, who has three sons in the military, two of them in the Guard.  And one of his boys is also in Iraq.

Congressman, you‘ve heard the criticism that there is what some call a backdoor draft by this “stop loss” order that the defense secretary issued earlier this spring, which, in essence, allows the military to extend tours of duty, in some cases as much as 120 days.  There was a lawsuit filed last month in which one soldier‘s attorney suggested that this was a lack of due process and a violation of a signed contract.  What do you think?

WILSON:  Oh, well, I regret that because, again, we, as Guard families, are very proud of our service.  And the vast majority of Guard members, indeed, are proud of serving.  We know that we‘re protecting the American people.

NORVILLE:  It‘s not about being proud of serving, it‘s about honoring a contract.  And that‘s the question that‘s being raised in court.

WILSON:  And I, as a JAG officer, I believe that we signed the contract.  I‘m familiar with the contract that I had committed myself to.  But it‘s more than the contract, Deborah.  It‘s a commitment to serve the American people, to protect the American people, to stop the terrorists overseas, and that‘s what we‘re trying to do.  And so people can be technical, and that‘s right, they have a right to challenge.  But I know that there‘s a moral and a genuine commitment by Guard members to protect the American people.

NORVILLE:  And yet, Stacy, when you look at the statistics, we‘re seeing surveys that say as many as 15 to 20 percent of people currently in the Guard say when their chance to jump out comes, they‘re going to take advantage of it.

BANNERMAN:  That‘s correct.  I‘ve heard those same types of statistics.  What I would like to address is the fact that my husband‘s 20 years of service in the National Guard has come and gone.  And he is going to be held in Iraq until April or March of 2005, which will effectively be an additional eight or nine months past his service.

And in addressing the moral issue, I believe that this country‘s administration has got a responsibility to—a moral responsibility to the people of this country, most certainly to our servicemen and women, to make sure that when we are putting their lives on the line, that we are doing that with the absolute of integrity and with the utmost of intelligence that is trustworthy and authentic and can be relied on.  Again, this really has got to be a war not of choice, but of necessity.  That‘s our moral responsibility.

NORVILLE:  You question, Ms. Bannerman, the necessity of the military action in Iraq?

BANNERMAN:  Based upon the intelligence reports that have been released subsequent to going into Iraq about, first of all, whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction, it was determined that there was very poor intelligence.  And then when the objective shifted to being the capture of Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein has been captured.  Then the war was announced or declared over, and yet our servicemen and women are still dying.  They‘re still getting wounded.  In August of this year, over 1,100 American troops sustained wounds.  And we don‘t have an exit strategy yet.

NORVILLE:  Let me—let me jump...

BANNERMAN:  We‘ve got a moral authority to put an exit strategy in place for our people.

NORVILLE:  Let me jump on that basically about wounds and injuries.  I mean, when you look at the difference between the action that American troops who were sent to Afghanistan have experienced and what troops who‘ve been in Iraq have experienced, it‘s pretty significant.  Most soldiers in Iraq have -- 71 percent, almost 72 percent have been involved in an active firefight.  When you look at the statistics for those soldier who served in Afghanistan, it was only about 31 percent.  It‘s obviously a much more intense experience.

Ms. Hildebrandt, can you understand why people like Ms. Bannerman and like Ms. Kumlin are so fearful of the extended service of their husband?  I would think that you are, as well, based on the bullets.

HILDEBRANDT:  Oh, absolutely, I understand where they‘re coming from.  All of us would like to have our husbands home.  I don‘t think you‘re going to find a single person, no matter how supportive they are, that wouldn‘t love to have their soldier home.

But if my husband, he‘s one year boots on the ground.  I‘ve already been without him for a year.  I‘ve got another six months to go.  If they extend him for another six months or a year, that would hurt.  I would never question that.  I would never ask him to come home.  He went over there with a—serving with pride and honor and loyalty and faith, and I don‘t see any option for me than to stand here with that same pride and honor and loyalty and faith.  And I won‘t question it.  If they ask him to stay, they need him.  He‘s a good soldier.  He‘s good at what he does.  If they think it‘s in the best interest of the soldiers to have him there, then I‘m 100 percent behind him staying as long as they need him.  As much as he wants to come home, he‘ll stay as long as they ask him.

NORVILLE:  Jessica, is there a sense that if you were to say anything other than that—and I don‘t question your sentiment at all—but to speak as these other ladies have would somehow seem disloyal to your husband and what he‘s doing over there for his service?

HILDEBRANDT:  No, not—I don‘t believe so because my husband respects my opinion.  He respects my ability to make my own decisions and to take a stand.  This happens to be one that, to the bottom of my heart, I believe in and I stand behind.  I believe I‘m free to say whatever I wish.  I don‘t believe it would have an adverse affect on him, on his career, on anything.

NORVILLE:  I want to talk to you, Karma, about the income impact of your husband being assigned over to Iraq and being on active duty.  How has it affected your family?

KUMLIN:  Well, you know, we‘re newly married, so I wasn‘t quite relying on his income right now.  But now that he‘s gone, and I had just started going back to school full-time when he was deployed, I have had to move back in with my father, both for emotional support and for financial support.

NORVILLE:  Yes.  Congressman, I know that this is something the president has been keenly aware, and the Bush campaign sent out a lengthy and very informative newsletter today that talked about some of the things that have been done.  And one of the things that they mentioned here is an increase in the education benefit.  A lot of folks joined the Guard because of that education benefit.  Depending on length of service, it can increase as much as 40 percent to 80 percent.  What‘s the rationale behind that?

WILSON:  Well, it‘s to encourage the Guard members—as an incentive to—for recruiting and retention.  And Deborah, another thing that I mentioned, which is so wonderful, is the extension of health insurance to Guard families.  This really is addressing concerns with the additional play and the providing of the equipment for body armor to protect our troops.  And so the president understands the concerns of the wonderful ladies that I‘m on with today.  And so the president wants—is actually taking positive steps to promote the Guard and the Guard members, as they‘re protecting the American people in an unprecedented war on terror, which was an attack on us.

NORVILLE:  All right.  You know, you can‘t ignore the political impact of all of this.  And we know in 45 days, there are going to be folks going to the polls -- 49 days—correct myself.  David Segal, who‘s with the University of Maryland‘s Center for Research on Military Organizations, said, quote, “This is the first war I can remember in which the nucleus of the anti-war movement was not found on college campuses, but in reserve households.”

Ms. Bannerman, you want to comment on that?BANNERMAN:  Specifically, what?

NORVILLE:  Specifically, that around the country, there are persons, such as yourself, who are members of a Guard household, who have now become politically involved because of their family member‘s participation in this Iraq war.

BANNERMAN:  Well, I think that is the message.  I think that sends a very clear and very strong message.  And obviously, the message is that there are sufficient problems with this war, from multiple levels, whether it be the rationale for getting into it, the lack of an exit plan, some of the concerns about supplies, the—what‘s happening in terms of veterans‘ benefits being cut or reduced.  There are any number of different issues.  It‘s, like, pick one, and there are this many people in the National Guard. 

You know, we support our troops.  Our loved ones are the troops.

NORVILLE:  Right.

BANNERMAN:  And so we know, in a way, probably, that a lot of other people don‘t, just how problematic this is.  And I think that...

NORVILLE:  I‘m going to have to let that be the last word.  But we should just note that there are 161,000 active members of the National Guard, all of whom are serving well, 50,000 of whom are serving in Iraq.  Karma Kumlin, Stacy Bannerman, Jessica Hildebrandt and Congressman Joe Wilson, thank you all very, very much.

ANNOUNCER:  Coming up: the battle over President Bush‘s military record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He gamed the system, and he was able to get away with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He met his obligations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Why, with the election only weeks away, Vietnam is still in the headlines.

DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT is coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

NORVILLE:  Senator John Kerry‘s military record in Vietnam has been put under the microscope, and now President Bush‘s National Guard service during the war is generating even more scrutiny.  Did President Bush, a son and a grandson of powerful politicians, get favorable treatment?  Did he fail to meet his military performance standards?  And what about those new documents, the centerpiece of a controversial television report?  Are they legitimate or are they forgeries?

Joining me now to talk about all of this is “New York Times” national correspondent Kate Zernike and “Newsweek” magazine‘s investigative correspondent, Mark Hosenball.  Thanks, both of you, for being with us.

Mark, I want to start with you first.  There‘s no question the president‘s proud of his service.  He made that abundantly clear out in Las Vegas this afternoon.  But what are the specific questions that still remain unanswered after this document purge of the last year or so?

MARK HOSENBALL, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, the two specific issues, I guess, that people are most interested in are, No. 1, did he, admittedly, like a whole bunch of other people, maybe thousands of other well-connected young men from upper-class families, get into the Guard through the use of political pull?

There‘s no absolute 100 percent documentation of that, but CBS did produce this witness, former Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, who said that he arranged this.  Maybe he‘s credible.  Maybe he isn‘t.  There is some foundation for that, though. 

The second issue is, did he at some point later in his service, after he had been trained as a pilot, after they plowed a lot of money into his training as a pilot then just kind of go off and disappear, not fulfill his full obligations when he moved to Alabama, apparently to work on somebody‘s presidential campaign, and then apparently not join a Guard unit like he apparently was supposed to do when he moved to Harvard Business School?  And these questions are not really resolved, at least some of them. 

NORVILLE:  Well, now, Dan Bartlett, his communications director, said earlier that he had joined a unit up in Boston, but then later when documents were produced through some Freedom of Information requests, it appears that at least at that unit, no Lieutenant George W. Bush ever materialized. 

HOSENBALL:  Well, that‘s why I said that question is unresolved. 

They told one story and then apparently that story was no longer operative.  And there hasn‘t been a replacement story for that.  So that question is still out there.

NORVILLE:  On the other hand, Kate, how reasonable is it to expect that 30 years after one‘s service, a complete documentation would still exist about George Bush or anybody else for that matter? 

KATE ZERNIKE, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  Well, I don‘t know that it‘s unreasonable to expect that documents would exist. 

I think what‘s unreasonable is to expect that people who were his commanders or even people who served with him would have a perfect recollection of what happened, whether this typewriter had a TH key on it, whether or not there was even a typewriter in the office at all.  I think those are the questions that are causing so much problem right now. 

I think it actually is reasonable to expect that documents exist.  We saw during the swift boat controversy, there were plenty of documents about Senator Kerry‘s record.  I don‘t think there were major gaps in that. 

NORVILLE:  How much of the question—because there‘s now this honesty question that is being ginned by the DNC about George Bush.  How much of these questions are because last February the White House said we have released all the documents, this is the complete record?  And I think that‘s a verbatim quote.  And then there were more records that came out in July and then even more trickled out after that.  How much of the water torture of documents is causing these problems, frankly, for the president, Kate?

ZERNIKE:  Well, I think that is part of the problem. 

It just sort of looks—as we were talking about earlier, they had one excuse in the beginning, which was that these planes that he was flying in Texas were phased out.  Well, then it turned out that the planes were not in fact phased out.  Then it turns out that he wanted to go to Alabama because they were flying these planes.  And that wasn‘t the right reason.  Then, as we mentioned before, he was supposed to register in Boston but there‘s no registration there. 

So, again, we don‘t know where these documents are.  There are gaps and that is getting obscured in all this. 

NORVILLE:  Which is once again the reason the Democratic National Committee today came out with an ad that hit squarely at Vietnam, but not with a sledgehammer, more with a defter touch.  This one is called fortunate son. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR:  A generation forced to make difficult choices.  Some chose war.  Others chose different paths.  It‘s hard 30 years later to pass judgment on those choices.  But we do expect our leaders to be honest with us about them. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear. 

NARRATOR:  Has George Bush? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Mark, when we see these ads going out there, clearly, the opposition is raising an honesty question about George Bush.  What do the polls reflect when it comes to voters‘ opinions about the president and his honesty, at least on this issue? 

HOSENBALL:  I haven‘t seen the latest polls.  Clearly, Bush‘s approval rating, particularly for the way he‘s conducted the war in Iraq, have suffered. 

On the other hand, Kerry‘s approval ratings and his poll ratings have suffered a lot because of these issued raised by, I guess, not the Bush campaign, but the swift boat veterans 527 group, which is at least loosely connected with or sympathetic to the Bush campaign.  And this campaign of ads by the Democrats to raise questions about Bush‘s service is obviously tit-for-tat retaliation. 

NORVILLE:  Well, actually, I was kind of giving you a chance to plug “Newsweek”‘s new poll.  I got the numbers right here.  I‘ll share them with you.

HOSENBALL:  OK.

NORVILLE:  In the new poll, when it talks about how voters feel as a candidate being honest and ethical, the margin is now 55 percent to 40 percent in favor of President Bush, which is a lot less than the 62 percent-33 percent margin of just a week ago.  So it would seem that these questions from this news report, which is the latest barrage, have taken at least a little bit of hold for the moment anyway with the voters. 

HOSENBALL:  Yes, but on balance, that‘s still a pretty favorable rating considering all the stuff that‘s going on.  So if I was Bush, I would be kind of happy with that. 

NORVILLE:  Well, we‘re going to take a short break. 

When we come back, we‘re going to talk specifically about the latest documents and the controversy over whether they‘re legitimate or forgeries.  More with our guests on President Bush‘s military record in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  It used to be helping with earthquakes, floods and hurricanes.  Now National Guardsman are seeing battle in Iraq.  Is this the future of the American military?

More in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  We‘ve been talking about George Bush‘s service in the National Guard. 

Back with “New York Times” national correspondent Kate Zernike and “Newsweek” magazine‘s investigative correspondent Mark Hosenball.

Folks, both of you know the big brouhaha over the past week was this on CBS‘ “60 Minutes” reported by Dan Rather which included some documents that purported to be memos to a file, contemporaneous notes taken back in 1972 that essentially said that George Bush had been suspended from flight status for not undergoing the physical and that this man, Lieutenant Jerry Killian, was under pressure from his superior to sugarcoat his negative evaluations of Bush. 

Now there‘s a huge question about whether these documents were authentic. 

Mark, what can you tell us about this?

HOSENBALL:  Well, there are certain typographical features of these documents that appear, I guess, it‘s polite to say, highly suspicious. 

There‘s questions as to whether these documents could really have been produced by the typewriter technology available at the time that they were allegedly written.  CBS has produced witnesses and experts who say that at least theoretically it‘s possible that they could have been produced at the time, but it does seem that the weight of expert opinion seems to be it‘s possible, but largely unlikely that the National Guard unit in Texas that this guy worked at had what amounted to a very advanced typewriter, electric typewriter with proportional spacing at the time. 

And it seems more likely that these documents were produced by a very common Microsoft Word processing program which is in use today and people have retyped these letters or the text of these letters on the existing Microsoft program and almost matched these documents exactly. 

On the other hand, CBS has admitted that they don‘t have the originals of these documents.  They only have copies.  The copies that we are seeing are probably fifth or 10th generation Xerox copies.  And it‘s very hard to make any really legally valid examination of any these documents without the originals. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  We can barely see them on the TV screen.  And when CBS was asked about the chain of custody, if you will, about these documents, all they will say is that we are confident of the chain of custody, but they won‘t go into any detail about this. 

Kate, what‘s astonishing to me as a journalist is to hear that this report was done and the main expert who—quote—“authenticated” that this would have been correct, because the gentleman who supposedly wrote these memos died in 1984, is a man who never physically saw the documents.  They were read to him over the telephone and over the telephone he said, that sounds about right.  Bobby Hodges didn‘t see these—he was a National Guard commander—until Friday. 

ZERNIKE:  Right. 

NORVILLE:  How is that possible? 

(CROSSTALK)

ZERNIKE:  Well, I think what CBS is saying is that Hodges has changed his story.  And it does seem to be the case that he has. 

What he has said to us and to other people is that when CBS called him and said they had these documents, he said, I am aware of them.  He then said, no, no, CBS just called me and told me they had them and they told me they were handwritten, so I believed that they must be accurate. 

So we‘re not quite clear what he is saying.  Now of course he‘s saying he‘s also influenced by Mr. Killian‘s widow and his son, who have said that their father and their husband did not keep any documents at home.  They believe that if these were indeed personal documents, he would have had them at home. 

NORVILLE:  And that he was also a lousy typist and tended to just not do that sort of thing. 

ZERNIKE:  Right. 

NORVILLE:  It would have been according to his family completely out of character. 

Now, CBS stands by its story, but I gather, Kate, there‘s been a great deal of consternation over at CBS, which we should note is a competing network to NBC and MSNBC. 

ZERNIKE:  I think there is.

Look, newspapers, we‘re full of cranks, right?  We always have questions.  But I think there should be questions, not because these documents are false or true.  I just think anyone who sees these questions have been raised should go back and re-report these things. 

Look, we have to be very careful about any document that comes forward.  People have been looking at President Bush‘s record for four or five years now, since the last campaign.  We should be really careful about any new documents that come forward purporting to be a smoking gun or a new document. 

NORVILLE:  Mark, at this stage of the game, shouldn‘t journalists be conducting themselves in the same way a court of law would?  You absolutely have to be 110 percent sure this is the truth and accurate before you go out with it? 

HOSENBALL:  I kind of think you‘re right about that, particularly the issue—I mean, with documents.  I work a great deal with documents, and the one thing that always concerns me of documents is, what is the providence of the document?  You know, can these documents be proven to be real? 

Is there somebody who can actually sort of say, I got the documents from so-and-so, whatever.  CBS has made assertions about the chain of custody, but they haven‘t produced it and they also have admitted directly to me and I‘m sure they probably admitted to other people that they don‘t have the originals.  I think that that‘s a problem. 

NORVILLE:  Yes.  Well, I just remember the first journalism convention I went to, there was a bumper sticker for sale that said, if your mother says she loves you, check it out.  Maybe that is something to remember.

Kate Zernike from “The New York Times,” Mark Hosenball from “Newsweek” magazine, thanks so much. 

We‘ll be right back.

ANNOUNCER:  Up next, they signed up as weekend warriors, but the National Guard has turned into a full-time job for many reservists.  And now some of their families are fighting mad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Over 1,000 soldiers have now died in Iraq and we‘re still no safer than we were on 9/11. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  This isn‘t your father‘s National Guard.

DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT is coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  When tragedy strikes, Americans can always count on the Guard. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  That was President Bush speaking today to the National Guard Association‘s conference in Las Vegas.  The National Guard was founded back in the 1600s in this country, protecting the early colonists and helping America to win its war of independence from the British. 

The Guard‘s role obviously has changed and evolved over the years.  And now in Iraq, National Guardsmen are seeing their first combat since World War II.  But is the Guard a backdoor draft, as Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has contended?

Joining me now is Medal of Honor recipient retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs. 

Mr. Jacobs, you know from hearing our discussion earlier with some of these Guard wives, the frustration that many families feel about this extended tour of duty.  It‘s taking its toll not only on the families, but the Guard‘s ability to bring new people in. 

RET. COL. JACK JACOBS, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, yes.  I think over the long—the troops of the Guard and the Reserve have great morale.  And they all want to fight and they all want to do their bit. 

But I think going down the road, it‘s going to be much more difficult to recruit Guard and Reserve troops.  The expectation is going to be that they‘re going to have to serve for extended periods of time away from home.  They‘re going to have to go on deployments for as long as a year or two.  They‘re going to have to leave their jobs and so on.  It‘s going to be tough. 

NORVILLE:  The Guard has already said there‘s no way they‘re going to make their goal for recruitment this year.  They‘re 13 percent behind right now and they‘re just not going to be able to make it up.

What are the long-term ramifications for America‘s military readiness if the Guard isn‘t able to keep its complement up to what it needs?

JACOBS:  A lot of it has to do with why the Guard and Reserve are in such numbers in Iraq right now. 

A lot of the military occupational specialties that are very important, military police, military intelligence, civil affairs and so on, are in the Guard and Reserve.  And we put them there in order to keep the highest ratio of combat arms troops on active duty as we possibly could, so that we could call on Guard and Reserve when we needed to.  Well, we need to now.  And we need them in large numbers.

And the only place they can come from is the Guard and Reserve.  Military police, military intelligence, troops round out the military police and military intelligence troops units on active duty.  And we need them all.  So it‘s going to have a deleterious effect on recruitment. 

NORVILLE:  And yet there‘s some concern about the training.  We‘ve heard and seen with Abu Ghraib instances in which people have contended they were put in positions without adequate training, without adequate supervision.  In many cases, these are Reservists. 

JACOBS:  Well, that can happen with active duty troops as well. 

NORVILLE:  Absolutely.   

(CROSSTALK)

JACOBS:  And I think a lot of what happened at the prison was a direct result of the kind of chain and command structure they had and probably less to do with exactly who the troops were.  They had a situation in which military intelligence troops were in command of military police troops, that is, noncombat arms officers in charge of combat arms officers, the military police people. 

NORVILLE:  So it was apples and oranges? 

JACOBS:  Yes.  And it should be the other way around, if it should be anything. 

NORVILLE:  And when you look at this notion of extended tours of duty, the secretary of defense calls it the stop-loss, stop-drop order that he gave last spring—a lot of folks, I‘m sort of thinking, didn‘t read the fine print on the contract when you signed up that you could be sent to active duty, that you could be hung on to for a lot longer than you thought. 

JACOBS:  A lot of it has to do with expectations. 

At the end of the day, if you expect to serve one weekend a month and two weeks or three weeks or something in the summer and perhaps have an occasional deployment for a week or two or a month or something like that, and instead what you get is 18 months on active duty, and 12 of that is going to be in Iraq. 

NORVILLE:  With actual bullets and real bombs exploding all around you. 

JACOBS:  Yes, I think that‘s less—actually, it‘s less of a problem than—in terms of expectations than the extended tour.  I think people‘s expectations have not been properly managed.  We can put those people on extended active duty, but we ought to tell them in advance that that‘s going to be the case. 

NORVILLE:  Well, and the president talked about that today when he addressed the Guard conference.  And it was something that, clearly, the message hit home to him.  Here‘s President Bush earlier today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  We‘re working to provide you at least 30 days notification before you‘re mobilized, so you have time to make arrangements.  We‘re working to give you as much certainty as possible about the length of your mobilization—you deserve to know when you can expect to resume civilian life. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  And the president has sweetened the pot for Guard families by including them in the same health benefit system that regular service people are able to be a part of and increasing the educational benefit, as we talked earlier today.  Has he gotten that a lot of people in the Guard feel put upon? 

JACOBS:  Well, I‘m sure he has.  And it‘s been told to him on and on and on.  And you don‘t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that when you tell people X and you give them 10 times X, that they‘re not particularly pleased. 

This has a deleterious effect also on the people—on the employers.  Don‘t forget, the employers have to give these people up, the cost of money.  They have keep the jobs open.  When some of the Guardsmen and Reservists come back to their job, the jobs may not be there.  They don‘t get paid the same kind of pay as they did when they were outside.

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  And they‘re also a different person.  They have just been on an extended tour of duty.  And when they come back, they‘re the product of that experience, and not all of them come back as ready to jump back into the fray as they were when they left. 

JACOBS:  Well, perhaps so.

I mean, look, going to war is a defining experience for anybody, whether you‘re well adjusted or not, you have a lot of money or not.  So being at war is going to change everybody‘s psyche. 

NORVILLE:  Right. 

JACOBS:  But if you tell somebody you‘re going to be on active duty for 10 minutes and he has to wind up going on active duty for an extended period of time, and he‘s not prepared for it, then it‘s going to have a bad effect on recruitment.  And that‘s going to affect our readiness. 

NORVILLE:  The question Guard families and active service families and Americans all over are asking is, what is the exit strategy?  When and how will America leave Iraq?  What is your best guess?

JACOBS:  Well, I think no matter who gets elected, a year from now, whoever is elected is going to be talking about how we‘re winding down, the Iraqis are—they are taking over more and more of the burden.  It‘s difficult for them.  And there are a lot of explosions taking place, but we‘re on the way out of there.

I think we‘re going to spend as long as we possibly can, so that we can get the Iraqi armed forces up to speed.  And that‘s going to be the independent variable that will cause success or not cause success.  But I think our interests in staying there over a long period of time is waning.

NORVILLE:  All right.  All right.  Colonel Jacobs, thank you very much for being with us.  It‘s a pleasure to see you, sir.

JACOBS:  You‘re very welcome.

NORVILLE:  Thank you. 

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  We got lots of e-mails after last night‘s program about the expiration of the assault weapons ban. 

Steve Nosek from Valparaiso, Indiana, writes: “Some politicians have asked why the average firearm owner would want to buy an assault weapon.  It has nothing to do with want.  It has to do with the right to.”

Eric from Colorado said this.  He said: “As a street officer, I have never worked with an officer who supported the ‘assault weapons ban.‘  I put that in quotes since the ban had no real effect on guns whatsoever and assault weapons was a monicker put on these weapons by politicians.”

Meantime, Eleanor Brooks complains that we all missed the wagon.  She says: “Why even debate the weapons ban now that the law has expired without congressional action?  Why weren‘t you covering this issue instead of the he/said of the Bush-Kerry military service?  Their truths or nontruths won‘t kill me or my family.  Automatic rifles will.”

Finally, Jerry Pippin writes: “To the staff of DEBORAH NORVILLE, you

are doing a very good job of being objective.  Keep up the good work.‘

Thank you.  It‘s always good to hear from you.  You can e-mail us at DEBORAHNORVILLE—or just NORVILLE@MSNBC.com.  We love to hear from you.  And some of your e-mails are posted on our Web page.  The address is NORVILLE.MSNBC.com, which is the same place you can sign up for our newsletter. 

And that is our program tonight.  Thanks a lot for watching.  I‘m Deborah Norville.

Tomorrow night and every Wednesday night until the presidential election, a special edition of “HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS” on the battle for the White House will appear in this time slot.  We will be back on Thursday on an incredible story of human courage and determination.  Aron Ralston, the mountain climber who amputated his own arm to free himself after he was trapped behind a boulder, his survival story when you join us on Thursday. 

And coming up next, Joe Scarborough with the controversy surrounding that “60 Minutes” expose on the president‘s military record.  “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” is next.

END   

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