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Dems accuse Bush of lying on Guard service

Democrats reacted quickly to the latest revelations about President Bush’s Air National Guard service Wednesday, saying newly released records show Bush shirked his duty and lied about it.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democrats pounced on the latest revelations about President Bush’s Air National Guard service Wednesday, saying newly released records show Bush shirked his duty and lied about it.

Bush’s spokesmen said the records back up the president’s assertion that he fulfilled all of his Vietnam-era military obligations and served honorably.

Meanwhile, the Texas Air National Guard released 128 pages of records on Bush’s service from 1968 to 1973, all of which had been previously released by the White House. Two Texas officials said in sworn affidavits that the records were all the Texas Guard had on Bush’s service.

CBS reported Wednesday night that it had obtained personal files from one of Bush’s Texas commanders saying Bush discussed with him how to avoid drills during 1972. The report on “60 Minutes” said the files were from the personal records of Col. Jerry Killian, who died in 1984.

In the memos, Killian complained of pressure from higher-ups to give Bush positive evaluations and said Bush talked about how to avoid taking a physical exam in 1972, when Bush eventually skipped six months of training and lost his pilot’s wings for missing the exam.

After the broadcast, the White House, without comment, released to the news media two of the memos, one ordering Bush to report for his physical exam and the other suspending him from flight status.

With national security and the war on terrorism looming large on voters’ minds, supporters of Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry are attacking each candidate’s Vietnam War records. Republicans have accused Kerry, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, of fabricating the events which led to his five medals. Democrats point to gaps in Bush’s stateside Air National Guard service in 1972 and 1973 to say Bush shirked his duty.

The Defense Department on Tuesday released more than two dozen pages of records about Bush and his former Texas unit. They showed Bush flew for 336 hours in military jets after his flight training and ranked in the middle of his class.

The latest records do not shed any light on key questions about Bush’s service: whether or where he trained in late 1972 and early 1973, why he skipped a required medical exam and whether he was investigated or punished for skipping the exam and six months’ worth of training in 1972.

Pentagon officials said they discovered the documents released Tuesday while performing a more comprehensive search “out of an abundance of caution” in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by The Associated Press.

The newly released records also showed that while Bush says he was in Alabama training with another Guard unit in 1972, his home unit in Texas was participating in the air defense of the southern United States by keeping two jet fighters constantly ready for launch within five minutes’ notice.

Democrats said that meant Bush passed on a chance to defend his country. Bush flew the F-102A jets his unit kept on alert but was grounded in August 1972 because of the missed medical check.

“When his unit was placed on a 24-hour alert mission to protect our country from surprise attack, why did George Bush not report for duty?” Democratic National Committee head Terry McAuliffe said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

McAuliffe also suggested Bush lied when he said he had released all available records and had fulfilled his Guard obligations.

“Either George Bush was deliberately lying to the American public or he had some type of very severe memory loss,” McAuliffe said.

Bush spokesmen scoffed. They said the Pentagon had not done the extensive search Bush ordered and noted that Bush had approval to train in late 1972 with an Alabama unit.

“If the president had not fulfilled his commitment he would not have been honorably discharged,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday.

Adding to the criticism of Bush, a group called Texans for Truth announced an advertising campaign questioning whether Bush ever trained with the Alabama Air National Guard. The advertisement, set to run in several swing states, quotes a retired lieutenant colonel in the Alabama unit who says he searched for Bush but never met him in 1972 or 1973.

Bob Mintz is another of more than a dozen former members of the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group who say they never saw Bush train with the unit. Medical records released by the White House show Bush received a dental exam at the 187th base in January 1973.

“I never met the man and I’m sorry I didn’t because he’s somebody important,” Mintz, 63, said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday. Mintz acknowledged Bush could have performed office duties for the 187th without crossing paths with Mintz.

The 128 pages of documents the Texas Air National Guard released to the AP on Wednesday duplicate records Bush released in February. The release also included sworn statements from Texas National Guard officials Travis Evans and Michael Blalock saying the records are the only ones related to Bush in the Texas Guard’s files.