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Ex-officer: Bush file's details caused concern
by Dave Moniz and Jim Drinkard
USA Today
February 12
, 2004

USA TODAY WASHINGTON --As Texas Gov. George W. Bush prepared to run for president in the late 1990s, top-ranking Texas National Guard officers and Bush advisers discussed ways to limit the release of potentially embarrassing details from Bush's military records, a former senior officer of the Texas Guard said Wednesday. Bush sits at the controls of a F-102 'Delta Dagger' interceptor at Ellington Field, near Houston, in 1968.

A second former Texas Guard official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, was told by a participant that commanders and Bush advisers were particularly worried about mentions in the records of arrests of Bush before he joined the National Guard in 1968, the second official said.

Bill Burkett, then a top adviser to the state Guard commander, said he overheard conversations in which superiors discussed "cleansing" the file of damaging information.

The White House dismissed Burkett's charge Wednesday. It is an "outrageously false statement," said White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who handled the records in the late 1990s as an aide to Gov. Bush. Administration officials dismiss Burkett as a disgruntled former Guardsman who had a falling-out with his superiors.

Two forms in Bush's publicly released military files --his enlistment application and a background check -- contain blacked-out entries in response to questions about arrests or convictions. Bush acknowledged in biographies published in 1999 that he was arrested twice before he enlisted in the Air National Guard: once for stealing a wreath and another time for rowdiness at a Yale-Princeton football game.

The nature of what was blacked out in Bush's records is important because certain legal problems, such as drug or alcohol violations, could have been a basis for denying an applicant entry into the Guard or pilot training. Admission to the Guard and to pilot school was highly competitive at that time, the height of the Vietnam War.

The National Guard cited privacy as the reason for blacking out answers. The full, unmarked records have never been released. Bartlett did not respond Wednesday to a request to release the records with nothing blacked out, which Bush could do as the subject of the records.

Burkett says that the state Guard commander, Maj. Gen. Daniel James III, discussed "cleansing" Bush's military files of embarrassing or incriminating documents in the summer of 1997. At the time, Burkett was a lieutenant colonel and a chief adviser to James. He says he was just outside James' open office door when his boss discussed the records on a speakerphone with Joe Allbaugh, who was then Gov. Bush's chief of staff.

In Burkett's account, Allbaugh told James that Bush's press secretary, Karen Hughes, was preparing a biography and needed information on Bush's military service.

In an interview, Burkett said he recalled Allbaugh's words: "We certainly don't want anything that is embarrassing in there." Burkett said he immediately told two other officers about the conversation and noted it in a daily journal he kept. The two officers, George Conn and Dennis Adams, confirmed to USA TODAY in 2002 that Burkett told them of the conversation within days.

Soon afterward, there was a series of meetings of top commanders at Texas Guard headquarters at Camp Mabry. Bush's records were carried between the base archives and the headquarters building, according to Burkett and the second Guard official, who was there.

The meetings were confirmed in a 2002 interview by USA TODAY with William Leon, who was the state Guard's freedom-of-information officer in the 1990s. He was involved in discussions about what to release. Leon declined to comment on the substance of the meetings except to say, "We were making sure we released it properly and made sure we did it in a timely manner."

Contacted at home Wednesday night, he refused to talk to a reporter. He said: "Don't ever call me again at home. I'll call your publisher and sue you."

Burkett first made his allegation just before the 2000 election, when it was carried on some Internet sites but went largely unreported by mainstream news media. The issue resurfaced Wednesday in the Dallas Morning News as Bush's military record took center stage in the presidential campaign.

Allbaugh, James and the White House denied Burkett's story. As president, Bush has since elevated James to be director of the Air National Guard for the entire country.

In an interview that aired Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, Bush said he fulfilled his Guard commitment and offered to make his records public. Host Tim Russert asked, "Would you authorize the release of everything to settle this?" Bush replied, "Yes, absolutely."

Since then, White House officials have released only documents concerning whether Bush fulfilled his service obligations. White House statements have not addressed the release of any papers that could show disciplinary actions, medical exams, legal scrapes and the like.

On Tuesday, the White House released pay records from a military archive in Denver that it said showed Bush was paid for at least the minimum training time he was obligated for in 1972 and 1973.

But the records showed only what days he was paid for, not where he was or what duty he performed. Neither did they address outstanding questions about why Bush missed a required physical in 1972, forcing him to stop flying, or what happened during a five-month gap in 1972 when Bush didn't show up for training.

When reporters asked for further evidence Tuesday, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan said, "Obviously, if there's any additional information that came to our attention that was relevant, we would make that information available."

On Wednesday, McClellan said those seeking additional details on Bush's records are "trolling for trash for political gain," and engaging in "gutter politics."

He didn't directly answer a question about why Bush had missed his physical.

And Bartlett said: "The issue is about the president's service in the National Guard. The president said he was committed to releasing any records we have to show that he served."

Contributing: Judy Keen


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