Questions about George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service during the Vietnam War have been raised by Democrats and the press in all his campaigns since 1994.
Aides to Democratic Gov. Ann Richards once tried to advance a story in 1994 that the president’s father helped him win a coveted spot in the Texas Guard, according to press accounts at the time. Other Democrats say he missed drills while he focused on business and politics.
Today, as President Bush seeks a second term, the Democratic National Committee again has embraced the issue, as polls show that its presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry, is losing voter support.
Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who in February accused Mr. Bush of being “AWOL” in the Guard, this week vowed that Mr. Bush’s tenure as a fighter pilot will be a main Democratic crusade — day in, day out — until the Nov. 2 election.
“It’s going to be on the table from now until November 2,” Mr. McAuliffe told reporters this week as new press reports surfaced questioning the devotion of Guard Lt. George W. Bush.
“These new documents show the president did not serve honorably, and they did not have all the documents out.”
For years, the Democratic attacks have centered on two charges, including one that Mr. Bush failed to meet drilling requirements from mid-1972 to early 1973. A less-persistent accusation was that he used his father’s status as a prominent Texas politician to win entry into the Guard after he graduated from Yale and faced the military draft in 1968.
That charge has never been proved. And the White House thought it had snuffed out the question on non-drill compliance last winter, when it released records showing he was paid for the drills during the period in question and that he received sufficient points to achieve an honorable discharge in October 1973 as he entered Harvard Business School.
“If the president had not fulfilled his commitment, he would not have been honorably discharged,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters this week. “He was honorably discharged in October ‘73. The president is proud of his service in the National Guard.”
But news outlets continued to press the Defense Department for more records. The Associated Press filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act. On Tuesday, the Pentagon turned over more documents that were favorable toward the president. They showed that he was a better-than-average pilot and had logged 336 flying hours in the demanding F-102 jet interceptor.
Now, there is a new charge that Mr. Bush not only missed drills, but that he refused to take a physical, as ordered, to retain his flight status.
CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Wednesday night reported that it had memos from the late commander of Mr. Bush’s unit, the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, that showed that Mr. Bush lost his flight status for refusing to take a physical. The White House has contended that Mr. Bush arranged with superiors to go off flight status and drill with a reconnaissance unit in Alabama.
“On this date I ordered that 1st Lt. Bush be suspended from flight status due to failure to perform to USAF/Tex ANG standards and failure to meet annual physical examination flight as ordered. … Officer has made no attempt to meet his training certification or flight physical,” according to one of the memos that CBS attributed to Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who died in 1984.
A spokesman said the White House obtained the documents from CBS before they were released on Wednesday night.
“The White House can’t speak to authenticity,” the spokesman said. The White House is comparing the CBS-acquired documents with known memos written by Col. Killian to see whether there are any inconsistencies.