- The Washington Times - Friday, September 10, 2004

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe yesterday said Democrats “unequivocally” did not leak memos to CBS that have called into question President Bush’s service record, but may in fact be forged.

He instead insinuated that White House adviser Karl Rove may be responsible.

“I can unequivocally say that no one involved here at the Democratic National Committee had anything at all to do with any of those documents,” Mr. McAuliffe told reporters, adding later that he also could speak for Democratic operatives and the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. “If I were an aspiring young journalist, I think I would ask Karl Rove that question.”

The Bush campaign scoffed at that insinuation.

“It’s complete and utter nonsense,” campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said. “This baseless attack is just one more sign of the desperation of John Kerry and his surrogates.”

Added another spokesman, Steve Schmidt: “The president served honorably in the National Guard and is proud of his service. What’s clear is these documents were given to CBS News by partisan Democrats as part of a coordinated attack on the president that came about because John Kerry is falling behind in the polls.”

The memos, apparently from Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, then-1st Lt. Bush’s commanding officer in the early 1970s, suggest that Mr. Bush was grounded for ignoring an order to take a physical exam.

The White House has responded to the charges by noting Mr. Bush was honorably discharged from the service.

“The president fulfilled all his obligations, and that is why he was honorably discharged from the National Guard in October 1973,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said this week.

Asked specifically whether Mr. Bush ignored the order, Mr. McClellan said the president was trying to negotiate the issue.

“The memos that were released, in fact, show the president was working with his commanders to comply with the order,” Mr. McClellan said.

But Democrats said Mr. Bush’s honorable discharge doesn’t answer the questions raised in the memos.

“The question on the table isn’t, ‘Did George W. Bush get an honorable discharge?’ The questions on the table are specific,” DNC spokesman Jano Cabrera said.

Mr. McAuliffe laid those questions out in his press conference yesterday, challenging the president personally to say why he skipped a flight physical and was grounded, to defend himself against charges he received preferential treatment in getting into the Air National Guard, and to explain why he purportedly missed two months-long periods of training.

Now, though, the authenticity of at least one of the new memos, first reported by CBS’ “60 Minutes” program Wednesday, is being questioned. A host of document experts have told news organizations the documents use a typeface not available in the early 1970s, and even by the son of Col. Killian, the man who wrote the memos. He told the Associated Press one of them doesn’t sound like something his father would write.

CBS continues to stand by the documents’ authenticity, but both parties traded charges yesterday that the other was responsible for leaking them.

Speculation among reporters and pundits about who leaked the memos was rampant.

“A lot of Democrats think this might have been a setup” by Republicans, said self-described liberal Democrat George Stephanopoulos, a former adviser to President Clinton who now works for ABC News. He made the comment on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Other journalists seized on the fact that the White House, after obtaining the documents from CBS News, disseminated them to other reporters. Some hinted darkly at an administration conspiracy.

The “Hotline,” an online political briefing by National Journal magazine, reported that Democrats “are already spinning” the idea that Republicans “may have set CBS up.” It added that the “biggest question” was why the White House released the documents “without explanation.”

Aboard Air Force One yesterday, a reporter asked Mr. McClellan: “Does the White House regret handing out those documents, taking CBS’ word on their authenticity, without checking them, themselves?”

“Well, we did ask, and CBS did not disclose to us, either, where they obtained those documents from,” Mr. McClellan said. “We wanted to be open about it, so we provided that information, as we have other documents, to the media.

“We don’t know whether the documents were fabricated or authentic,” he added. “These are serious allegations and they are being looked into by others.”

Mr. Bush tried to steer clear of the flap. But at a question-and-answer session with voters in Portsmouth, Ohio, he called on a man who initially appeared to be laying the foundation for a query about the president’s military service.

“You might not remember this, but in 1964, when you were a freshman at Yale, my roommates and I came over and knocked your door,” the man began as Mr. Bush looked on with trepidation.

“We persuaded you to join the Young Republican Club,” the man added.

“Oh, yeah,” the president said with obvious relief. “As long as I never attended any meetings.”

The audience laughed knowingly at this reference to accusations by Democrats that Mr. Bush did not show up for a physical and other commitments while serving in the Air National Guard.

“There’s no telling, given politics, where you were about to take that story,” he added with a chuckle.

Mr. McAuliffe and the DNC have held three press conferences with reporters this week to highlight the charges against Mr. Bush. But while Thursday’s press conference, featuring Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, touted the CBS memos, yesterday Mr. McAuliffe said his charges were based on earlier reports in the Boston Globe and the Associated Press.

Still, White House and Bush campaign officials were incredulous that Mr. McAuliffe, who Thursday cited the documents as proof the president had “lied,” would distance himself and implicate Mr. Rove in their possible forgery.

One Republican strategist said this week has been a defining one for the campaign, as “all signs point to the wheels coming off the cart” for the Mr. Kerry campaign.

“The campaign is obsessively focused on Vietnam, incoherent on Iraq,” the strategist said. “I think it is a very significant week because the campaign descended into incoherence and personal attacks.”

Bill Sammon reported from Chillicothe, Ohio; Stephen Dinan from Washington.

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