Sunday, September 12, 2004

DALLAS — New information casts additional doubts about the authenticity of the memos purportedly written concerning President Bush by a former superior officer in the Texas Air National Guard in the 1970s, as Dan Rather and CBS News doggedly stuck to their guns defending the documents.

“They’re forged as hell,” said Earl W. Lively, 76, who during the era in question was director of Texas Air National Guard operations in Austin.

Mr. Lively said he had proof that Col. Walter “Buck” Staudt — who supposedly forced an underling to favorably alter reports on Mr. Bush’s activities as a member of the Guard in the early 1970s — had been honorably discharged nearly 18 months before the date of the memos, purportedly written by Lt. Col. Jerry Killian.

After Mr. Lively’s revelation, the Dallas Morning News discovered records amid the newspaper’s archives, from when the paper investigated Mr. Bush’s Guard career in 1999, that show Mr. Staudt had left the Guard on March 1, 1972.

One of the memos concerning Mr. Staudt’s supposed pressure to ensure that Mr. Bush’s record was to be “sugar coated” was dated Aug. 18, 1973.

Mr. Killian at the time was Mr. Bush’s squadron leader.

“And there’s no way that Jerry Killian would have written what they’ve come up with,” added Mr. Lively, now one of the most successful real estate agents in Dallas.

Mr. Lively was referring to CBS’ “60 Minutes” story Wednesday night that revealed what the network claimed were memos and notes written by Mr. Killian that strongly suggested Mr. Bush got special privileges during his stint in the Texas Guard and failed to perform adequately.

The same claims, without written documentation, were raised back in 1999.

Since last week’s broadcast, considerable comment has been forthcoming that casts a dark shadow on the memos authenticity.

Mr. Killian’s widow, Marjorie Connell, refused to believe the notes were legitimate.

“I was angry,” she told ABC Radio on Friday, “because here they are going back and pulling records of a man who is deceased 20 years, who is not here to explain what any of these documents said or supposed to have said, and I just find it appalling.”

His stepson, Houston businessman Gary Killian, who followed him into the Guard and retired as a captain in 1991, said one of the documents, supposedly signed by his father, seemed legitimate, but he strongly doubts Col. Killian would have written the one that says he had been pressured to “sugar coat” Mr. Bush’s performances.

“It just wouldn’t happen,” Mr. Killian said Friday. “The only thing that can happen when you keep secret files like that are bad things. No officer in his right mind would write a memo like that.”

Beyond the “he did, he didn’t” aspect of the controversy, there remains what seems to be strong evidence that the memos might have been generated on a computer using computer software that was not available at the time. Included in some of the documents was a “superscript,” a smaller, raised “th,” for example, in 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.

Mr. Rather strongly endorsed the “60 Minutes” program in an unusually long and detailed report Friday evening.

“This story is true,” he said. “The questions we raised about then-Lieutenant Bush’s National Guard service are serious and legitimate.”

CBS said yesterday it was “adamantly defending the authenticity of the memos,” and claimed “experts who examined the memos concluded they were authentic documents,”

“This report was not based solely on recovered documents, but rather on a preponderance of evidence, including documents that were provided by unimpeachable sources, interviews with former Texas National Guard officials and individuals who worked closely back in the early 1970s with Colonel Jerry Killian and were well acquainted with his procedures, his character and his thinking,” the network said.

One retired Guard official, who was Mr. Killian’s immediate supervisor, Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges, was offered up by Mr. Rather as one who would substantiate that the memos were real. But yesterday Gen. Hodges told the Los Angeles Times he thought the memos were fake. One CBS executive said the general, a known Bush supporter, had changed his story.

Still another one-time Guard official, Robert Strong, who worked alongside Mr. Killian as the administrative officer in charge of air operations at the Austin state headquarters from early 1971 to March 1972, said he viewed nothing in the CBS-released documents that convinced him they were forgeries, but could not vouch for their authenticity.

“I didn’t see anything that was inconsistent with how we did business,” Mr. Strong told the Associated Press yesterday. “It looked like the sort of thing that Jerry Killian would have done or said. He was a very professional guy.”

In addition to the varying beliefs concerning the origin of the documents, somewhat intriguing remarks came from the two presidential campaigns.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe called the documents “further evidence, really, that George W. Bush failed this country when it was his time to serve and he hid out.”

He suggested that White House political adviser Karl Rove might have been the one who supplied CBS News with the documents.

That brought a quick retort from White House spokesman Reed Dickens, who called the suggestion “complete nonsense.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday that the materials surfaced as part of “an orchestrated effort by Democrats and [the Sen. John] Kerry campaign to tear down the president.”

Mr. Staudt, who lives in New Braunfels, Texas, did not return phone calls, nor did Mrs. Connell or Mr. Strong.

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