- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2004

When exactly did CBS News acquire all of those infamous documents? Did the complete acquisition involve a quid pro quo assist from Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart? During Mr. Lockhart’s interviews Tuesday morning following that day’s USA Today report revealing his Sept. 4 telephone conversation with retired Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, Mr. Lockhart could not have been more emphatic about the course of events. But Mr. Lockhart’s timeline may not be accurate.

Col. Burkett, described as an “unimpeachable source” by CBS, provided the network’s “60 Minutes” news program with the now-discredited documents, which purported to show favoritism extended to President Bush during his service in the Texas Air National Guard. At the suggestion of “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes, Mr. Lockhart telephoned Col. Burkett on Saturday, Sept. 4. At the time, Ms. Mapes, who had been pursuing those rumored documents for five years, was working on the National Guard story, which was broadcast Sept. 8. Note the sequence of events as chronicled by Mr. Lockhart.

“CBS got these documents on a Friday,” Sept. 3, Mr. Lockhart asserted in Tuesday morning’s interview with MSNBC. “I got a call on a Saturday after they had the documents,” Mr. Lockhart repeated, evidently for emphasis, “and basically, the producer [Ms. Mapes] was saying, ‘This guy [Mr. Burkett] wants to talk to you. Here’s his number. Call him if you want.’ ” Mr. Lockhart continued: “If you want to call that arranging a call, that’s fine. But it was up to me whether I was going to make the call or not.”

Mr. Lockhart has acknowledged to USA Today that during his Sept. 4 conversation with Ms. Mapes, “it’s possible that the producer said they had documents.” (How Clintonesque, coming from the man who served as White House press secretary during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.) In any event, in the MSNBC interview, Mr. Lockhart insisted that the subject of documents “never came up” during his Sept. 4 conversation with Col. Burkett. During a Tuesday morning interview with Fox News, Mr. Lockhart was equally emphatic: “Certainly, there was no discussion at all with Mr. Burkett about National Guard documents.”

For his part, Mr. Burkett told USA Today that his “interest” in contacting the Kerry campaign was to offer advice about how to respond to TV ads by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — ads that questioned Mr. Kerry’s Vietnam service. Whatever his “interest” in contacting Mr. Lockhart might have been — and even though he has said that his intent did not include discussing the documents — Mr. Burkett insists that the subject of documents did in fact surface during his conversation with Mr. Lockhart. Col. Burkett told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Thursday that Mr. Lockhart tried to “convince me as to why I should give them the documents.”

In its story on Tuesday that revealed the Lockhart-Burkett conversation, USA Today reported that Col. Burkett had agreed to turn over the documents to CBS if the network would arrange a conversation between him and the Kerry campaign. Col. Burkett further told USA Today that his contact with Mr. Lockhart was part of an “understanding” with CBS.

Clearly, in Col. Burkett’s view, there was a quid pro quo. But what sort of leverage could Col. Burkett use if he provided all the documents to CBS at once and up-front? How could he induce CBS to fulfill what he clearly perceived to be its end of the bargain?

While CBS asserts that “it was not part of any deal,” CBS News Senior Vice President Betsy West acknowledged to USA Today: “At Burkett’s request, we gave his [telephone] number to the campaign.”

But what if Col. Burkett declined to turn over all the documents until CBS completed its end of the deal? Apparently, according to a separate Sept. 21 article in USA Today, Col. Burkett may have done just that. But the potentially explosive information has been little-noticed, perhaps because it appeared near the end of a 2,800-word article, which had been overwhelmed by the other front-page story that revealed the Lockhart-Burkett telephone conversation.

During the initial document transfer, which occurred at a pizza restaurant near Col. Burkett’s Texas ranch, USA Today reported that Ms. Mapes and CBS reporter Mike Smith were given “only two of the six documents, which Mapes said she planned to have analyzed for authenticity, according to Burkett.” That exchange occurred before Sept. 4, and probably, according to The Washington Post, on Friday, Sept. 3.

Perhaps having received only an initial installment of documents on Friday, Ms. Mapes telephoned Mr. Lockhart the following day and provided Col. Burkett’s phone number. Mr. Lockhart, who acknowledged it was “possible” that he discussed the existence of the documents with Ms. Mapes, then called Col. Burkett, who claims Mr. Lockhart also sought copies of the documents. It was “around Sept. 5,” a Sunday, according to USA Today, that Col. Burkett passed the rest of the documents to CBS. This set of documents was given to Mr. Smith. A transfer of documents on Sept. 5 would have occurred the day after Mr. Lockhart spoke both Ms. Mapes and Mr. Burkett. That would have completed a quid pro quo arrangement. If so, it would also be a smoking gun.

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