Friday, September 10, 2004

A handwriting expert says the two signatures on purported Texas National Guard memos aired by CBS News this week are not those of President Bush’s squadron commander, as asserted by “60 Minutes.”

Until now, press scrutiny of the memos supposedly written by the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian focused on the finding that the documents were, in the opinion of experts, produced by computers not yet in use in the early 1970s.

Eugene P. Hussey, a certified forensic document examiner in Washington state, said yesterday there is another flaw in the CBS memos. Mr. Hussey studied the known signatures of Col. Killian on Air Force documents, and two signatures on documents dated 1972 and 1973 that aired on “60 Minutes” Wednesday night.

“It is my limited opinion that Killian did not sign those documents,” Mr. Hussey told The Washington Times. He said he uses the phrase “limited opinion” because he does not have the original documents. He, like other experts interviewed by the press, relied on copies of originals first obtained by CBS. The White House then distributed copies of the memos in what is said was the interest of full disclosure.

The White House did not challenge or vouch for their authenticity, and CBS continued to stand by its story.

Dan Rather, who anchored the original broadcast, last night defended his reporting during the “CBS Evening News,” calling skeptics of the documents “partisan politicians.”

He produced on air an document expert, Marcel Mately, on whom CBS relied to authenticate the documents. CBS did not say whether the expert was paid. He said he believes Col. Killian’s signatures on the questionable documents and the known documents are the same.

Questions about the memo’s authenticity come as Democrats have renewed attacks on Mr. Bush’s National Guard record and promised to make it part of their daily campaign to recapture the White House.

The memos, if authentic, are harmful to the president because in them Col. Killian purportedly states that 1st Lt. George W. Bush refused an order to take a physical and was therefore dropped from flight status.

It had been known that Mr. Bush, then an F-102 fighter pilot, had let his flight status drop in 1972 after four years in the Guard because, the White House said, he planned to shift his Guard assignment to a different unit in Alabama while he worked on a senatorial campaign. It had never been reported before the CBS report that he refused an order to get a physical. Instead, the White House has said he worked out the arrangement with superiors.

Mr. Hussey agreed with experts who say the CBS documents are “computer generated,” meaning they could not have been produced in the early 1970s, as dated, because such word processors did not exit. Various network TV stations and newspapers quoted experts as saying the documents were written on a computer using Microsoft Word.

The Times noticed differences in the two sets of signatures and asked Mr. Hussey to do an evaluation.

The Times provided Mr. Hussey with copies of the CBS documents, which he dubbed Q-1-3, and records known to have been signed by Col. Killian, (K-1-3).

“It is my opinion based on the examination of the Q-1 through Q-3 and K-1 through K-3, that Jerry B. Killian probably did not sign his name to Q-1 and his initial to Q-3,” Mr. Hussey said in a signed letter to The Times. “As to the authenticity of the CBS documents, that is Q-1 through Q-3, [they] appear to be product of a computer, rather than a typewriter.”

The press has quoted experts saying the CBS memos appear to be written in Times Roman, a font set not in use in the early 1970s and one that is contained in Microsoft Word, a widely used word processing system. For example, the CBS documents contain a superscript “th” that is automatically used by Microsoft Word and that was in very limited use in the early 1970s.

Independent document examiner Sandra Ramsey Lines, a document expert and fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, told the Associated Press the superscript — a smaller, raised “th” in “111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron” — is one piece of evidence indicating a computer forgery.

A Washington Times computer expert retyped one of the CBS memos in Microsoft Word. He then superimposed the two documents, which appeared to make a perfect match, character by character.

The Times New Roman typeface available on any word processing machine in 1972 would not have matched perfectly because of the differences in technology used to reproduce it, the expert at The Times said, adding that the line spacing in the memos wasn’t available 30 years ago.

Mr. Rather, whom Republicans charge is biased against the Bush family, contended there is a document in Mr. Bush’s known file that contains a superscript “th.”

CBS has refused to say how it obtained the memos or who provided them. Mr. Rather reported they came from Col. Killian’s “personal file,” but Col. Killian’s widow and son said they know of no such file.

In its statement, CBS spokeswoman Kelli Edwards said:

“For the record, CBS News stands by the thoroughness and accuracy of the ‘60 Minutes’ report this Wednesday on President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. 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 Col. Jerry Killian and were well acquainted with his procedures, his character and his thinking.

“In addition, the documents are backed up not only by independent handwriting and forensic document experts but by sources familiar with their content.”

The “60 Minutes” broadcast Wednesday did not produce any witness who had seen the documents around the time Col. Killian supposedly wrote them. It interviewed one former Guardsman, a college professor, who seemed to back the contention that Col. Killian was not happy with Mr. Bush for failing take an annual physical. CBS did not produce any of the experts on which it said it relied to authenticate the memos, nor did it say whether it had the originals.

Defense Department records show that in 1973 Col. Killian praised Mr. Bush’s performance and approved his honorable discharge.

Yesterday’s CBS statement said it was not rechecking its story: “Contrary to rumors, no internal investigation is under way at CBS News nor is one planned. We have complete confidence in our reporting and will continue to pursue the story.”

Col. Killian’s widow and his son, who served in the Texas Guard, both rebut the CBS report. They told ABC News they knew of no such “personal file” and did not provide the memos to “60 Minutes II.”

There is another problem with the “60 Minutes” broadcast. Mr. Rather showcased Ben Barnes, a longtime Texas Democrat and a major fund-raiser for John F. Kerry, Mr. Bush’s opponent in the presidential race.

Mr. Barnes, who Republicans say has told conflicting stories about Mr. Bush and the Guard, said he made a phone call to the now-deceased Texas National Guard commander in 1968 to help the Yale graduate avoid the draft by getting in the Guard.

On Thursday, Mr. Barnes’ daughter, Amy Barnes Stites, called WBAP, a Texas news talk radio station, to say her father had told her a different story in 2000.

“I love my father very much, but he’s doing this for purely political reasons,” Mrs. Stites said. “He is a big Kerry fund-raiser and he is writing a book also. And the [Bush story] is what he’s leading the book off with. … He denied this to me in 2000 that he did get Bush out [of the draft]. Now he’s saying he did.”

Asked by host Monica Crowley if she believes her father lied on “60 Minutes ,” Mrs. Stites answered, “Yes, I do. I absolutely do.”

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