Thursday, September 9, 2004

Democrats said yesterday they will repeat questions about President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard through Election Day, following the Pentagon’s release of new records about Mr. Bush’s service and a newspaper assertion that he didn’t fulfill his service obligation.

“These new documents show the president did not serve honorably, and they did not have all the documents out,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe in a telephone call with reporters yesterday.

Mr. McAuliffe said Mr. Bush made it acceptable to question someone’s record from years ago, when Swift Boat Veterans for Truth asked questions about his candidate’s Vietnam war medals, and now Democrats will pursue Mr. Bush’s Guard record.

“It’s going to be on the table from now until Nov. 2,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “This administration, time and time again, has misled the American public. And today they have been caught in some lies.”

The Associated Press reported late Tuesday that it had obtained more than two dozen new pages of Mr. Bush’s service records in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit, and yesterday the Boston Globe published a story questioning whether Mr. Bush fulfilled his commitments.

The new records show Mr. Bush was slightly above the middle of his flight class, but don’t reveal whether he reported for duty in Alabama as required when he moved there temporarily to work on a Senate campaign. Democrats say he did not.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the records support Mr. Bush’s contention he met his obligation.

“If the president had not fulfilled his commitment he would not have been honorably discharged,” Mr. McClellan said. “He was honorably discharged in October of ‘73. The president is proud of his service in the National Guard.”

Mr. McClellan blamed military officials for the late discovery of the additional records.

“The president directed back in February that the Department of Defense do a comprehensive search and make all the documents available, and we had assurances that they had done that and, unfortunately, we have since found out that it was not as comprehensive as we thought,” he said.

Last night, CBS’ “60 Minutes II” program aired an interview with Ben Barnes, a former lieutenant governor of Texas, who says he used his influence to get Mr. Bush into the National Guard. He says he now regrets that.

Mr. Barnes, who is now a lobbyist, earlier had rebutted accusations by other Democrats that he had been asked by George H.W. Bush, then a Republican congressman from Texas, to help his son get into the Air National Guard. When Democrats made the claim after Mr. Bush had emerged as the leading Republican presidential candidate for 2000, Mr. Barnes denounced the charge.

“I never spoke to Congressman Bush about his son,” he told the Associated Press on July 15, 1999. “The story is false.”

The Boston Globe story said a review of documents released earlier found that Mr. Bush twice didn’t meet the obligations of duty.

The Globe reported that Mr. Bush signed documents that said he could be called up to active duty if he didn’t meet his training requirements. The Globe said the records showed Mr. Bush failed to meet training requirements twice. Mr. Bush was never called to active duty.

Mr. McAuliffe said only Mr. Bush himself can answer the charges.

“Mr. President, how about you, for once, owning up to your own record and tell the American people exactly where you were and what you were doing,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “We know John Kerry was in Vietnam. My question to you, Mr. President: Where were you, sir? Why weren’t you doing the duty you were supposed to do?”

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, dismissed Mr. Barnes’ charges, saying that Mr. Barnes has been found lying under oath in another situation before.

He said Democrats are going over old ground.

“If he wants to continue this and bring up things like this on George W. — things that have already been hashed out and argued about over the last campaign and over the last four years, that’s pretty dumb politics, in my estimation,” said Mr. DeLay.

Mr. McClellan dismissed the substance of the Globe article as well, saying it was the product of a Kerry supporter who works for a liberal think tank.

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry has fallen in the polls in recent days, believed in part a result of charges by a group of Vietnam veterans who served duty similar to Mr. Kerry’s on Swift Boats. The veterans say Mr. Kerry distorted his record of four months’ service in Vietnam to earn medals and an early discharge, and isn’t fit to be commander in chief. Mr. Kerry strongly denounced the charges after first ignoring them.

Mr. Bush’s record has been the focus of press scrutiny for months.

Now, a group called Texans for Truth has said it will run television commercials featuring a lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Air National Guard questioning whether Mr. Bush adequately discharged his duty in Alabama.

Yesterday, Mr. McAuliffe and retired Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak, a Bush supporter in 2000 who has become a prominent supporter of Mr. Kerry’s this year, said there must be some reason Mr. Bush missed a required medical check-up.

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