Guard files said to be faxed from copy shop
CBS acknowledges increasing doubts about authenticity
WASHINGTON -- Documents allegedly written by a deceased officer that raised questions about President Bush's service with the Texas Air National Guard bore markings showing they had been faxed to CBS News from a Kinko's copy shop in Abilene, Texas, according to another former Guard officer who was shown the records by the network.
The markings provide one piece of evidence suggesting a source for the documents, whose authenticity has been hotly disputed since CBS aired them in a "60 Minutes" broadcast Sept. 8. The network has declined to name the person who provided them, saying the source was confidential, or to explain how the documents came to light after more than three decades.
There is only one Kinko's in Abilene, and it is 21 miles from the Baird, Texas, home of retired Texas National Guard officer Bill Burkett, who has been named by several news outlets as a possible source for the documents.
Robert Strong, who was one of three people interviewed by "60 minutes," said he was shown copies of the documents by CBS anchor Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes on Sept. 5, three days before the broadcast. He said at least one of the documents bore a faxed header indicating it had been sent from a Kinko's in Abilene.
In an interview last night, CBS anchor Dan Rather acknowledged for the first time that there are serious questions about the authenticity of the documents. "If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I'd like to break that story," Rather said. "Any time I'm wrong, I want to be right out front and say, 'Folks, this is what went wrong and how it went wrong.' "
Rather spoke after interviewing the secretary to Bush's former squadron commander, who told him the memos attributed to her late boss are fake, but that they reflected the commander's belief that Bush was receiving preferential treatment to escape some of his Guard commitments.
The former secretary, Marian Carr Knox, is the latest person to raise questions about the "60 Minutes" story, which Rather and top CBS officials still defend while vowing to investigate the mounting questions about whether the 30-year-old documents used in the story were part of a hoax.
And CBS News President Andrew Heyward in an interview acknowledged that there were "unresolved issues" that the network wanted "to get to the bottom of." Since the broadcast, critics have pointed to a host of unexplained problems about the memos, which bore dates from 1972 and 1973, including signs that they had been written on a computer rather than a Vietnam-era typewriter.
"I feel that we did a tremendous amount of reporting before the story went on the air or we wouldn't have put it on the air," Heyward said in an interview last night.
Asked what role Burkett may have played in CBS's reporting of the report, Heyward said: "I'm not going to get into any discussion of who the sources are."
Burkett, who has accused Bush aides of ordering the destruction of some portions of the president's National Guard record because they might have been politically embarrassing, did not return telephone calls to his home. His lawyer, David Van Os, issued a statement on Burkett's behalf saying he "no longer trusts any possible outcome of speaking to the press on any issue regarding George W. Bush and does not choose to dignify recent spurious attacks upon his character with any comment."
In news interviews earlier this year, Burkett said he overheard a telephone conversation in the spring of 1997 in which top Bush aides asked the head of the Texas National Guard to sanitize Bush's files as he was running for a second term as governor of Texas. Several days later, he said, he saw dozens of pages from Bush's military file dumped in a trash can at Camp Mabry, the Guard's headquarters.
The Bush aides Burkett named as participants in the telephone conversation were Chief of Staff Joe M. Allbaugh and spokespersons Karen Hughes and Dan Bartlett. All three Bush aides and former Texas National Guard Major General Daniel James have strongly denied the allegations.
Earlier this year, Burkett gave interviews to numerous news outlets alleging corruption and malfeasance at the top of the Texas National Guard, many of which have never been substantiated. He has also been a named source for several reports by USA Today, which reported Monday that it had independently obtained copies of the disputed memos soon after the broadcast.
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, 39 Republican House members, led by Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, wrote a letter to Heyward demanding that CBS retract its report. Accusing the network of becoming "part of a campaign to deceive the public and to defame the president," the lawmakers said: "CBS reporters would not accept such behavior from public officials like ourselves, and we cannot accept it from them."
Separately, Representative Christopher Cox, Republican of California, asked that a House communications subcommittee investigate what he called "the continued use of CBS News of apparently forged documents" intended to damage Bush's reputation and "influence the outcome of the 2004 presidential election." But the panel's chairman, Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, rejected the request, saying that the oversight of network news should be left to the viewing public and news media.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.