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President is said to review disputed Guard records

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- President Bush has reviewed disputed documents that purport to indicate he refused orders to take a physical examination in 1972 and did not recall having seen them previously, a White House official said yesterday.

The controversy over Bush's Texas Air National Guard service took an unusual twist when CBS broadcast a report on what it said were the newly discovered records. The authenticity of the documents has come into doubt.

In his first public comment on the CBS documents controversy, the president told The Union Leader of Manchester, N.H., "There are a lot of questions about the documents, and they need to be answered."

In the interview published yesterday, Bush replied "I don't know" to a question whether the White House had evidence that either the campaign of Democratic rival John F. Kerry or the Democratic Party were involved in releasing the disputed papers.

A White House spokesman said yesterday that Bush himself looked at the papers when CBS first said it had obtained them early this month. The memos, said to have been written by Bush's late squadron commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, indicated Killian had felt pressured to sugarcoat Bush's performance, and the future president ignored instructions to take a physical.

Bush's communications director, Dan Bartlett, "showed the president the documents provided by CBS that allegedly came from Colonel Killian's personal files," said spokesman Brian Besanceney. "The president had no recollection of ever seeing the documents previously."

Other records, released Friday by the Pentagon, indicated that one commander took a strong interest in the congressman's son during his basic training.

The officer in charge of the unit where Bush took his basic training wrote to then-Representative George H. W. Bush in 1968. The officer's letter was not released Friday, but the elder Bush's reply was: "That a major general in the Air Force would take interest in a brand-new Air Force trainee made a big impression on me."

Democrats called the exchange proof of preferential treatment.

"Now we know the president has reviewed the documents, but the American people still don't have answers," the Democratic National Committee chairman, Terry McAuliffe, said in a statement issued yesterday. "President Bush should come clean and explain how he leapt past hundreds to join the Guard and why he failed to meet his requirements once he was in." 

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