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Bid cited to boost Bush in Guard

'73 memo tells of request to 'sugar-coat' report

In August 1973, President Bush's superior officer in the Texas Air National Guard wrote a memorandum complaining that the commanding general wanted him to ''sugar coat" an annual officer evaluation for First Lieutenant Bush, even though Bush had not been at the base for the year in question, according to new documents obtained and broadcast last night by CBS News.

The commander, the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, wrote that he turned aside the suggestion from Brigadier General Walter B. Staudt, Bush's political mentor in the Guard. But he and another officer agreed to ''backdate" a report -- evidently the evaluation -- in which they did not rate him at all. There is such a report in Bush's file, dated May 2, 1973.

''I'll backdate but won't rate," Killian apparently wrote in what is labeled a ''memo to file." Initials that appear to be Killian's are on the memo, but not his name or unit letterhead.

The August 1973 document, dated as Bush was preparing to leave Texas to attend the Harvard Business School, represents the first apparent evidence of an attempt to embellish Bush's service record as his time in the Guard neared its end.

The four pages of documents also contain an August 1972 order from Killian, suspending Bush from flying status for ''failure to perform" up to US Air Force and Texas Air National Guard standards and failing to take his annual flight physical. The suspension came three months after Killian had ordered Bush to take his physical, on May 14, 1972.

The documents also contain what appears to be Killian's memo of a meeting he had with Bush in May 1972, at which they discussed the option of Bush skipping his military drills for the following six months while he worked on a US Senate campaign in Alabama. During that meeting, Killian wrote that he reminded Bush ''of our investment in him and his commitment."

CBS, on its Evening News and in an in-depth report on ''60 Minutes," said it obtained the documents from Killian's ''personal files." Anchorman Dan Rather reported that the White House did not dispute the authenticity of the documents and said the network had used document authorities to verify their authenticity.

The disclosures by CBS follow a report in yesterday's Globe that Bush signed documents in 1968 and in 1973 promising to fulfill specific training requirements or face a punitive order to active duty. The records examined by the Globe, and verified by several former military officers, show that Bush did not meet his commitments. Nor was he penalized.

The White House, in response to the Globe report, ascribed political motives to two of the analysts quoted by the Globe. A third retired officer quoted in the Globe report who agreed with them has been a White House consultant on Bush's military records. Last night, Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, asserted in an e-mail to the Globe that Bush had no obligation to do Reserve duty in Massachusetts. And the White House reiterated its position that, notwithstanding the records, Bush fulfilled his military commitment. Bush received an honorable discharge.

Former military officers said last night that the four documents obtained by CBS, two of which should have been in Bush's publicly released file, contain evidence that political influence may have come into play as he sidestepped his training requirements in his final two years of service, from May 1972 until May 1974.

''These documents represent strong evidence that Lieutenant Bush didn't perform after April 1972, regardless of whether he received a paycheck," said retired Brigadier General David L. McGinnis, who was a top aide to the assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.

Lawrence J. Korb, an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and now a national security specialist at a liberal think tank, said after reviewing the CBS documents last night that if Killian and Lieutenant Colonel William D. Harris Jr. had written a truthful evaluation report on Bush, ''he would have been called to involuntary active duty."

Added Korb: ''For the commanding officer to suggest that his [Bush's] evaluation be sugar-coated is a clear indication of the political influence Bush had." Korb said the alleged suggestion by Staudt was also a ''violation of military ethics." An effort by the Globe last night to reach Staudt was unsuccessful. Harris, like Killian, has died.

On ''60 Minutes," CBS also aired an interview with Ben Barnes, the former Democratic speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, expressing regret that he helped Bush land a Guard slot in 1968 at the request of a Bush family friend. Barnes's intercession was first reported in a legal deposition he gave in 1999. Bush has denied there was political influence.

In his first public interview on the subject, Barnes, now a fund-raiser for Senator John F. Kerry, said he helped Bush and many other politically connected young men avoid military service in the Vietnam War to further his own political career, and that he now regrets his actions.

''I don't think that I had any right to have the power that I had, to choose who was going to go to Vietnam and who was not going to go to Vietnam," Barnes said. ''In some instances, when I looked at those names, I was maybe determining life or death, and that's not a power that I want to have." He added: ''I'm very, very sorry."

Yesterday, the White House dismissed Barnes's interview. ''The bottom line is that there's no truth to this," Dan Bartlett, Bush's communication director, told CBS.

The White House spent much of yesterday on the defensive on the issue. After the Globe report, Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, labeled Bush's National Guard service ''a very big issue," since it calls into question his credibility.

''These new documents show that the president did not serve honorably," McAuliffe said. ''How about you [Bush] for once owning up to your own record and tell the American people exactly what you were doing when you were supposed to be serving?"

Jim Dyke, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, dismissed McAuliffe's comments as ''false," ''reckless," and ''silly."

The White House made no such characterizations of the four pages of documents written by Killian, whom Bush described as a friend in his 1999 autobiography, ''A Charge to Keep." Dated during the controversial final 17 months of Bush's assignment to Ellington Air Force Base in Houston, the four pages begin with Killian's written order dated May 4, 1972, for Bush to report 10 days later for an annual flight physical required of all pilots.

The Aug. 1, 1972, document removing Bush from flight status for ''failure to perform to USAF/TexANG [US Air Force and Texas Air National Guard] standards" and failing to take the flight physical suggests that Bush did not comply with Killian's May order. The August document also calls for the convening of a ''flight review board" that would have assessed Bush's status. There is no record that such a board was appointed. In that memo, Killian also recommended that the unit he commanded, the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, replace Bush as a pilot with someone from a waiting list of pilots who had served in Vietnam.

The Aug. 18, 1973, memo might draw the most attention from the White House. Another ''Memo to File," it starts, ''SUBJECT: CYA" -- a venerable military acronym for ''cover your ass."

General Staudt, it begins, ''has obviously pressured [Colonel Bobby W.] Hodges more about Bush. I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job." He wrote that Lieutenant Colonel Harris ''gave me a message today . . . regarding Bush's [annual officer efficiency report] and Staudt is pushing to sugar coat it."

But, Killian wrote, ''Bush wasn't here during the rating period," and he didn't have any ''feedback" from the unit with whom Bush said he trained in Alabama. ''I will not rate," Killian wrote.

In the CBS news magazine report, Robert Strong, a friend of Killian who ran the Texas Air National Guard administrative offices during the Vietnam era and who reviewed the documents for ''60 Minutes," said he believed that Killian took his responsibilities as a pilot very seriously, but that in Bush's case, Killian found himself ''between a rock and a hard place."

In trying to satisfy commands from a superior to give a favorable evaluation to a soldier who had underperformed but had powerful political connections, Strong said Killian faced an impossible situation.

Globe staff reporters Rick Klein and Michael Rezendes contributed to this report.

'cya' memo

What follows is the full text of a document obtained by CBS News that appears to be a memo written by Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, George W. Bush's commander when Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard. It refers to pressure Killian and other officers felt to write a more favorable evaluation of Bush's service than Killian thought warranted and to backdate a record. The document carries no letterhead or clear identification of the author.

18 August 1973
Memo to file
Subject: CYA

1. Staudt has obviously pressured Hodges more about Bush. I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job. Harris gave me a message today from Grp regarding Bush's OETR and Staudt is pushing to sugar coat it. Bush wasn't here during rating period and I don't have any feedback from 187th in Alabama. I will not rate. Austin is not happy either.

2. Harris took the call from Grp today. I'll backdate but won't rate. Harris agrees.

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