Bush's pay in military draws new attention

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The White House, trying to end doubts about President Bush's Vietnam-era military record, released documents Tuesday that it said proved he had "met his requirements" in the Texas Air National Guard despite long, unexplained gaps in his service.

"These documents outline the days on which he was paid. That means he served," said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan. However, Democrats were dismissive of the newly released records.

"The handful of documents released today by the White House creates more questions than answers," said Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe had helped reignite the story earlier this month when he charged Bush had gone "AWOL." With Vietnam War veteran John Kerry emerging as the Democratic presidential front-runner, Democrats have been trying to stoke longstanding questions about Bush's service in the Guard during the war.

Bush joined in 1968, and spent most of his service time based near Houston. But in May 1972 he requested and received a temporary assignment with the Alabama National Guard so he could serve as political director on the Senate campaign of Winton "Red" Blount, a family friend. Bush says he recalls showing up for drills in Alabama, but his supporters have struggled to prove it.

Bush was not paid for any service during a five-month period in 1972, from May through September, according to the records released with Bush's approval Tuesday.

He was paid for two days in October and four days in November and none in December 1972. He was not paid for February or March 1973. The records do not indicate what duty Bush performed or where he was.

Nevertheless, spokesman McClellan repeatedly held up the 13-page packet his office had released, and he declared in his televised briefing, "I think these documents show that he fulfilled his duties."

At the same time, White House officials were careful to stop short of claiming that the records proved definitively that Bush had shown up for all the Guard duties he was expected to.

Indeed, the payroll documents and annual service "point summaries" could throw new fuel onto a story the White House wants to quench this election year.

McClellan expressed a note of frustration at the persistent questions on the matter. "It just kind of amazes me that some will now say they want more information after the payroll records and the point summaries have all been released."

"Now people are trying to move the goal post even more," he said, adding that White House officials smelled politics. "It's just really a shame that people are continuing to bring this up."

Kerry stays silent

Kerry stayed silent on the subject Tuesday.

"I just don't have any comment on it," he told reporters between campaign stops in Tennessee and Virginia. "It's not an issue that I chose to create. It's not my record that's at issue and I don't have any questions about it."

But Kerry has not answered Republicans' urging that he condemn criticism like the McAuliffe "AWOL" remarks. On the stump, he opens his appearances by saluting his audiences -- a reminder of his military service and three Purple Hearts.

While Kerry surrounds himself with fellow veterans on the campaign trail, the White House has not been able to produce fellow guardsmen who could testify that Bush attended meetings and drills. "Obviously we would have made people available" if they had been found, McClellan said.

Retired Brig. Gen. William Turnipseed was a commander at the base Bush was assigned to and has previously said he never saw Bush appear for duty. But he told The Associated Press on Tuesday he wasn't sure whether he was on the base at the same time as Bush.

Moreover, he said, "in 1972, I didn't even know he was supposed to come. I didn't know that until 2000," he said. "I'm not saying that he wasn't there. If he said he was there, I believe it. I don't remember seeing him."

Turnipseed told the AP last week he donated money to the Republican National Committee last year, and said he is a Bush supporter.

Retired Army Col. Dan Smith, a 26-year military veteran, questioned the usefulness of the latest information released by the White House.

"Pay records don't mean anything except that you're in or you're out," said Smith. "It doesn't necessarily reflect what duty you've actually performed because pay records simply record your unit of assignment and then all of your pay and benefits per pay period."

Lt. Col. Scott Gorske, a 23-year Guardsman with experience in personnel issues, said there is no requirement for National Guard members to drill every month. They are required to train a certain amount of time each year. It appears Bush met that requirement, said Gorske, who reviewed the documents.

A memo written by retired Lt. Col. Albert Lloyd Jr. at the request of the White House said a review of Bush's records showed that he had "satisfactory years" for the period of 1972-73 and 1973-74 "which proves that he completed his military obligation in a satisfactory manner."

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