AWOL from the Truth
How George W. Bush Lied to Tim Russert
About His Missing Military Records
by Bob Fertik
Febuary 9, 2003
On Meet the Press (2-8-2004), George W. Bush said he authorized the release of all of his military records during the 2000 campaign. (1)
Russert: Would you authorize the release of everything to settle this?
Bush: Yes, absolutely. We did so in 2000, by the way.
As Jim Moore wrote in BuzzFlash, "Not exactly, Mr. President." As Moore explains, "Every president in American history has signed a form to provide the public with all information on his time in the military... George W. Bush has not."
Mr. Bush has authorized only the release of his records from Texas National Guard files. And his Military Personnel Records Jacket from Texas is missing many things. There should be pay stubs for every day served, a roll-up of total retirement points earned for service, and, most likely, an Officers' Board of Inquiry Report on why a pilot, who had spent $1 million dollars learning to fly a jet in war time, was suspended. These records, if they exist, have been committed to microfiche and are on file at the Air Reserve Personnel Headquarters in Denver. And, regardless of the president's parsing of language, he has not yet authorized the release to the public of his full service record from Denver.
Since 2000, journalists and researchers have been struggling to make sense of files that contain far less than "everything." In May 2000, Walter Robinson of the Boston Globe reviewed 160 pages of Bush's record, and concluded:
For a full year, there is no record that he showed up for the periodic drills required of part-time guardsmen.
In 2000, researcher Marty Heldt filed a FOIA request with the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, VA for Mr. Bush's complete military records. He received his reply on 8-10-2000 with nearly 200 pages of documents from Mr. Bush's file. Heldt published the key documents on his Web site. He also wrote a detailed analysis of these records for TomPaine.com.
Both Bush and his aides have made numerous statements to the effect that Bush fulfilled all of his guard obligations. They point to Bush's honorable discharge as proof of this. But the records indicate that George W Bush missed a year of service.
Heldt's analysis was accurate, but he was unable to tell the full story of Bush's 2-year absence because he did not receive "everything," as Bush told Russert he had released. Here's what Deborah Gilmore of the National Guard Bureau wrote Heldt in her cover letter:
Enclosed is the information. However, social security numbers, medical records, and personal and administrative information of Mr. Bush and others have been withheld as release of this information would be a clearly unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the personnel affected.
On 10-4-2000, Democrats.com published its own review of the documents obtained by Heldt. The article entitled "The Smoking Jet: Bush's Military Record Reveals Grounding and Absence for Two Full Years" was written by ret. 1st Lt. Mission Pilot Robert A. Rogers. Rogers went beyond the findings of Heldt to conclude that Bush did not report for duty for the last two years of his 6-year obligation to the Texas Air National Guard. And Rogers specifically urged Bush to release the rest of his military records, which were still being protected under privacy rules.
With two years left in his six-year obligation to the Texas Air National Guard, 1st Lt. George W. Bush was mysteriously suspended from flight - and never again reported for a single day of duty.
The first independent investigation of Bush's military record by a former Air National Guard pilot has revealed the following:
Pilot George W. Bush did not simply "give up flying" with two years left to fly, as has been reported. Instead, Bush was suspended and grounded, very possibly as a direct or indirect result of substance abuse.
The crucial evidence – a Flight Inquiry Board – that would reveal the true reasons for Bush's suspension, as well as the punishment that was recommended, is missing from the records released so far. If no such Board was convened, this raises further questions of extraordinary favoritism.
Contrary to Bush's emphatic statements and several published reports, Bush never actually reported in person for the last two years of his service – in direct violation of two separate written orders. Moreover, the lack of punishment for this misconduct represents the crowning achievement of a military career distinguished only by favoritism.
This in-depth investigation and analysis of Bush's apparent misconduct over the last two years of his six year obligation suggests that Bush did not fulfill all of his military obligations to the Texas Air National Guard and to his country, contrary to his repeated assertions.
Moreover, Bush's misconduct could have resulted in significant disciplinary action by his Commanding Officer, ranging in severity from temporary or permanent grounding, a career-damaging letter of reprimand, to forced reenlistment in the US Army (including active duty in Vietnam), to a less-than honorable discharge.
These issues are not trivial, nor are they ancient history. This cloud of questions goes to the heart of George W. Bush's promises to restore honor and integrity to the White House, to strengthen the military, and to speak the plain truth on the campaign trail.
If Bush had received a less-than honorable discharge, it is safe to say that he would not be the Republican candidate for President today. But the absence of any sign of severe disciplinary action in the records we obtained raises serious questions that can only be answered if Bush himself requests the release of his full military service record.
One month later, on 11-2-2000, three Senators who were decorated war heroes held a press conference and also urged Bush to release his full records to explain the full truth about his missing years.
Bob Kerrey (D-NE) stressed Bush's aggressive use of the "character" issue against Al Gore, and the questions the Bush campaign raised about the details of Gore's service in Vietnam. "If you're going to make a commitment to join the Guard when a lot of us were given special privilege and special opportunities to go to college and given deferments while we did and didn't have to go into the service at the time, you've got to keep that commitment. Especially, if you're going to make character an issue in this campaign. So, I call on Governor Bush to tell us where you were and to release your records, as John McCain did, and let the American people decide. If you're going to be Commander In Chief, you may have to discipline people who did the same thing you did, and it may be difficult as a consequence."
Daniel Inouye (D-HI) went even further, raising the question of how Bush avoided court-martial for his apparent AWOL. "The question is where were you, Governor Bush? What about your commitment? What would you do as Commander In Chief if someone in the Guard or in another service did the same thing? During my service, if I missed training for two years, at the least, I would have been court-martialed. I would have been placed in prison."
Because of the unimpeachable credentials of the three Democratic Senators, this press conference was covered by the New York Times and the Washington Post. But the Times immediately sought to rebut the AWOL claim:
... a review of records by The New York Times indicated that some of those concerns may be unfounded. Documents reviewed by The Times showed that Mr. Bush served in at least 9 of the 17 months in question...
Mr. Bartlett [Dan Bartlett, then a Bush spokesman, and now the White House director of communications] pointed to a document in Mr. Bush's military records that showed credit for four days of duty ending Nov. 29 and for eight days ending Dec. 14, 1972, and, after he moved back to Houston, on dates in January, April and May.
The May dates correlated with orders sent to Mr. Bush at his Houston apartment on April 23, 1973, in which Sgt. Billy B. Lamar told Mr. Bush to report for active duty on May 1-3 and May 8-10.
Another document showed that Mr. Bush served at various times from May 29, 1973, through July 30, 1973, a period of time questioned by The Globe.
The Times did not publish the two documents, but they were available on Marty Heldt's site:
The Times treated these documents as proof that Bush had "served," just as George Magazine had concluded a few weeks earlier. But Democrats.com examined these documents closely, and concluded that these undated, unsigned, and even torn documents did not prove anything.
our careful analysis of the evidence offered by George Magazine does nothing to undermine our previous conclusions. If anything, this evidence proves beyond a doubt that Bush never reported for duty in Alabama, and has repeatedly lied during this campaign when he claimed that he did.
We call upon the press to ask George W. Bush directly about his military service. In particular, the press should ask:
Why did Bush stop flying with two years left of his obligation? Apart from being suspended from flying, was he punished?
Did Bush avoid taking his annual physical because he feared he would fail a substance abuse test?
Did Bush ever report for duty during his last two years? If so, where? Does he have any credible proof or witnesses?
As we have done before, we call upon George W. Bush to request the immediate release of his full military record from the archives in Missouri, so the American people can judge for themselves whether Bush fulfilled his first sworn oath to the United States of America, before giving him the opportunity to break another.
Just as the Times article appeared, a TV reporter in Maine revealed that Bush had been convicted of DUI in 1974. This gave the media a convenient excuse to abandon the AWOL story, which the media had desperately tried to avoid before the Senators' press conference.
But Democrats.com did not abandon the story. And on 11-6-2000 - one day before the election - we filed a new FOIA request to get additional documents that had not been released to Marty Heldt, hoping against hope that we would get a reply the same day.
But that didn't happen. Three weeks later, on 12-1-2000, we received a reply from the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, CO. (2)
Contrary to Mr. Bush's new claim that he authorized the release of "everything" in 2000, key documents were withheld once again.
Portions of the information you have requested is information that, if disclosed to a requestor other than the person about whom the information is concerned, would result in a clearly unwarranted invasion personal privacy (5 U.S.C. 552(b)(6). Release of this information contained in a Privacy Act System of records that would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy is prohibited.
The letter specifically referenced the essential pay records that would prove whether Bush actually reported for duty.
This center does not maintain the pay records for Air National Guard members. You must contact the Texas Air National Guard for these records.
In a future article, we will review the documents we received on 12-1-2000, including the first "untorn" version of the "torn" 1972-73 document (which is discussed extensively in Calpundit). At first glance, this "new" document raises more questions than it answers:
Given the contradiction between these retirement records and Bush's actual service records (and numerous friendly witnesses), did George Bush receive retirement credit for service he did not actually perform? If so, was this the result of a criminal act by the officer(s) who awarded such credit?
Given the fact that this untorn document first "appeared" on 12-1-2000, was it the product of criminal tampering with official documents by the Bush campaign?
What Records Do We Need to Learn the Truth?
George W. Bush promised Tim Russert he would provide "everything." In order to learn the truth, we truly need everything in all of his files, including his service records, tax records, medical records, and disciplinary records.
Some of these records appear to be unavailable because they were removed from Bush's files, perhaps criminally. In these cases, Bush should order anyone who handled his documents to provide sworn affidavits about their activities.
Other records have been withheld for privacy reasons. In these cases, Mr. Bush should issue a formal waiver of his privacy rights to all record-keeping branches of the National Guard, including federal and all state branches.
Finally, some of these records may be in his personal or family files. In these cases Mr. Bush should instruct his personal staff to conduct a thorough review for any documents that would complete the public record.
Specifically, these are the categories of documents that Mr. Bush must release to establish the truth.
1. Bush's Service Records
a. Alabama Drill Attendance
On Meet the Press, Bush himself admitted there should be records of his service in Alabama.
There may be no evidence, but I did report; otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged. In other words, you don't just say "I did something" without there being verification. Military doesn't work that way. I got an honorable discharge, and I did show up in Alabama.
Albert Lloyd Jr., a retired colonel, was the Texas Air Guard's personnel director from 1969 to 1995. In 1999, he volunteered to help the Bush campaign make sense of Bush's military records, because Bush's aides were concerned about the gap in his records. In May 2000, Lloyd told the Boston Globe:
he does not know whether Bush performed duty in Alabama. ''If he did, his drill attendance should have been certified and sent to Ellington, and there would have been a record. We cannot find the records to show he fulfilled the requirements in Alabama,'' he said.
This leaves three possibilities: 1) Bush never served in Alabama; 2) Bush served and the records were inexplicably lost; 3) Bush served and the records were "scrubbed" (see below).
b. Payment Records
Tim Russert specifically asked Bush if he would release his "pay stubs, tax records, anything to show that you were serving during that period" in Alabama.
Bush replied, "Yeah. If we still have them, but I you know, the records are kept in Colorado, as I understand, and they scoured the records."
As described above, Democrats.com specifically requested Bush's pay records from the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver, CO on 11-6-2000, and we were specifically told that those records would only exist in Texas.
Other investigators sought those records in Texas. There is no doubt that these records once existed, because Bush was paid during the 4 years that he actually reported for duty. But these records were indeed "scoured" - a better word would be "scrubbed."
In fact, there is a witness to that scrubbing - Col. Bill Burkett. And his story will soon be told in a blockbuster new book by Jim Moore, the veteran Texas reporter who first challenged Bush to tell the truth about his National Guard service way back in 1994. According to Salon.com,
"His records have clearly been cleaned up," says author James Moore, whose upcoming book, "Bush's War for Re-election," will examine the issue of Bush's military service in great detail. Moore says as far back as 1994, when Bush first ran for governor of Texas, his political aides "began contacting commanders and roommates and people who would spin and cover up his Guard record. And when my book comes out, people will be on the record testifying to that fact: witnesses who helped clean up Bush's military file."
c. Tax Records
Even if Bush's pay records were scrubbed by the Texas Air National Guard, his tax records might still be in the possession of the Bush family and/or the IRS. Obviously, Bush would have to volunteer these records from his own files, or ask the IRS to release them.
2. Bush's Medical Records
Bush stopped flying in April 1972, even though he still had two years left to defend the US from attack along the Gulf Coast. That was the very month when the Air National Guard began random drug testing of pilots. Was Bush randomly tested for drugs? His medical records would say. Was he drinking too heavily to fly? Ditto. Did he fail his annual flight physical in July 1972? Ditto.
Bush's medical records are exempt from FOIA because of privacy rules. The only way reporters can examine those records is if Bush fulfills his promise to make everything available.
3. Bush's Disciplinary Records
a. Flight Inquiry Board: Bush's grounding in August 1972 was a very serious event for the Texas Air National Guard. In most cases, the grounding of a pilot would result in the appointment of a Flight Inquiry Board to evaluate the reasons for the grounding and determine the appropriate punishment.
b. ARF: There is proof that Bush was in fact punished beyond simply being grounded. This proof is the existence of ARF records for both his 5th and 6th years.
c. Extra 6 months: Bush's duty was scheduled to end on the 6th anniversary of his enlistment in May 1974. But Bush's final discharge did not occur until November 1974. There is probably a document ordering those 6 additional months as punishment.
Just like the medical records, Bush's disciplinary records are exempt from FOIA because of privacy rules. The only way reporters can examine those records is if Bush fulfills his promise to make everything available.
(1) On Meet the Press (2-8-2004), Tim Russert asked Mr. Bush three times if he would release his military records. Each time, Mr. Bush said he would. Below is the full exchange:
Russert: When allegations were made about John McCain or Wesley Clark on their military records, they opened up their entire files. Would you agree to do that?
Bush: Yeah. Listen, these files I mean, people have been looking for these files for a long period of time, trust me, and starting in the 1994 campaign for governor. And I can assure you in the year 2000 people were looking for those files as well. Probably you were. And absolutely. I mean, I
Russert: But would you allow pay stubs, tax records, anything to show that you were serving during that period?
Bush: Yeah. If we still have them, but I you know, the records are kept in Colorado, as I understand, and they scoured the records.
And I'm just telling you, I did my duty, and it's politics, you know, to kind of ascribe all kinds of motives to me. But I have been through it before. I'm used to it. What I don't like is when people say serving in the Guard is is may not be a true service.
Russert: Would you authorize the release of everything to settle this?
Bush: Yes, absolutely. We did so in 2000, by the way.
(2) Note to conspiracy theorists: we received these documents in the midst of the Florida recount, when Democrats.com was publishing the most extensive documentation of the Florida recount, so we did not have time to examine the AWOL records. After the Supreme Court threw out 175,000 Florida votes that had never been counted (contrary to Republican propaganda), we worked with the Congressional Black Caucus to challenge Florida's illegitimately-chosen electors in Congress. When that effort failed, we spent the next 3 years documenting and opposing the extreme right-wing policies of the unelected Bush regime. Finally, in the wake of David Kay's conclusion that Iraq did not have WMD's, we launched ImpeachBush.Meetup.com as a grassroots campaign to impeach Bush for his lies. We re-discovered the 12-1-2000 AWOL files during a review of the old documents on 2-8-2004, and we are still trying to get to the truth about these mysterious new documents. As the AWOL questions exploded in recent days, we shared these documents with a few Internet researchers, notably Calpundit, who was especially interested in the now-famous "untorn document."