By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
He was 26 then, by Barbara Bush's own account a "late bloomer," which is what better mothers everywhere call sons who are chronic fuck-ups. If you're Uncle Sam, do you want this character flying your expensive fighter jets?
But it's a mistake to suppose the real question is what Bush did in the National Guard. As ever, the cover-up outstrips the crime. A former Guard official named Bill Burkett has gone public with the claim that he saw 20 to 40 pages of documents from Bush's service file in a wastebasket, where they had been tossed by campaign operatives during a 1997 purge of the then-governor's records. Burkett's account has been publicly denied by one of the Guard officials he says he spoke to at the time, George Conn. One problem: Two years ago, Conn told USA Today reporter Dave Moniz that Burkett had indeed discussed the Bush file cleansing with him when it happened.
Conn isn't the only one who's changed his tune. William Leon, a freedom of information officer in the Texas Guard, confirmed to USA Today in 2002 that there had been meetings regarding Bush's file. Contacted by the paper again last week, Leon spat: "Don't ever call me again at home. I'll call your publisher and sue you." On the face of it, the president's men appear to be leaning on people.
There may be more to conceal than meets the eye. What the press corps is really after at this point has not been laid on the table: a persistent buzz that during the period in question, Bush was either in treatment or doing community service to expunge a criminal offense from his record, or both. Helen Thomas hinted at it in an extraordinary exchange with press secretary Scott McClellan last week in which she repeatedly raised the question of Bush's "community service." I can't reproduce it here, but I'll link to the transcript at my CP blog, Bush Wars. The Guard issue is hardly over, though Democrats would do well to turn the focus from the matter of Bush's service--about which two-thirds of the public does not care, according to a Washington Post poll--to the abiding cover-up, which speaks volumes about the way the Bushmen do business. Ask Paul O'Neill.