Tuesday, September 14, 2004
(CNSNews.com) - The suspected source behind the CBS News "60 Minutes 2" segment on President Bush's National Guard service has spent the past six years lobbing accusations at Bush and his aides for allegedly tampering with military records.
Retired Texas National Guard Lt. Col. Bill Burkett has been identified by Newsweek magazine as a "principle source" for the Sept. 8 segment that purportedly showed National Guard records casting a negative light on Bush's performance with the Guard in the early 1970s.
Since the CBS report anchored by Dan Rather aired, many typographical experts have pointed to problems with the documents and the network itself has come under attack for possibly using forgeries as the foundation of its report.
Burkett has a long history with Bush, dating back to Bush's 1998 gubernatorial re-election campaign in Texas. After retiring from the Guard in January 1998 for medical reasons, Burkett accused the governor's aides of improperly inspecting Bush's records for anything embarrassing.
Similar charges surfaced in the days before the 2000 presidential election. At the time, Burkett said Bush's aides had searched military documents to resolve any conflicts between Bush's service and the account of his National Guard service in his biography.
The allegations became the subject of Burkett's 1,800 word article in March 2003, published by Veterans for Peace. It accused Bush of sending Burkett on a military assignment to Panama in retaliation for Burkett's refusal to alter Bush's official military personnel records. Burkett, who became ill after the trip, later said he had "overstated" his accusation.
Then, this February, after Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe broached the issue of Bush's record, Burkett reappeared with charges that he had overheard Bush's former gubernatorial chief of staff Joe Allbaugh in 1997 request that the Texas National Guard scrub Bush's files.
Newsweek's report this week noted that CBS News sent producer Mary Mapes to Texas to interview Burkett, who lives in Baird, about 25 miles from Abilene. CBS News has refused to reveal the source of the four pages of documents. Burkett didn't return a call or e-mail message from CNSNews.com on Monday.
The "60 Minutes 2" documents paint a picture of Bush as someone who was afforded special treatment during his National Guard service. One document also claims Bush refused an order by failing to report for a medical examination.
Shortly after the "60 Minutes" show ended Wednesday night, questions about the documents' modern typographical features and strange military lingo began circulating on the Internet. CNSNews.com was the first news organization to report the documents might be forgeries.
On Friday's "CBS Evening News," anchor Dan Rather downplayed questions about the documents. He maintained they were authentic, yet wouldn't reveal the source of the records.
Although Newsweek didn't confirm that Burkett supplied the documents to CBS News, the magazine speculated that Burkett "may have had access to any Guard records that, in a friend's words, 'didn't make it to the shredder.'"
If Burkett is in fact the source of the Newsweek article, it would mark his latest volley in a six-year effort to raise questions about Bush's Guard records. Burkett has actively opposed Bush since January 1998, when the former returned from a military assignment in Panama, according to his March 2003 article. While in Panama he said he contracted a deadly case of meningoencephalitis.
"I had been 'loaned' from the senior staff and state planning officer of the Texas National Guard to the Department of the Army for a series of these special projects after angering George W. Bush by refusing to falsify readiness information and reports; confronting a fraudulent funding scheme which kept 'ghost' soldiers on the books for additional funding, and refusing to alter official personnel records [of George W. Bush]," Burkett wrote.
"George W. Bush and his lieutenants were mad," he continued. "They ordered that I not be accessed to emergency medical care services, healthcare benefits I earned by my official duty; and I was withheld from medical care for 154 days before I was withdrawn from Texas responsibility by the Department of the Army, by order of the White House."
In the article, Burkett describes himself as a "pawn" in the middle of a political struggle. He refers to Bush as a man who "would do anything to be 'king' of America."
After seeking the help of state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos and state Rep. Bob Hunter, Burkett received his medical benefits in July 1998.
It was in his 1998 letter to Barrientos that Burkett raised the issue of Bush's records and also complained of ''severe retaliation'' from Gen. Daniel James III, then-head of the Texas National Guard, according to a New York Times article from February of this year. James now directs the Air National Guard.
Barrientos' spokesman, Ray Perez, told CNSNews.com the state senator was unable to locate Burkett's 1998 letter after receiving a request from the New York Times in February.
Hunter, meanwhile, recalled Burkett as "disgruntled" about the National Guard. He said he was pleased to help him get his medical benefits, but he put no stock in his charges against Bush primarily because they weren't raised until after the re-election campaign was underway.
"If he had felt so strongly about that, if he was so upset about the people who worked there, we all thought he would have certainly brought that matter up," Hunter told CNSNews.com. "That's why we could hardly believe it coming up after [Bush's] campaign started."
Regardless of his motives, Burkett has found sympathizers among liberals and Bush critics. Salon.com has mentioned him four times since February, including a lengthy question-and-answer interview. Burkett was also featured in James Moore's "Bush's War for Re-election."
While none of Burkett's allegations has ever been proven -- Allbaugh, James and other Bush aides have denied the charges -- he also suffered a setback earlier this year when a former ally in the Guard, George Conn, distanced himself from the accusations.
See Earlier Story:
More Problems Surface With '60 Minutes' Documents (Sept. 10, 2004)
E-mail a news tip to Robert B. Bluey.
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