The current debate
about Bush's military record has focused on whether records support when and where he was at prior to 1974. The Administration doesn't have to worry about AWOL allegations, because Bush received an honorable discharge. But there are allegations that Bush was blackmailed with this information by the very man who helped him get into the National Guard in the first place, former Lt. Governor Ben Barnes, who is also an old friend of George H. Bush.
In 1997, The Texas Lottery commission hired an employee named Lawrence Littwin. He questioned why the Texas Lottery contract wasn't up for rebidding. He was promptly fired, and he countered back with a lawsuit alleging that GTech was responsible for his termination. This re-opened the question of Bush's military background, a major subject in Bush's governor race where he steadfastly denied any special treatment. Texans for Public Justice has more on this.
Upon taking office in 1995, Gov. Bush appointed his personal lawyer, Harriet Miers ($22,000 to Bush's gubernatorial campaigns), to watch over the Texas Lottery Commission. The Texas Lottery is intertwined with ex-Texas Speaker and Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes. In 1991, Barnes lobbied to create the Texas Lottery. The next year Barnes became arguably the highest paid lobbyist in Texas history. Gtech--the only contractor that the Texas Lottery has ever had--agreed to pay Barnes annual fees of up to $3.2 million. Barnes kicked back one-third of this money to a Gtech executive who was convicted in 1996 of taking New Jersey lobby kickbacks. In a further revolving-door scandal, Gtech hired top Bush aides Cliff Johnson and Reggie Bashur as lobbyists as they exited the Governor's Office.
In the wake of these scandals, Gtech paid $23 million to buy Barnes out of his lobby contract and the Lottery Commissioners rebid Gtech's contract. Gtech simply won the contract again. Gtech paid $300,000 in 1999 to settle a lawsuit by ex-Texas Lottery Director Lawrence Littwin. Littwin alleged that the commissioners fired him for digging into Gtech's political influence. He said the company controlled the commissioners because of what Barnes knew about Bush's military service. As House Speaker in 1968, Barnes wrote a letter to help get young George W. Bush a coveted spot in the Texas Air National Guard--far from the Vietnamese rice paddies.
This isn't just an issue of Bush's placement in TANG. This special favor became a compromising situation. Barnes held politically damaging information over Bush's head throughout the 90's in exchange for a lucrative arrangement with the Texas Lottery and its contractor GTech.
In his court deposition, Barnes clearly indicates that he arranged Bush's spot in TANG. Barnes then became the highest paid lobbyiest in Texas' history, reaping the rewards of being a Bush friend. GTech and Littwin settled out of court, and the subject of Bush's military record was closed again.
This was an active situation during the Gore 2000 campaign, and I don't remember hearing anything about it. I don't know if there will be any political fallout over this or not, but it adds some context to this naive cowboy act that Bush displays.
I suspect that some upper Dem has seen Greg Palast's documentary Bush Family Fortunes. It features an on-camera interview with a former Lieutenant Col. at the TANG, Bill Burkett. He states that somebody within then-Governor George W. Bush's office contacted TANG and requested that Bush's pay and attendance records were purged. Greg Palast has this:
Seems that Burkett was in the office of the Guard's Adjutant General when a call came in from then-Governor George W. Bush's office. As is normal procedure, the call was put on the speaker box, but the request was not so normal. The Governor's office was sending over an official biographer ... and the Governor's minions wanted to make sure the files did not contain not-so-heroic info. Burkett told me:
"I was in the General's office, General Daniel James .... He gets a telephone call from Joe Albaugh, who was the Governor's chief of staff, and Dan Bartlett ... on the voice box ... and they wanted General James to assemble all of the Governor's files, that [Karen Hughes, Bush's aide] was going to write a book.... But Joe told General James, `Make sure there's not anything in there that'll embarrass the Governor.'"
And there wouldn't be. Burkett asked if the general's staff really intended to purge the files; and sure enough, as evidence of the affirmative reply, he was shown the piles of pay and pension records in the garbage pails destined for the shredders. Colonel Burkett did not run off with those files so we can only conclude this: the only evidence that Bush showed up for duty during the war is now missing. Military pay records are public records - and now they are conveniently unavailable.
By the way, the White House, where Messrs. Albaugh, Bartlett and, of course, Mr. Bush, work, turned down BBC's offer to deny the charges of the draft-dodge fix and the purging of Dubya's files.
Is there any smoke there? Legally, probably not. But this is explosive political information. If one of the networks ran a special like this during prime time in the US, Bush would just get lynched. I'm amazed that the national media hasn't touched this before, but the "left wing media" might just be waiting for the general election so Bush has to be on the defensive the entire time.
The Dem candidate shouldn't say anything. He should play this game like Papa Bush played against Dukakis and Clinton. Don't say anything yourself, but pump this information out to any media outlet that will listen. Papa Bush had the FBI scour Clinton's files for dirty information, but didn't really find anything.
Once somebody continues to investigate this thoroughly, a very different image of Bush emerges. If anything, it has to strengthen the ABB message, because fewer Independents and Moderates are going to be able to identify with a man whose life surely redefines the word 'nepotism'.
This isn't an issue of whether Bush was AWOL, or where he was at for a particular year. It's the result of that experience is a dark undercurrent through his political life.
There's a saying, "Money talks and bullshit walks". That's the Golden Rule in Texas, the oil industry, sports, campaigns, religion, alcoholism, cocaine addiction, and Washington politics...
There's no doubt that Bush lived by the Golden Rule his entire life.