It’s quite possible we will look back on this week as the turning point in the cover-up of George Bush’s military record. As the article in today’s NYTimes elaborates, confirmatory evidence has emerged which indicates Bush not only lied about the use of family influence, but also whether he actually fulfilled his National Guard obligations.
It’s not that the President looked so innocent prior to this week, however. For example, way back in February, Bush appeared on “Meet the Press” to discuss his justification for going to war. In the course of the interview, Tim Russert asked Bush about allegations that he failed to report for part of his guard duty.
Here’s the exchange between Bush and Tim Russert on the “failure to report” issue:
RUSSERT: The Boston Globe and the Associated Press have gone through some of their records and said there’s no evidence that you reported to duty in Alabama during the summer and fall of 1972.
BUSH: Yes, they’re — they’re just wrong. There may be no evidence, but I did report. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been honorably discharged.
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: Yes. Listen, these files have been — 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 you will allow pay stubs, tax records, anything to show that you were serving during that period?
BUSH: Yes. If we still have them, but I — you know, the records are kept in Colorado, as I understand, and they scoured the records.
Before the disclosures of this past week, Bush was able to rest on (or hide behind) what was commonly recognized as an inconclusive paper trail. If you notice, however, Bush spends less energy denying or countering the charges than he does reiterating his confidence that nobody is going to find any incriminating evidence.
Still later in the interview, Russert touched on another aspect of Bush’s military service, concerning whether Bush used family connections to cut short his commitment. Interestingly, this issue has earned relatively little attention as compared to the issue of Bush’s attendance record:
RUSSERT: You were allowed to leave eight months before your term expired. Was there a reason?
BUSH: Right. Well, I was going to Harvard Business School and we worked it out with the military.
Personally, I find this to be the most incriminating statement Bush has made to date. In asking the question, Russert does not lead Bush in any particular direction. Perhaps because special privilege is second nature to him, however, Bush offers an unqualified admission that a special arrangement was made.