The Floodgates Open

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Tim Russert brought the dispute over records of President Bush’s military service front and center by asking Bush to produce some.

In the interview Russert asked Bush “[W]ould you allow pay stubs, tax records, anything to show that you were serving during that period?” and “Would you authorize the release of everything to settle this?”

To the first question Bush answered yes, but that the records probably don’t exist anymore.

To the second question Bush replied, “Yes, absolutely. We did so in 2000, by the way.”

The now-infamous “torn document,” which the Bush administration produced in the spring of 2000 is a statement of service credit that Bush apparently earned for guard service in 1972-73. However, most of the dates and Bush’s name, except for the “W,” have been torn off.

At first, this document was often included in media summaries of Bush’s National Guard service. However, it has been notably absent from many recent accounts, simply because most reporters find it so incomplete as to be useless.

For example, Walter Robinson, the Boston Globe reporter who originally broke the story and wrote a follow-up last week, did not comment on the “torn document” in his updated account. Why? Because “[i]t proves nothing, as we noted; and because of space limitations, I did not include it,” Robinson told Campaign Desk.

But now that Bush has gone on record saying that he will release all records necessary to settle this issue, it’s up to the press corps to decide just how high or low to set the bar of disclosure necessary to get to the bottom of things.

This is exactly what the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank did in his article today:

Bush also said his campaign had authorized the release of such information in the 2000 campaign, but no such information has been released. A spokeswoman, Claire Buchan, said yesterday that all existing records, including pay stubs and retirement points, had already been made available.

Click over to The Los Angeles Times where Richard A. Serrano also takes Bush to task, suggesting that Bush has not fully disclosed all his pay stubs as he said he had done during the 2000 campaign yesterday in the “Meet the Press” interview. As evidence, Serrano reports that officials at the Defense and Finance Accounting Services in Colorado, the agency which Bush cited, “told The Times last week that before any records could be released, a Freedom of Information Act request must be filed and that the agency would then show the records to the White House communications office before proceeding.” Serrano also notes that officials at the agency stated it could be months before the request could be processed, and that the White House might refuse to allow the records to be released.

Now that Bush has opened the floodgates, look for even more reports similar to those offered by Milbank and Serrano. Insisting on full disclosure is not a partisan agenda. As many pundits have suggested, any record that proves Bush’s attendance could positively influence Bush’s chances of reclaiming the White House this fall - just as the failure to produce such a record might adversely affect the campaign.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.