February 13, 2004
THE CLEANSING OF THE PRESIDENT....The main witness to Bill
Burkett's story about the "cleansing" of George Bush's National Guard
files is a fellow former guardsman named George Conn. Burkett claims
that he mentioned his concerns to Conn in mid-1997 and a few days later
Conn took him on a stroll over to the the base museum building where
Burkett caught a glimpse of Bush's files being tossed away in a
trashcan. (My interview with Burkett about this stuff is here.)
On Wednesday Conn declined to comment on Burkett's charges to the New York Times but did say this via email:
"I know LTC Bill Burkett and served with him several years ago in the
Texas Army National Guard. I believe him to be honest and forthright. He
'calls things like he sees them.'"
Yesterday, though, Conn decided to comment further:
says he never saw anyone combing through the Bush file or discarding
records. "I have no recall of that," Conn said. "I have no recall of
that whatsoever. None. Zip. Nada."
Conn's recollection also undercuts another of Burkett's central
allegations: that he overheard Bush's onetime chief of staff, Joe M.
Allbaugh, telling a Texas Guard general to make sure there were no
embarrassments in the Bush record.
Burkett says he told Conn, over dinner that same night, what he had
overheard. But Conn says that, although Burkett told him he worried that
the Bush record would be sanitized, he never mentioned overhearing the
conversation between Allbaugh and General Daniel James III.
This is obviously a major blow to Burkett's credibility. What's odd, though, is that it doesn't actually directly contradict what Burkett told me on Wednesday:
After overhearing the "cleansing" conversation in General
James' office, Burkett says he "brought it up" with Conn and later
mentioned it "in passing." Then: "I don't know in what detail we talked
about it, but I know we talked."
Conn agrees that he took a walk with Burkett over to
the museum but says he never saw any records being tossed out. But in
Burkett's account to me he was actually pretty clear that Conn never
actually said or did anything specific. He just led him in the
direction of the trashcan and Burkett looked in and saw some of Bush's
I asked Burkett if Conn had brought him to the museum
deliberately and he said, "I believe so. And that's the reason I traced
the path, I don't think there's any doubt about it."
In other words, Conn never said anything directly about it. Burkett inferred Conn's intent from what he saw there.
Now, this is all very strange. Three people — Conn, Dennis Adams, and
Harvey Gough — are on record as agreeing that Burkett spoke to them in
1997 about his concerns that the Bush record was being sanitized.
What's more, Conn agrees that he and Burkett visited the museum together
one day. But he denies that Burkett ever mentioned specifically to him
what he saw in the trashcan.
So what really happened? I don't know the truth, but I did speak
with both Gough and Conn this morning to get their side of the story.
(No luck with Adams yet.) I'll have a post about that in a few hours.
Posted by Kevin Drum at February 13, 2004 08:23 AM
It gets more and more complicated every minute. Just what the
Republicans are hoping for. Only the wonks & ABBs will keep
Furthermore, it the contradictions give the media a fig leaf to hide behind in dropping the story.
Strange but completely uncorrobrated.
Story? Someboday say story?
As Kevin continues to pile more tinfoil on his hat...
chris, although they appear to be, I do not think the correct
interpretation is that the media are on Bush's side. They have lazy CW
consensus, and seem to jump on a lot of bandwagons. They like access so
they tend to be helpful to those in power with caveats. They are very
sensitive to criticism of bias, so they overreact in a "they say the
world is round, the other side disagrees"-kind of way, giving a benefit
to those that play fast and loose with the truth. But, the one thing
they are really beholden to is the story. If there is a possibility of
breaking a headline, they will follow it, regardless of ideology. They
have let a lot of stories go due to some of the above, and now that the
bandwagon is changing there are a lot of stories that have not been
written about the Bush record.
Keep digging, Kevin. Good work.
How do you breathe with your head so far up your ass?
Chris says, "It gets more and more complicated every minute. Just
what the Republicans are hoping for. Only the wonks & ABBs will keep
That's doubtless the strategy. But Bushco is used to playing
flimflam games and having the press be too stupid to see through it.
They are not used to an aroused citizenry being p---ed off about being
This whole Administration is marinated in lies. They are brilliant
at saying things that may be technically sort of true but clearly
intended to deceive (Iraq/Africa/uranium/nuff said).
The easy acceptance of lying, not just by Bushco but by their
partisans is destroying this country. Unraveling and punishing the lies
publicly is a matter of national survival.
Um, you guys need a bit of education in evidence.
The mere fact that someone (person B) says something that
disagrees--nee, contradicts--what person A says doesn't implicate person
A's credibility. It raises a question of fact. If others can
corroborate person A's story, that suggests that his story is more
likely to be true. Similarly, if someone can present evidence that
person B is biassed in favor of, say, X, that might call person B's
evidence into question.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
Wasn't Conn the guy on the grassy knoll?
[REDACTED] for America!
The whole is quite interesting.
Al, what is your objection to Kevin digging around and exploring the
terrain of the story? I have yet to see any real rationale from you on
that score . . . although I have not religiously followed your posts
since they tend to be predictable.
If Bush wants to prove what he did and that he does not suffer from
impaired credibiliy/integrity (his little mercilessly flogged meme that
he rode to power on) . . . why don't they just release the records?
It would certainly silence his critics and, to some extent, make them appear to be grasping/foolish.
Until then . . . let the story and all of its intrigues and mysteries unwind . . .
Any attempt to find information is paranoia.
"Ignorance is strength."
Al loves Big Brother, is all. Except Kevin is the object of his Two Minutes Hate.
Here's the difference between you, Kevin, and all those right-wing
attack sites: you've actually listened to the other side's evidence, and
tracked down their stories. The other side just throws stuff out there
to see what sticks.
I believe this will stick, because it's backed up with evidence, and
all evidence to the contrary is considered and evaluated, not just
Look at what the Times is saying this morning about what the right is doing to Kerry's antiwar record.
All the right can come up with is a photo of him and Jane Fonda. The
article goes on to quote a Republican who thinks Vietnam is one issue
they should stay away from in the election.
Um, you guys need a bit of education in evidence.
I am still taking a wait & see attitude to consider the follow-up
evidence. However, it is my contention that the press will drop the
story because they have now "heard both sides" and it, to them, is a he
said/she said story. As theCoach says, they like their access (which
they will lose as soon as they start poking too hard at Bush) and are in
competition to find new and exciting stories.
Evidence can only be presented if the press continues to dig instead
of presenting Bush's hand-selected paperwork and shielded witnesses as
gospel. The media (except for a few hardy souls) have taken on the role
of printing what's handed to them instead of investigating the evidence.
Obviously, all allegations that Bush did not serve his time by *actually showing up* MUST be true.
This is because there's no evidence he did not show up. Lack of evidence, apparently, connotes guilt.
Where's my tinfoil hat?
Chris, I take the opposite view. The more murky the better, in the
long run. Anyone with a brain can see they're hiding something. With
Bush's credibility numbers tanking, these kinds of stories will continue
to take their toll.
Also, reporters are now on this story. While the Administration can
put pressure on big news editors to shut this down, that's not gonna be
complete in this day and age. People like Kevin are on this, and, let's
face it, we have some time here before the election.
If I were advising Bush and Rove, I'd tell them to let it all hang
out, and try to put the best spin on the deal as possible, to get it
over with. SOMETHING will turn up regarding just what it is that
they're hiding. This simply has to be dealt with. This was on MSNBC
and CNN last night -- they're gonna have to come clean on these records
sooner or later.
I thought it was very interesting that the Washington Post in the
last several days came out and mentioned IN THE PAPER the old "mano a
This absolutely has to be dealt with, from their perspective. They
can't afford to go another six months with this hanging over their
heads. Someone, some enterprising soul will want to make a name for his
I am still taking a wait & see attitude to consider the
follow-up evidence. However, it is my contention that the press will
drop the story because they have now "heard both sides" and it, to them,
is a he said/she said story. As theCoach says, they like their access
(which they will lose as soon as they start poking too hard at Bush) and
are in competition to find new and exciting stories.
Call me a crazy optimist, but I think that the press smells blood in
the water and will continue to press on this and other stories which
embarrass the administration. Their "access" is only to the privilege of
having their questions ignored by Scotty; they have nothing to lose -
particularly if a different administration will be in place next year.
Read the transcripts of the press events on www.whitehouse.gov.
They're losing patience with the BS. They're getting snarky. It's
heartening in a way, even though it's analogous to the courage of a pack
of hyenas circling a wounded animal.
Al, what is your objection to Kevin digging around and exploring
the terrain of the story? I have yet to see any real rationale from you
on that score . . . although I have not religiously followed your posts
since they tend to be predictable.
I have absolutely no objection to Kevin digging into the story.
Just like I had absolutely no objection to the rightwingers digging
into Clinton's connection with Mena, Arkansas and that drug ring. I
think they came up with eyewitnesses for that, too.
Whatever floats your boat, I say. I just appreciate Kevin allowing
us to comment on his digging, unlike, say, Mark Kleiman. It makes it
Anyway, you really should follow my posts religiously...
Check out Josh Marshall. He's got a transcript of this morning's
gaggle. Helen Thomas apparently asked a simple yes-or-no question about
whether Bush served community service while in the guard. McClellan's
avoidance of the issue is entertaining. The media doesn't seem to be
letting go -- I saw MSNBC report the contentious discussion over the
community service question 30 minutes ago.
"As Kevin continues to pile more tinfoil on his hat..."
Al, if, as you believe, the whole story is a transparent absurdity,
why won't GWB release all his records? Every other presidential
candidate in recent history who served in the military has
unconditionally released his military records, but GWB won't waive his
privacy rights, and prefers to spoon-feed selected bits to the media.
Why is that?
Like the 9/11 investigation, like the Plame investigation, like the
intelligence investigation, the story would be over a lot more quickly
if GWB would cooperat--if he really has nothing to hide.
This morning I heard a report on the radio that some fellow guardsman
of Bush has come forward asserting that he did show up in Alabama. I'm
sure we will hear much more about this. I was already wondering, how
long does it take these guys to present a witness/testimonial.
Some here made a point I would like to expand on.
Whatever the political proclivities of reporters and publishers are, I think that laziness is a stronger motivator.
It's hard to dig up a story that's off the radar screen. There is a
lot of work involved, and a lot of risk, both for the reporter and the
Reporting on a report, be it a Limbaugh "Who Killed Vince Foster" talking point, a Newsmax Monica talking point, etc. is easy.
Since the right wing has the monopoly on scurrilous rumors in print and radio, this is where most of the press has gone.
If you look at the Trent Lott birthday affair, the story that
originally hit the big media was not, "Lott Praises Thurmond's 1949
Racist Presidential Bid", but, "Bloggers Point Out Lott's Support of
Thurmond's 1949 Racist Presidential Bid".
The latter story is a much easier one to sell. There are no questions of fact, and you can show an absence of malice.
Liberal blogging makes the press fairer because it gives a truthful alternative for lazy reporters.
Al, if, as you believe, the whole story is a transparent absurdity, why won't GWB release all his records?
What's the point? They been "scoured", so there's obviously nothing embarrassing in them! Right, Bill Burkett?
While reading this piece, I kept thinking "I hope Kevin calls Conn
and talks to him." Then I got to the end and saw that you have.
Thanks for reporting both sides of the story, and for blog investigation above and beyond the call of duty.
Thank God for Helen Thomas. However, the rest of them certainly did
not let Scott get away from it. It is also interesting to note that
the WH does not have the transcript on their site yet.
Can someone interview James R. Bath of Houston?
aWol's buddy who refused the flight physical & was also grounded at the same time.
aWol's buddy who is rumored to have helped aWol out of a personal problem.
An investor in aWol's Midland oil company who used $$$ from Osama's brother to invest.
While I have no direct experience in sanitizing files, I do think I
would, if I were to be involved in such a thing, put the discards
someplace besides the trashcan in the same office. Face up so they
could be seen without difficulty by somebody who happened to look. With
nothing benign on top of them. Hell, Ollie North's secretary took
Just a thought.
Also, the idea of subtracting stuff from the files is curious. Here we
are looking for evidence of a positive--that Bush was in various places
when he said he was--and finding it. What kind of subtraction would
Okay, he got paid on dates such and such. The records exist. Does
somebody think there are records of his having to return the pay, upon
the discovery that he really wasn't there?
Perhaps there is another positive. For instance, maybe he was punished
for one or another military crime. If so, how come the honorable
discharge? The sanitizing happened, if it happened, several decades
after the honorable discharge, so it couldn't have led to an uninformed
Does not add up.
For those of you who are not aware, in the military, officers come up
for promotion twice at each grade. If they fail the second time, they
are invited to leave. I saw a major turn into a staff sergeant (his
permanent rank) once. Not pretty.
Those passed over for promotion can be bitter.
And the usual hierarchy is that the next higher rank contains one fourth
as people as your present slot, so somebody inevitably loses. This is
somewhat skewed in the fixed-wing community where the pilots all begin
as second lieutenants, but, I am told, straightens itself out in the
full colonel and up area.
Point is, there are lots of guys who have been passed over and their
careers ended, some of whom may not be able to "move on" and think,
accurately or not, that they have been ill-used.
Whatever the issue, this is a caution when listening to a recently
retired officer dish dirt. One journalist asked me, when I offered him a
story of fraud, "What's your ax to grind?"
I didn't have one. I thought it was a good story. So did the FBI later on (they got it from somebody else).
That's a question that needs to be applied even in this case.
BushCo. the non-person has indeed re-invented himself, the buck stops anywhere but him. Must be Clinton's fault (both of them).
Yes, let's air that community service bit in Houston out a bit. Helen
Thomas is sharp as hell. This story will burn his ass I predict.
Ask yourself this question: if you could corroborate Burkett's story,
would you do it? Or would you make a statement similar to Conn's,
which is basically "I don't recall doing that, but Burkett is a standup
Seems to me that there's an implied threat in corroborating a
potentially damaging story about the POTUS. According to the Globe Conn
is "a civilian government employee working with the US Army in
Germany." Think he doesn't have an incentive to stay out of the fray?
Also, according to Burkett, Conn and Harvey Gough were ejected from
the NG apparently in retaliation for backing Burkett in 1997-1998. So
there seems to have been payback for crossing Bush in the past.
Conn did not contradict Burkett directly, and he even endorsed
Burkett as honest. Seems like an effort to be neutral, whatever his
reasons for doing so might be.
rea--"Al, if, as you believe, the whole story is a transparent absurdity, why won't GWB release all his records?"
Aal--"What's the point? They been "scoured", so there's obviously nothing embarrassing in them! Right, Bill Burkett?"
Well, Jeez, Al, the time to complain that we won't believe what the
records show us is after we get shown the records, isn't it? Why won't
he make the same disclosure everyone else did?
And why, for crying out loud, does the president's press secretary
respond to a question about whether the president was senteced to
community service in criminal proceedings by saying that its been 30
years, and the president can't be expected to remember every little
thing that happened 30 years ago--like being sentenced for a crime? Has
the man been convicted of so many crimes he can't reasonably be
expected to remember them all?
At this point, it is reasonable to believe that Bush was in Alabama.
What was he doing there? I am interested to hear from people who
worked alongside him in Blount's campaign.
Kevin is in the investigation stage. He hasn't claimed any results yet, and hasn't declared Bush guilty.
So what's the problem? The resident trolls and the new ones crawling
out from under the dumpster are angry that we are even asking
questions. They have been pulling random kneejerk objections to what
Kevin's doing and slapping them down one after another without any logic
Kevin hasn't convicted Bush. He hasn't even indicted him. He's investigating. What's wrong with that?
There are a LOT of reasons to believe that there's something (several
things) fishy in Bush's story around 1968-1975. The Guard story is
just part of it. Considering that Bush represents himself as the
Character Candidate, aren't these stories relevant?
My feeling is that Bush and Rove would clear these rumors up in a
minute if they were able to. But they can't. We don't know what's there,
but there's got to be something.
Especially since the Republicans have done a lot worse to much better
men than Bush -- including the Republican Sen. McCain. (Yes, I'm aware
that Bush and Rove personally have plausible deniability on that one,
but some Republican supporter of Bush smeared McCain.)
And all the people who were big into the Clinton smears now are very pious about changing the tone in Washington. Jesus.
Yeah, this aspect of the story may die. But the media has a sense
right now that there's stuff in the records that Bush doesn't want
people to see, and they'll continue to follow that thread.
got posted over at Atrios's site, and it has a couple of interesting
things. First of all, there was another guy (James Bath) who got
suspended the month after Bush for refusing to take his physical. He's
been linked to Bush before, but what interested me was this bit:
"Off[icer] will comply with para 2-1, AFM 35-13. Authority: Para 2-29m, AFM 35-13."
Anyone know what this means? I assume it has something to do with the
regulations they violated, but googling on the reference (and I also
tried assuming that it means Air Force Manual) turned up nothing.
"...and the president can't be expected to remember every little thing
that happened 30 years ago--like being sentenced for a crime?"
"The author recounts Bush's steel-trap memory: He could remember all
of Willie Mays's batting averages, and in 1988, he memorized the names
and faces of 100 key Washington political reporters in preparation for
his father's Presidential campaign."
Sounds like his memory isn't the problem.
I'll follow your posts with more regularity if you can promise to come up with some more novel forms of obfuscation.
Thx . . .
Welcome to the non-story of the year (to everyone but Bush haters).
By wasting so much time on this crap, you lose more credibility than the
It's getting a helluva lot of airtime for a "non-story".
I agree with you that George Conn's new account does not contradict
Burkett's own in the transcript you provided yesterday. Burkett never
claimed that Conn "saw" the contents of the trash. Burkett claims only
that HE saw the files in the trash.
Notice that Conn too uses that verb, "saw," in his kind of demurral.
A really good question would be: Had Conn HEARD about the file
cleansing? The Burkett interview transcript is helpful in this regard.
Conn is identified as a base maven (my word), which is to say, he knew
everyone on base and knew what everyone was DOING. Burkett, in the
transcript, reports that Conn appeared to have known about the cleansing
Bush's files. Why, because Conn made such a show of walking him,
without explanation, to the room where it was happening. Conn wanted
someone, not himself, to witness the activities, and take the heat later
for coming forward with that eyewitness reporting. That someone was
Burkett. Meanwhile, in a kind of elision, Conn can say he himself "saw"
nothing--this is not untrue. But he made sure that Burkett did.
keep up the good work, kevin!
i am still hearing about this in the screeching head media, so it ain't going away yet!
What Chris said.
This story is being woven into a complicated web of he-said, she-said
reporting, just as Herr Rove likes it. It seems like many of these
people who have recently come forth to contradict incriminating
statements have ties to right-wing organizations, but then all it really
takes is a payoff and we know the Texas Oil Barons have plenty of
dough. Regardless of why these Bush defenders have fluttered into the
public spotlight like so many moths, their effect is to break up the
story's narrative into a contest of accusations and vouches that will no
longer resonates with the public. Only a black & white crime will
indict Dubya in the hearts of the American public, since they are so
accustomed to being lied to that they distrust the truth and any who
The points you've neglected are that (a) the museum doesn't store
service records, and (2) the service records themselves were transferred
to Colorado in 1973, when Bush went inactive.
So what you've got is a guy who claims to have seen other people
"cleansing" -- they'd call it "sanitizing", by the way, it's a term of
art -- records that weren't there, being refuted by the same people he
claims as witnesses.
Who has a grudge against the TANG anyway.
Can you say "bupkis"? You should practice, because that's what you've got.
You guys really are deranged.
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