In itself, this week contains so much content that it has been subdivided into multiple pages. Use the menu below to peruse the contents.
Bush tells pack of lies about Iraq and his military record on Meet the Press; media investigations prove he failed to serve
- February 8: George W. Bush appears on Tim Russert's Meet the Press. In the taped interview, Bush defends his National Guard record, telling an astonishing tapestry of lies and misinformation to dodge the fact that he went AWOL and was given an honorable discharge from the National Guard through family intervention. In part, he says, "I was... I served in the National Guard. I flew F-102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge. I've heard this, I've heard this ever since I started running for office. I...I put in my time, proudly so. ...It's fine to go after me, which I expect the other side will do. I wouldn't denigrate service to the Guard, though, and the reason I wouldn't, is because there are a lot of really fine people who served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq." When asked about the failure to find evidence that he reported to duty in Alabama during the summer and fall of 1972, he replies, "Yeah, they're, they're just wrong. There may be no evidence, but I did report; otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged. In other words, you don't just say 'I did something' without there being verification. Military doesn't work that way. I got an honorable discharge, and I did show up in Alabama [a flat lie, since his commanding officer has repeatedly said that he never reported for duty and no records of his attendance can be found]."
- Russert asks if Bush would agree to open his entire military file for public scrutiny, as John McCain did in 2000 and Wesley Clark did this year; he says he would agree to do so, if they can be found: "Listen, these files 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. ...If we still have them, but I you know, the records are kept in Colorado, as I understand, and they scoured the records. And I'm just telling you, I did my duty, and it's politics, you know, to kind of ascribe all kinds of motives to me. But I have been through it before. I'm used to it. What I don't like is when people say serving in the Guard is, is may not be a true service." He even says that he released his complete military records in 2000, which is flatly wrong, but Russert doesn't challenge his lie. He doesn't mention the fact that his military files have long been sealed and hidden away, and that before the 2000 election, aides were sent out to purge his records to keep his failure to complete his duty from the public; again, these facts are not mentioned by Russert. (MSNBC, Democrats.com)
- February 8: In the Meet the Press interview, Russert reminds Bush of his assertion of March 17 that "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." Russert says, "That apparently is not the case;" Bush responds, "Correct."
- When asked to respond to critics that say he brought the nation to war under false pretenses, Bush responds, "[F]irst of all, I expected to find the weapons. Sitting behind this desk making a very difficult decision of war and peace, and I based my decision on the best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts thought was valid but analysts from other countries thought were valid. And I made a decision based upon that intelligence in the context of the war against terror. In other words, we were attacked, and therefore every threat had to be reanalyzed. Every threat had to be looked at. Every potential harm to America had to be judged in the context of this war on terror. And I made the decision, obviously, to take our case to the international community in the hopes that we could do this achieve a disarmament of Saddam Hussein peacefully [a lie, since he refused to work with the United Nations and unilaterally demanded the removal of UN weapons inspectors]. In other words, we looked at the intelligence. And we remembered the fact that he had used weapons, which meant he had weapons. We knew the fact that he was paying for suicide bombers. We knew the fact he was funding terrorist groups [a misdirection, since the groups Hussein was funding were strictly active against Iraqi targets]. In other words, he was a dangerous man. And that was the intelligence I was using prior to the run up to this war. ...And so we -– I expected there to be stockpiles of weapons. But David Kay has found the capacity to produce weapons. And when David Kay goes in and says we haven't found stockpiles yet, and there's theories as to where the weapons went. They could have been destroyed during the war. Saddam and his henchmen could have destroyed them as we entered into Iraq. They could be hidden. They could have been transported to another country, and we'll find out. That's what the Iraqi survey group -- let me, let me finish here. But David Kay did report to the American people that Saddam had the capacity to make weapons [a specious argument, since Kay's report concluded that Hussein's capability to make WMDs was feeble and certainly not a threat to the US or even Israel]. Saddam Hussein was dangerous with weapons. Saddam Hussein was dangerous with the ability to make weapons. He was a dangerous man in the dangerous part of the world. And I made the decision to go to the United Nations [as above, a lie; when the UN refused to give countenance to American military intervention, Bush made the decision to invade anyway]. By the way, quoting a lot of their data in other words, this is unaccounted for stockpiles that you thought he had because I don't think America can stand by and hope for the best from a madman, and I believe it is essential, I believe it is essential that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent. It's too late if they become imminent. It's too late in this new kind of war, and so that's why I made the decision I made."
- He repeats the disproven assertions that Hussein possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, along with the disproven assertion that Hussein possessed unmanned aerial drones capable of striking at international targets, and lies about presenting Congress with complete intelligence: " I went to Congress with the same intelligence. Congress saw the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at, and they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had. The same information, by the way, that my predecessor had. And all of us, you know, made this judgment that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed." He doesn't mention the fact that his predecessor, Bill Clinton, had supported regime change through international sanctions, UN inspections, and economic pressures, and had repeatedly resisted military intervention. Numerous congressmen have revealed that Bush presented them with "cherry-picked" and sometimes completely false "intelligence" that was in the end misleading and erroneous. His assertion, "What I decided to do was to go to the international community and see if we could not disarm Saddam Hussein peacefully through international pressure," is laughable in its falsity. The New York Times writes, "...Mr. Bush offered his reflections, and they were far from reassuring. The only clarity in the president's vision appears to be his own perfect sense of self-justification. ...Bush, who described himself as a 'war president,' is going to have to show the country that he is capable of distinguishing real threats from false alarms, and has the courage to tell the nation the truth about something as profound as war. Nothing in the interview offered much hope in that direction." (MSNBC, New York Times)
- February 8: In the Meet the Press interview, Bush is asked if he will testify before the newly appointed intelligence investigation. He replies, "I don't testify. [Apparently he is asserting that he is above testifying under oath.] I will be glad to visit with them. I will be glad to share with them knowledge. I will be glad to make recommendations, if they ask for some." When asked if he will testify before the 9/11 investigation, he answers, "Perhaps, perhaps." (MSNBC)
- February 8: In an attempt to justify the administration's war in Iraq in light of Iraq's lack of WMDs, both Bush and Cheney say that the war was justified because Saddam Hussein could have made weapons of mass destruction at some point in the future. "Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I'm not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman," Bush tells Tim Russert in the Meet the Press interview. "He's a dangerous man. He had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum." Cheney gives the same message to a group of Republican donors in suburban Chicago: "We know that Saddam Hussein had the intent to arm his regime with weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein had something else -- he had a record of using weapons of mass destruction against his enemies and against his own people." (Washington Post/Boston Globe)
Bush keeps scope of intelligence investigation as narrow as possible
- February 8: President Bush intends to keep the scope of the inquiry into the flawed intelligence surrounding Iraq as narrow as possible, directing the panel to focus strictly on flawed prewar intelligence assessments of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and other nations. However, the commission may address a broader range of topics, possibly including the following:
Commenting on the commission's relative lack of experience with handling intelligence matters, Brookings Institution fellow and former NSC advisor Ivo Daddler says, "This is the most ill-prepared snow job I've seen in a long time." Does he [Bush] really think anybody is really going to fall for this? The commissioners he has named know absolutely nothing about the subject matter." A former DIA official, Patrick Lang, says he is happy with the make-up of the commission: "I'm happy with the commission so far. They took a more sophisticated approach and decided to pick people who probably will really want to do the job." As for the members' lack of direct intelligence experience, Lang says: "That's good. They don't need it. Intelligence is a matter of applied logic and reason." (Chicago Tribune/Charlotte Observer)
- the role of Vice President Dick Cheney and his staff, including Cheney's visits to the CIA to review intelligence reports and his trips to Capitol Hill to describe, in closed briefings, the prewar dangers posed by Iraq;
- the role of CIA Director George Tenet, who in an impassioned defense of his agency and its work Thursday said Bush "gets his intelligence from one person and one community -- me;"
- the reliance on questionable human sources, including Iraqi defectors and foreign opposition leaders, who had much to gain from U.S. intervention
- February 8: Former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix compares the use of intelligence by Bush and Blair in justifying the war in Iraq to the insincere tactics of salesmen. Blix says the West has a right to expect more from their leaders. "The intention was to dramatize it [the intelligence] just as the vendors of some merchandise are trying to exaggerate the importance of what they have," says Blix. "From politicians, our leaders in the Western world, I think we expect more than that, a bit more sincerity," Blix adds. (Reuters/Muslim News)
- February 8: Among the questions swirling around the massive overcharging for gasoline by Halliburton against the US government, one question is rarely asked: why did Halliburton choose to use the particular Kuwaiti supplier it chose to provide it with gasoline? The Kuwaiti company is rather small and has almost no experience in the oil business, yet it received the exclusive contract after what appears to be a "highly improper" bidding procedure. As it turns out, the company has close ties with Kuwait's royal family, the al-Sabahs. And businessman Marvin Bush, younger brother of George W. Bush, has close business ties with the al-Sabahs. Economist Paul Krugman observes, "In any previous administration -- at least any administration of the past seventy years -- this sort of incestuous relationship among foreign governments, private businesses, and the personal fortunes of people in or close to the US government would have been considered unusual and prima facie scandalous. [H]owever, ...this kind of intertwining of public policy and personal self-interest has been standard operating procedure not just for George W. Bush, but for his entire family." Marvin Bush has been virtually an employee of the Kuwaiti royal family for over a decade: "After the first Gulf War Marvin Bush, who went to Kuwait seeking business in 1993, served on the boards of several companies controlled by the Kuwait-American Company. A member of Kuwait's royal family is one of Kuwait-American's major shareholders, and it seems reasonable to say that in effect Marvin works for the al-Sabahs." (New York Review of Books)
- February 8: A document provided by the Bush administration purporting to prove that President Bush indeed served his time in the Texas Air National Guard is raising more questions than it settles. The document tracks the awarding of "points" for Bush's service between October 29, 1972, through May 22, 1973. The document is from the ARF, a "paper" unit of reserves based in Denver. Most Guard members assigned to ARF are given the assignment for disciplinary reasons. As it can be best interpreted, apparently Bush was assigned to the ARF unit after his suspension in July 1972 for failure to take his physical. ARF requires no drills and no attendance; for active guard members it is disciplinary because ARF members can theoretically be called up for active duty in the regular military, although this obviously never happened to George Bush. After Bush's failure to complete drills beginning in May 1972, and his failure to take his physical in July 1972, apparently he was then grounded and transferred to ARF as a disciplinary measure. He never returned to his original Texas Guard unit and cram in 36 days of active duty in 1973, as Time magazine and others continue to assert based on a mistaken interpretation of Bush's 1973-74 ARF record, but rather accumulated only ARF points during that period. In fact, it's unclear even what the points on the ARF record are for. What is clear is that Bush's official records from Texas show no actual duty after May 1972, as his Form 712 Master Personnel Record from the Texas Air National Guard clearly indicates. ARF duty isn't counted as official duty by the Texas guard. If Bush did indeed fulfill his obligation, as he claims, then he did so because he was relieved of further obligation to the Guard after being transferred to ARF. As of yet, no records have been released proving this contention, nor have any records been released that would indicate the nature of the disciplinary offense that resulted in his transfer to ARF. (CalPundit)
- February 8: During his Meet the Press interview, President Bush admits he did not volunteer for duty in Vietnam. Interviewer Tim Russert asks, "But you didn't volunteer or enlist to go." Bush replies, "No, I didn't. You're right." This directly contradicts the story he told in his 1999 "autobiography" A Charge to Keep, which was actually written by campaign chief Karen Hughes. In his book, Bush claims that, after learning to fly the F-102 fighter jet, he was turned down for Vietnam duty because he "had not logged enough flight hours" to qualify for a combat assignment, and goes on to add, "I continued flying with my unit for the next several years." Not only did he lie about the reason he failed to serve in Vietnam, he also lied about flying with his unit "for the next several years." Russert fails to call Bush out on his lies. (Meet the Press, Buzzflash)
- February 8: Democratic frontrunner John Kerry says he knows full well that he will be targeted by the Republican "smear machine," and vows to fight back against every offensive launched by his GOP opponents. "I am one Democrat who knows how to fight back, and I've only just begun to fight," Kerry says. "This week, George Bush and the Republican smear machine has begun trotting out the same old tired lines of attack that they've used before to divide this nation and to evade the real issues before us," Kerry says to an audience of Virginia Democrats. "I have news this time for George Bush and Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie and the rest of their friends: I am not going to back down." Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee, has begun attacking Kerry as a Massachusetts liberal with a "long record in the Senate is one of advocating policies that would weaken our national security." Kerry retorts, "George Bush, who speaks of strength, has actually made America weaker -- weaker economically, weaker in health care for all our citizens, and weaker in education. The truth is George Bush has made us weaker militarily by overextending our armed forces" and driving away our allies. Kerry asserts that Democrats represent the mainstream, while Republicans are the "extreme" on a number of issues, including tax cuts, fiscal responsibility, health care, violence against women, the federal judiciary, civil liberties and national security. (AP/Guardian)
- February 8: One of the most powerful groups behind Bush, and one with which he is most closely aligned both politically and personally, is the evangelical Christian community. Around 70 million Americans consider themselves evangelical Christians, and 40% of the votes for Bush in 2000 were from these voters. Some of the evangelicals' favorite books are the Left Behind series, written by evangelist Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. LaHaye says, "We believe that God has raised up America to be a tool in these last days, to get the Gospel to the innermost parts of the earth." This "end-times," apocalyptic vision of the world is one that strongly informs Bush's own thinking, and his own decisions as President. According to LaHaye and other evangelicals, only those of their own faith will go to Heaven after the apocalypse; all others are "damned." These believers are sure that the idea of the "Rapture" and the end-times events to follow are absolute fact, future history, and it is their job -- and the Bush administration's -- to help bring these events to pass. Theologian Peter Gomes of Harvard says, "The events of September 11 gave an even greater urgency to believers, and some non-believers." LaHaye adds, "I think 9/11 was a wake-up call to America. Suddenly, our false sense of security was shaken. And we're vulnerable. And that fear can lead many people to Christ." LaHaye preaches this message in his books and in seminars and speeches around the country. "When Jesus shouts from heaven, there are going to be millions of people taken to heaven, and there will be millions of people who are 'Left Behind'." Co-author Jenkins says, "I realize that our message is inherently offensive and divisive, especially in this new age of tolerance. Especially since 9/11. I understand how that sounds. But I'm telling you this 'cause I really do believe it." Gomes says that evangelical believe is now both a political and cultural movement: "Evangelicals have been on the cultural defensive. But they have waited in the wilderness. And now in the fullness of time, they have come into possession of what they felt was once rightfully theirs. And so, with the White House, and Tom DeLay, and in the House of Representatives, the attorney general...talk radio, the conservative Fox News, all that sort of thing, these are parts of the righteous army that has finally come into its own." But Gomes warns, "The trouble with evangelicalism of a certain stripe in America is that it's been so long from power that it is seduced by power. And once it gets it, it is very hard to distinguish secular power from spiritual power." (CBS)
White House economic predictions fail to materialize; one official claims that US jobs lost overseas is good for the economy
- February 9: More rosy economic predictions emerge from the Bush White House, with 2.6 million new jobs being created in 2004 according to the administration's latest economic forecasts. It should be remembered that in 2003 the administration predicted the gain of 1.7 million jobs, when in reality the economy lost 493,000, and in 2002, when the administration predicted the loss of 100,000 jobs and the US actually lost 1.45 million jobs. The Bush administration is currently on pace to be the first administration since Herbert Hoover's time (the Great Depression) that oversaw the loss, not gain, of jobs in the American economy. Private economists think the administration is blowing smoke. "The job machine would have to rev up very, very quickly -- it's got to be almost supercharged at some point during the year" to do that well, says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com. "It's more than I would forecast, but I'm not running for re-election," says David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's. (Reuters, Dow Jones Newswires/Quicken)
- February 9: In his interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press, President Bush played a bit fast and loose with the English language regarding his military record. He told Russert that he would release all the records from his service in the National Guard, and that he had already done so in 2000. That is a lie. Bush has only released partial records, from his service in the Texas Air National Guard, not his controversial Alabama service records. In 2000, Democratic senators Bob Kerrey and Daniel Inouye, both decorated war veterans, repeatedly asked Bush to release his military records; the Bush campaign refused. A 2000 FOIA request for his military documents also withheld key documents. According to author James Moore, "his Military Personnel Records Jacket from Texas is missing many things. There should be pay stubs for every day served, a roll-up of total retirement points earned for service, and, most likely, an Officers' Board of Inquiry Report on why a pilot, who had spent $1 million dollars learning to fly a jet in war time, was suspended. These records, if they exist, have been committed to microfiche and are on file at the Air Reserve Personnel Headquarters in Denver. And, regardless of the president's parsing of language, he has not yet authorized the release to the public of his full service record from Denver." Until George W. Bush, every president in US history has fully released his military records. Bush has not, and he continues to refuse to do so, even as he claims that he has.
- The issue first came up in 1994, when during a debate between Bush and then-Texas governor Ann Richards, Moore asked Bush how he was able to get into the National Guard so easily when the waiting list for entrance was, on average, three years long for a soldier and five years for a pilot. Moore writes, "A source within the Texas National Guard told me that the day after I had posed the question that Bush people were calling the guard's offices and contacting the future president's roommates and commanders to get the story straight. Clearly, the subject left them both angry and exposed." Bush officials have long used a single document "discovered" in 1999, in Bush's file at Camp Mabry, Austin, to "prove" that he served his entire term of duty, including the disputed duty in Montgomery, Alabama. "Unfortunately, the document is torn, has no months, only the letter 'W' for identification, and, at the bottom where 'total points accrued' is listed, there is no tally," writes Moore. "This torn document, of scant worth, is supposed to confirm the president's claims. It does not. The evidence to show Mr. Bush's behavior is shown in what's missing. There is still not one witness nor one incontrovertible military document to verify the president ever served a day after April of 1972."
- Moore answers the administration's two-pronged response to questions and criticisms of Bush's probable deserter status: "They have an approach that is arguing the president would not have been given an honorable discharge had he not completed his service. This is hardly true. The National Guard is, and always has been, a political operation. The 'champagne unit' in Houston, where Bush served, was run by a commander who filled the air wing with the sons of politicians like US Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, US Sen. John Tower, Gov. John Connally of Texas, and a number of Dallas Cowboy football players. In fact, Col. Buck Staudt was not in the office the day Bush enlisted, so he staged a swearing-in ceremony at a later time and invited Houston reporters. Staudt also missed Bush's promotion to 2nd Lt., and decided to stage another photo op with Bush's father, the congressman. It doesn't take a great leap of faith to assume Staudt would engineer an 'honorable discharge' to help the Bush family avoid embarrassment over their son's disappearance from duty. The other tactic being deployed by the White House is to accuse his critics of attacking the National Guard. No one is diminishing the honorable service of men and women who serve in the guard. Their service, and their serious commitment to it, is what separate them from the president. Even though the guard is political, it has always played a vital role in our nation's defense. The guard itself is not the issue. Fair questions are being asked about Mr. Bush's failure to take his oath seriously. He got in with privilege, and then unilaterally decided to walk away to Alabama. He had not even received permission and did not ask for it until he was in Alabama. The cover up of Mr. Bush's two missing years involved even more privilege. He is not a leader." (Buzzflash, Washington Post/Daily Misleader)
- February 9: The Democratic Party puts together a detailed refutation of the lies and misstatements presented by George Bush on Meet the Press. Among the refutations:
- Instead of giving "extraordinary cooperation" to the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration has stonewalled and covered up its actions every step of the way. It fought the establishment of the commission. It fought to hide briefings and information about the administration's knowledge of the threat in the days and weeks before the attacks. It tried to block commission members from accessing their own notes. It resisted the commission's request for more time to explore and analyze its data.
- Bush insists that Iraq's putative WMDs are still around, and that it's just a matter of time before they are found. In reality, even his hand-picked investigative committee, led by Dr. David Kay, says the WMDs never existed.
- Bush says that discretionary government spending was significantly higher under the Clinton administration, and that under his tenure, such spending has "steadily declined." Bush's people have used a number of unethical and misleading accounting tricks to "jigger" the numbers to support his statement. Most notably, the Republican-led 2001 Congress hid FY 2001 spending in the FY 2000 budget, making Clinton's last budget seem much larger than it actually was. Additionally, Bush's claims that all of his spending increases have been for defense and homeland security are false. 55% of Bush's spending increases have been for items not related for defense and homeland security.
- Bush claims that job growth under his tenure is improving: "[T]here is good momentum when it comes to the creation of good jobs." Manufacturing jobs in particular continue to decline; the 112,000 new jobs Bush claims to have created are merely a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 2 million jobs lost since Bush took office. And while unemployment numbers have dropped slightly, the reason is that millions of jobseekers have given up looking for work and are no longer counted in the unemployment figures. Bush says he's "more worried about the fellow looking for the job," but his administration has repeatedly refused to tap the $20 billion trust fund set aside for extended unemployment benefits to make these funds available.
- Bush claims that his budget will cut the deficit in half within five years. In reality, his budget excludes over $200 billion in costs, including monies spent in Iraq, revenue lost to further tax cuts for the wealthy, funding for the war on terror, and other costs. It also fails to account for $1 trillion in Social Security costs. Under Bush's budget, the deficit will continue to spiral out of control. Bush blames the war in Iraq and corporate scandals for the spending deficits. In reality, his tax cuts for the wealthy are the primary reason for the deficits, costing the government 300% more than the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and the war on terror.
- While Bush sings the praises of the US military, his administration treats them much more shabbily, with newly deployed National Guard units being sent to Iraq without proper equipment, and homeward bound troops being forced to pay their own airfare home.
- February 9: As far back as November 2001, the international media has known that the Bush administration had blocked any investigation of Pakistani nuclear scientist Dr. A.Q. Khan, who was recently proven to have sold nuclear technology to North Korea, Iran, and Libya. While the administration has pretended to be shocked and angered at the revelations about Khan, in reality, the National Security Agency, under orders from top officials in the Bush administration, began blocking investigation into Khan Research Agency shortly after Bush's 2001 inauguration. CIA and other intelligence agents say that they were prohibited from following up leads of "Islamic bombs" through Pakistan because the funding seemed to originate in Saudi Arabia. A high-ranking CIA operative told the BBC that, as Greg Palast writes, "after Bush took office, 'There was a major policy shift' at the National Security Agency. Investigators were ordered to 'back off' from any inquiries into Saudi Arabian financing of terror networks, especially if they touched on Saudi royals and their retainers. That put the Bin Ladens, a family worth a reported $12 billion and a virtual arm of the Saudi royal household, off limits for investigation. Osama was the exception; he remained a wanted man, but agents could not look too closely at how he filled his piggy bank. The key rule of any investigation, 'follow the money,' was now violated, and investigations - at least before September 11 -- began to die." The restrictions were lifted on September 11. Palast concludes that "intelligence agencies under Clinton, based on many other leads as well, were following up on the Saudi connection until the Bush team interfered." (Greg Palast)
- February 9: With three visits within days of a Democratic presidential primary made by President Bush, Democrats are accusing Bush of using taxpayer dollars to pay for what are essentially campaign stops designed to respond to Democratic attacks and mobilize Republican voters. "Bush's visits, billed as `official events' are, in reality, taxpayer-financed campaigning," the Democratic National Committee says in a statement. The Democratic primaries "are drawing a record number of voters, a fact that apparently has Bush and his campaign nervous enough to play second fiddle in state after state," says Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe. White House officials claim Bush's stop in the Ozarks was unrelated to Missouri's Democratic primary, held scant days before. Rather, they said, the president came to conduct "a conversation" on the economy with small business owners and their employees. "The president believes it's important to get outside Washington, DC and talk about the big challenges that we face and that we're working to meet," says White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. "And he also believes it's important to get outside of Washington, DC, and visit with people across the country. And it's a good opportunity for him to visit with people from around the country." Bush traveled to Charleston, SC, two days after a primary in that state; on January 27, he went to Merrimack, NH, also two days after a primary there. "This is yet another sign of a worried White House," says Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political analyst. "The Democratic nominating contest has done real damage to Bush in several key swing states, including Iowa and New Hampshire -- both close in 2000. Of course these are political trips." But Bush's itinerary reflects "one of the advantages of incumbency, and every modern President has done exactly the same thing," Sabato went on. "Clinton did the same thing in 1996, and Dole complained bitterly. Bush did the same thing in 1992, and Clinton complained bitterly. Reagan did the same thing in 1984, and Mondale complained bitterly. I think there's a pattern here." (Los Angeles Times)
- February 9: A Chicago federal judge refuses a request by Attorney General John Ashcroft to force Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital to release the names of 40 patients who underwent partial-birth abortions at the facility. The ruling is the first in a series of subpoenas by the Justice Department seeking the medical records of patients from seven physicians and at least five hospitals. Besides Northwestern, Ashcroft is seeking patient records from University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers in Ann Arbor; Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia; Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and Weill Cornell Medical Center of New York Presbyterian Hospital; and an unidentified San Francisco-area hospital. Northwestern received the subpoena in December, a month after obstetrician/gynecologist Cassing Hammond, a member of Northwestern's staff and medical school faculty, was served with subpoenas seeking his patient records. Hammond is one of seven doctors and three groups who has challenged the constitutionality of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. A number of civil liberties and advocacy groups are challenging the law in a variety of courts. In his decision, Chief District Judge Charles Kocoras said the records "appear to have been sought for the purpose of testing the assertions in Dr. Hammond's declarations. At best, the government is seeking possible impeachment material." While the Justice Department has said it is not seeking information that would identify the patients, that did not persuade Judge Kocoras. Department spokeswoman Monica Goodling said the department does not comment on ongoing litigation but said, "We are reviewing the ruling in light of our commitment to defending the law banning partial-birth abortions." Northwestern spokeswoman Kelly Sullivan says, "Patients are not a party to the litigation and thus [Northwestern] cannot produce the medical records of nonparties. The judge agreed and quashed the subpoena request." (Chicago Business)
- February 9: Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie has found what he thinks is a worthy area of attack on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry: Gillespie accuses Kerry of trying, in 1994 and 1995 while serving on the Senate Intelligence Committee, of trying to rip over a billion dollars from the US intelligence budget. Unfortunately, Gillespie is shooting blanks. Kerry was part of a bipartisan effort to recover over a billion dollars hidden away by the National Reconnaissance Office over the past five years. The NRO is a highly secret, satellite-intelligence agency who, at that time, were gaining a great deal of critical notice for their covert and possibly illegal funding practices. On September 29, 1995, Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who chaired the intelligence committee, rose on the Senate floor to explain why he and other members were seeking an unusual amendment to the intelligence authorization bill. According to Mr. Specter, they were seeking "to address concerns about financial practices and management at the National Reconnaissance Office... These amendments address an issue that the committee first identified in 1992 but which has received a good deal of press attention in the past several days and has raised questions about the National Reconnaissance Office's financial management practices. It has been alleged that the NRO has accumulated more than $1 billion in unspent funds without informing the Pentagon, CIA, or Congress. It has been further alleged that this is one more example of how intelligence agencies sometimes use their secret status to avoid accountability." Gillespie's attack draws no blood, and actually rebounds in Kerry's favor. (New York Observer)
- February 10: A year after confidently predicting an easy transition in Iraq and denying the existence of any ethnic tensions in that country, the top two officials in the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, have changed their tunes. Wolfowitz's statement that no ethnic tensions exist in Iraq, while generally ignored by the US media, has caused a firestorm of controversy among Iraqis and other Arabs; as respected journalist James Galloway observes, "Not since President Ford prematurely declared Soviet-dominated Poland a free country has a public official stuck his foot so deeply and so publicly in his mouth." He has been given reprimands and corrections from almost every Arab official he has spoken with. While Wolfowitz has struggled with accepting the realities of Iraq, and Rumsfeld has averred that peace and tranquility in Iraq are just around the proverbial bend, the CIA is now predicting an all-out civil war in Iraq -- a war which will find over 100,000 US soldiers caught in the middle. Meanwhile, neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz have accepted reality just yet. Galloway observes, "Rumsfeld and his key aides, meanwhile, are running for cover" instead of trying to deal realistically with the situation. In one recent high-level meeting, Rumsfeld looked at Secretary of State Colin Powell and said, "Jerry [Ambassador Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civilian in Iraq] works for you, right?" According to Galloway, "Powell looked as if he'd been struck by lightning. Bremer and every other US official in Iraq reports directly to Rumsfeld and the Pentagon. Rumsfeld demanded and got complete authority over the military, over the civilian authority in charge of rebuilding the country, over the administration's $87 billion Iraq budget, over every line of every contract let. And suddenly he forgot that Bremer works for him? That same week, Wolfowitz and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage were summoned to a closed-door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss how the US contracting system is working in Iraq. When Wolfowitz was asked a tough question about the controversies surrounding the U.S. contracting efforts in Iraq, he turned to Armitage and said: 'You can answer that one, right, Rich?' Armitage answered by noting that the Department of Defense and the Office of the Secretary of Defense control every American contract let in Iraq, and that the State Department has authority over none of those contracts. 'Iraq is now a contaminated environment and Rumsfeld and his people want out,' said one senior administration official. 'They can't wait for July 1 when the CPA [Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority] turns into the US Embassy and the whole mess they have made becomes Colin Powell's.' The only question is whether Rumsfeld and Company can keep the lid on all the boiling pots until they can pass the CPA and the whole nation-rebuilding buck to the State Department. The investigations and audits of Halliburton's and Halliburton subsidiaries' alleged contract overcharges, with their uncomfortable proximity to Vice President Dick Cheney, Halliburton's former chief, are just the tip of the iceberg. The real action, knowledgeable American officials say, is in local contracts that are being let under authority of the ruling Iraqi Governing Council. US officials say some less savory Council members are demanding kickbacks on some contracts in hopes of investing the ill-gotten gains in buying or bending the selection of local and regional councils who will help choose a new government and bolstering their own distant hopes of holding onto power." In other words, while the Pentagon is busily ensuring that its corporate cronies get every dollar they can squeeze out of Iraq, the country itself is heading for civil war, with no effort by top Pentagon officials to do anything about it except dodge the responsibility. (Knight-Ridder/Real Cities)
- February 10: US officials are claiming they have secured documentation proving that al-Qaeda intends to begin what they call "sectarian war" in Iraq. The officials believe that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who has long been under US scrutiny for suspected ties to al-Qaeda, wrote the undated 17-page document. Zarqawi is also believed to be operating in Iraq. The memo says extremists are failing to enlist support inside the country, and have been unable to scare the Americans into leaving, and even laments Iraq's lack of mountains in which to take refuge. Yet an attack on Iraq's Shiite majority could rescue the movement, the document said. The aim, it contends, is to prompt a counterattack against the Arab Sunni minority. Such a "sectarian war" will rally the Sunni Arabs to the religious extremists, the document argues. It says that a war against the Shiites must start soon, before the Americans hand over sovereignty to the Iraqis. That is scheduled for the end of June. (The Age)
- February 10: Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf acknowledges that he has had suspicions about the transfer of nuclear secrets from Pakistan to other, more radical countries for at least three years, but that he has never seen conclusive proof from the US. Musharraf says that he never saw any evidence from the Americans until October 2003. "If they knew it earlier, they should have told us," he says. "Maybe a lot of things would not have happened." At the same time, Musharraf says he had seen signs that Abdul Qadeer Khan was sharing nuclear technology, including "illegal contacts, maybe suspicions of contacts," and "suspicious movement" connected to Khan's laboratory. But he said he was concerned that investigating Dr. Khan, a national hero for his role in developing its nuclear weapons, could provoke a political backlash. "It was extremely sensitive," he says. "One couldn't outright start investigating as if he's any common criminal." Musharraf says he forced Khan to retire from his post as head of a nuclear weapons lab in March 2001, to prevent him from transferring any more nuclear secrets. That is the first time Musharraf Khan's nuclear activities as the reason for his departure. "We nipped the proliferation in the bud, we stopped the proliferation," he says of Khan's removal. "That is the important part." But the nuclear black market supplied by Khan continued to operate for two and a half years, until last fall, American officials say. That network is one of the largest and most successful efforts at evading nonproliferation controls, and is suspected of being the source of nuclear weapons developed in Iran, North Korea and Libya. (New York Times/Lakeland Ledger)
- February 10: The Bush administration releases a report that claims the steady loss of American jobs to overseas markets is a good thing, and will benefit the country in the long run. The embrace of foreign outsourcing, an accelerating trend that has contributed to the record number of US job losses in recent years and has become an issue in the 2004 elections, is contained in the president's annual report to Congress on the health of the economy. "Outsourcing is just a new way of doing international trade," says N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, which prepared the report. "More things are tradable than were tradable in the past. And that's a good thing." The report, which also predicts that the nation will reverse a three-year employment slide by creating 2.6 million jobs in 2004, is part of an ongoing effort by the administration to highlight signs that the recovery is picking up speed. Bush's economic stewardship has become a central issue in the presidential campaign, and the White House is eager to demonstrate that his policies are producing results. Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry and John Edwards were both quick to criticize the administration's support of losing US jobs overseas. "I've got a feeling this report was prepared by the same people who brought us the intelligence on Iraq," Kerry quips. "I don't think we need a new report about jobs in America. I think we need a new president who's going to create jobs in America and put Americans back to work." Edwards was openly mocking of the report, saying it would come as a "news bulletin" to the American people that the economy was improving and that the outsourcing of jobs was good for America. "These people," he says of the Bush administration, "what planet do they live on? They are so out of touch." Mankiw tries to defend the report's support of outsourcing by making the following observation: "Maybe we will outsource a few radiologists. What does that mean? Well, maybe the next generation of doctors will train fewer radiologists and will train more general practitioners or surgeons.... Maybe we've learned that we don't have a comparative advantage in radiologists." (Los Angeles Times)
- February 10: People on both sides of the "enemy combatant" issue are waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in several related cases early this year. In the cases of Jose Padilla and Yasser Hamdi, the justices are expected to decide under what circumstances, if any, the government can declare U.S. citizens "enemy combatants" and lock them away with no constitutional rights. In a third case involving detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the court will confront the same question about non-citizens. The cases, all of which may be decided by the summer, involve distinct legal and factual issues. But at their cores, they all "involve national security in times of grave national threat, and are going to raise special issues for the court," says Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA. In taking up the terrorism cases, the court must decide whether it should create legal rules to guide the Bush administration's war on terrorism, says UC-Berkeley's John Yoo, a former administration official and current law professor. The first decision may be on the administration's contention that as designate "enemy combatants," even US citizens have no rights to lawyers or to due judicial process. Lawyers for the foreign detainees at Guantanamo Bay argue they are entitled to challenge their detention in US courts. Lawyers for Padilla and Hamdi, the two US citizens designated as enemy combatants, maintain the men are entitled to lawyers and to know of the charges against them. They argue that even in times of war, individuals in the United States have certain basic rights. "The court will have to answer the question: 'Do courts have a role to play, and is it meaningful?'" says the ACLU's Steven Shapiro. The court is expected to announce in coming weeks whether it will consider the Padilla case this term, but advocates on both sides say they are almost certain the court will do so. "The court has already taken the Yasser Hamdi case, which poses one half of the question," says Viet Dinh, a former Bush administration official. "The same reasons would animate taking the Padilla case, which poses the second half of the question." The Justice Department, Dinh's old agency, has urged the court to take the case and reverse a decision by a New York-based federal appeals court that sided with Padilla. The court has agreed to decide quickly whether it will hear the Padilla case, which is widely viewed as raising the most critical constitutional issues of the three because it involves the rights of a U.S. citizen arrested in the United States. (Knight-Ridder/Biloxi Sun-Herald)
- February 10: The liberal advocacy group Democrats.com receives an untorn copy of the document showing the retirement points earned by George W. Bush during his service in the Texas Air National Guard. Previously only a torn and blurred copy of the document had been released, appearing from an unidentified source in George magazine in 2000. According to National Guard experts, the document is not from TANG, but from the Air Reserve Forces, a unit that Guard members are usually assigned to for disciplinary reasons. Retired Air National Guard pilot Robert Rogers concludes: "To make a long story short, Bush apparently blew off drills beginning in May 1972, failed to show up for his physical, and was then grounded and transferred to ARF as a disciplinary measure. He didn't return to his original Texas Guard unit and cram in 36 days of active duty in 1973 -— as Time magazine and others continue to assert based on a mistaken interpretation of Bush's 1973-74 ARF record -— but rather accumulated only ARF points during that period. In fact, it's unclear even what the points on the ARF record are for, but what is clear is that Bush's official records from Texas show no actual duty after May 1972, as his Form 712 Master Personnel Record from the Texas Air National Guard clearly indicates." The most likely explanation for the "untorn" document, according to publisher Bob Fertik, is that Bush was given "points" towards his retirement without ever attending actual drills from senior officers who committed fraud on Bush's behalf so he could qualify for an "honorable discharge." Fertik notes that if Bush actually attended his drills, there would be far more definitive records in his files, including sign-in sheets and pay records. These have all mysteriously disappeared, if they ever existed in the first place. It's possible that Bush's superior officers decided to give him credits on his retirement record rather than his service record because they would have had to pay him for service time. If they forged pay records on Bush's behalf, it is much more likely that they would have been caught and punished. Fertik writes, "Why would Bush's superior officers treat Bush with such favoritism? The answer to that is simple. Bush's entire National Guard career was the product of favoritism: His admission to the Guard despite a national waiting list of 100,000, thanks to string-pulling by friends of his powerful father, then the Congressman from Houston; his assignment as a pilot, despite the lowest possible grade (25%) on the pilot aptitude exam...; his commission as a Lieutenant, despite the lack of all qualifications such as prior military service, ROTC, or a medical degree. Thus, it would be completely consistent for Bush to be given an 'honorable discharge' that he did not earn -- or deserve." (Democrats.com)
- February 10: Democrats and others are challenging the nomination of Laurence Silberman as the co-chairman of the newly formed commission to investigate pre-war intelligence on Iraq. Silberman, a retired judge and member of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, which approved the expanded surveillance powers for the justice department under the controversial Patriot Act, was involved in a major cover-up during the Reagan era. Nan Aron, head of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal pressure group, says of Silberman, "This is not a statesman of the sort the president should be seeking to preside over this crucial and sensitive investigation." Silberman is most notorious for his 1990 judgment overturning the conviction of Colonel Oliver North, who admitted his central role in the Iran-Contra affair, in which proceeds from secret arms sales to Iran were diverted illegally to the Contra anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua. The Republican-appointed special prosecutor in the case, Lawrence Walsh, later wrote that Silberman should have been disqualified for his bias and his sympathy for North's cause. As a former Reagan advisor, Silberman took part in the "October Surprise" negotiations of 1980, in which Reagan campaign operatives cut a secret deal with the Iranian government to continue holding American hostages until after the US elections, denying then-president Jimmy Carter the publicity boost of successfully freeing the hostages on his watch. In January 1981, the hostages were freed five minutes after President Reagan's inauguration, provoking claims of a secret deal to delay the release in return for military aid. Silberman and two aides who took part in the meeting later claimed they had rejected the Iranian offer of a deal and did not even remember the name of the Iranian representative. But the meeting was never reported to the state department, at a time of high tension in the US-Iranian relations. Gary Sick, a former Iran expert on the national security council who wrote a book about the affair, said Silberman should have withdrawn from the panel that considered North's appeal, and questioned whether he was suitable to be co-chairman on the Iraq intelligence commission. "He always played politics. The fact that he was nominated to this position does not give me any confidence that this will be a purely bipartisan and objective," says Sick. "I thought it was a strange choice to head this commission. If you are looking for credibility this is not the way you get it." The leading Democrat on the Iraq commission, Charles Robb, a former senator and governor, is a moderate who critics doubt will match Judge Silberman's fierce partisanship. Instead, they are placing their trust in Senator John McCain, a maverick Republican who broke ranks to call for a public inquiry, and Patricia Wald, a former judge at The Hague war crimes tribunal for Yugoslavia. (Guardian)
- February 10: Although the Bush administration has come out repeatedly in favor of funding the government's attempts to halt cyberterrorism, a $22 million budget cut forces the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to curtail its work on cybersecurity, terminate all its work with a law designed to improve the elections process, and go to month-to-month funding for manufacturing programs. NIST is the chief federal agency in the fight against cyberterrorism. NIST's Mat Heyman notes that NIST researchers do a lot of work to ensure that control systems that manage power plants, water-supply systems and utilities are safe from cyber attack. "You would think that would be something we wouldn't want to cut back," he says. The House Science Committee is concerned about the cuts and is looking for ways to ease them: "We have to reverse the bad decisions on NIST that this Congress ratified in the omnibus spending bill and move forward," says committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican. (Government Executive)
- February 10: Bush's military records have been moved from the Federal Records Center near St. Louis and taken to the National Guard headquarters in the Pentagon, where presumably they will be harder to access. (KMOV-TV)
- February 10: Bill O'Reilly, host of a Fox News television talk show, admits that he now has trouble believing the Bush administration's claims regarding Iraqi WMDs and those claims' use in justifying the war in Iraq. "I was wrong," O'Reilly tells an interviewer on Good Morning America. "I am not pleased about it at all and I think all Americans should be concerned about this." O'Reilly pledged over a year ago that he would retract his support for the administration's war in Iraq if he became convinced that no evidence for Iraqi WMDs existed. (Reuters)
Haitian president Aristide under US, rebel pressure to leave office
- February 11: As rebels in Haiti make further inroads against the regime of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the US says it will not intervene militarily to support Aristide or the rebels. "We have no plans to do anything," claims Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. A State Department official says the US is watching the situation "on an hourly basis and trying gauge what the level of response should be." Aristide seems to retain control over the US-trained police force, but the situation continues to change, with heavy fighting breaking out in coastal cities across Haiti. "We are very, very concerned about a further descent into lawlessness," says the official. In 1994, then-President Clinton, with the backing of the international community, sent US forces to Haiti to prop up Aristide, who after winning a popular election was in danger of being removed by a military coup. Aristide won re-election in 2000, in an election many observers say was flawed, and a large group of rebels have consistently opposed him since. Another State Department official says that Aristide is responsible for creating "a climate of violence through his use of gangs and political supporters. ...It's clear from the kind of proposals that have been made, and the discussions, that when we talk about undergoing change in the way that Haiti is governed, I think that could indeed involve changes in Mr. Aristide's position," this official says. (Washington Times)
- February 11: Political strategist Karl Rove tells reporters that Bush's stock dividend tax cut package is structured to favor "the little guy," ignoring a revised Tax Policy Center analysis that shows 70% of Bush's tax cuts will go to benefit the top 5% of Americans. In reality, less than 7% of the stock dividend will go to the bottom 46% of investors. Of course, those too poor to invest in the stock market will receive zero benefit. Says Rove, "Give him a choice between Wall Street and Main Street and he'll choose Main Street every time." (David Corn)
- February 11: The White House releases blurred microfiche copies of military payroll records that they claim prove George W. Bush did, indeed, serve his time in the Air National Guard. The release is over 400 selected pages from Bush's Texas Air National Guard records, but they are by no means the complete record, even though as White House spokesman Scott McClellan says, "The president felt everything should be made available to the public." "These documents make it very clear that the president of the United States fulfilled his duties," McClellan continues. "When you serve, you are paid for that service, and these documents outline the day he was paid." But under questioning, McClellan admits the records do not specifically show that Bush reported for Guard duty in Alabama, where he spent much of 1972 working on a Senate campaign. And he admits the White House has been unable to locate anyone who remembers serving with Bush during that period. However, McClellan says, "he was paid for the days he served in the Air National Guard. That's why I said that these records clearly document that the president fulfilled his duties." Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe says the new documents are not conclusive. "The handful of documents released today by the White House creates more questions than answers," he responds in a written statement. "The fact remains that there is still no evidence that George W. Bush showed up for duty as ordered while in Alabama. We also still do not know why the president's superiors filed a report saying they were unable to evaluate his performance for that year because he had not been present to be evaluated. That report was filed on the very day these documents allege he was reporting for duty."
- The documents also do not clear up another mystery about Bush's military service: why then First Lieutenant Bush, a fighter-interceptor pilot, did not take his required annual flight physical examination in mid-1972. On August 1, 1972, he was suspended from flight status for not taking the physical, and never flew again. Two retired National Guard generals told the Boston Globe that it was almost unheard of for a military aviator to miss an annual flight physical. Guard regulations would have required an investigation of Bush's failure to take the physical. But the new records contain no hint of any such inquiry. Army Colonel Dan Smith, a 26-year veteran, says, "Pay records don't mean anything except that you're in or you're out. It doesn't necessarily reflect what duty you've actually performed because pay records simply record your unit of assignment and then all of your pay and benefits per pay period." McClellan says the payroll records were recently discovered at the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Colorado. He said Bush authorized the release of these records, as he first promised in a Sunday interview on NBC, though this is a lie: former candidate John McCain and current opponent John Kerry, both Vietnam veterans, have long since authorized the release of their entire military records, but Bush refuses to do so. Bush insists that he fulfilled his duty to the Guard, and suggests that anyone who asserts otherwise is denigrating the entire National Guard. Author/comedian Michael Moore, who recently called Bush a "deserter," responds dryly, "Thank you for providing the illegible Xeroxed partial payroll sheets (or whatever they were) yesterday covering a few of your days in the National Guard. Now we know that, not only didn't you complete your tour of duty, you were actually paid for work you never did." Interestingly enough, in 1999, when Bush was preparing to run for president, he released 160 carefully selected and redacted pages from his TANG records, and told the public that he had released the entire thing.
- More seriously, Moore writes, "[Y]our 'desertion' didn't go away [as Bush hoped] -- and here's the reason why. You have sent countless numbers of our sons and daughters in the National Guard to their deaths in the last 11 months. You did this while misleading their parents and the nation with bogus lies about weapons of mass destruction and scary phony Saddam ties to al-Qaeda. You sent them off to a never-ending war so that your benefactors at Halliburton and the oil companies could line their pockets. And then you had the audacity to prance around in a soldier's uniform on an aircraft carrier proclaiming 'Mission Accomplished' -- while the cameras from your re-election campaign ad agency rolled. THAT is what makes this whole business of your being AWOL so despicable, and makes the grief-stricken relatives want to turn away from you in disgust. The reason you're skipping out on your enlistment didn't matter in the 2000 election was because we were not at war. Being stuck in a deadly, daily quagmire now in 2004 makes your military history-fiction and your fly-boy costume VERY relevant." Earlier in the week, the White House made available to reporters a retired Guard lieutenant colonel, John Calhoun, who said Bush appeared for frequent drills at the Alabama unit in 1972. But Bush's records do not support Calhoun's claim, and numerous other members of the Alabama Guard unit have stated this week that they did not recall Bush appearing at the unit. And Bush supporters are now trying to argue Bush blew off his 1972 flight physical because his Texas unit was transitioning to a newer aircraft; Bush didn't have time enough left on his commitment to train on the replacement aircraft. The argument is specious. According to the operational history of the F-102, Bush's 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Texas ANG, Ellington ANGS, flew the F-102A from 1960 until 1975. They didn't transition to the McDonnell F-101B VooDoo until 1975, long after Bush left the Guard. (CNN, Michael Moore, Reuters, Boston Globe, Buzzflash, Mark Crispin Miller)
- February 11: Two former Texas Air National Guard officers confirm that George W. Bush's National Guard records were a source of concern for Bush advisors, who discussed ways of purging his records with TANG officials. Bill Burkett, a retired TNG lieutenant colonel and former top advisor to the state Guard commander, continues to maintain that he overheard conversations in which superiors discussed "cleansing" Bush's file of damaging information. Burkett says that in 1997 he witnessed Dan Bartlett, then a senior aide to Governor Bush and now White House communications director, Bush's chief of staff Joe Allbaugh, and General Daniel James, then the head of the Texas National Guard and now Bush's head of the nation's Air National Guard, going through Bush's file to "make sure nothing will embarrass the governor during his re-election campaign." Burkett says he saw original documents and photocopies from Bush's TANG files in a garbage can. The move was apparently prompted by an announced visit by Bush campaign media flack and ghostwriter Karen Hughes, who wanted to view the records for her upcoming "autobiography" of Bush.(James and Bartlett both insist that all they did was try to make the information in the files more accessible to reporters, an interesting argument considering that the information was not revealed at all to the public.) A second former TANG official, who prefers to remain anonymous, says that he was told by a participant in the discussions that commanders and Bush advisers were particularly worried about mentions in the records of arrests of Bush before he joined the National Guard in 1968. While the White House dismisses the charges as "outrageously false," they offer no explanation as to why two forms in Bush's publicly released military files contain blacked-out entries in response to questions about arrests or convictions.
- Bush has acknowledged that he was arrested twice before he enlisted in the Air National Guard, once for stealing a wreath and another time for rowdiness at a Yale-Princeton football game; he also has four citations on his record as a teenager for speeding and automobile collisions. Exactly what was blacked out in Bush's records is important because certain legal problems, such as drug or alcohol violations, could have been a basis for denying an applicant entry into the Guard or pilot training; even the traffic violations would have required a special enlistment waiver, which is not part of his file. Admission to the Guard and to pilot school was highly competitive at that time, the height of the Vietnam War; Bush lacked the test scores to get into pilot school, but was able to get in anyway due to family influence. Burkett says, "If he's going to be the first president in over one hundred years that puts himself in a uniform and uses the taxpayers' money for a photo opportunity to land on a flight deck and say hooray, he's put it on the table and we deserve to know." James now tells reporters that he is under orders not to speak about Bush's Guard service. And the National Guard's chief historian, Charles Gross, says, "If it has to do with George W. Bush, the Texas Air National Guard, or the Vietnam War, I can't talk with you." All FOIA requests about Bush's service are being directed to the Pentagon by order of the White House. (The Bush White House will not be nearly so reticent about Burkett's private medical records, which it makes public in an attempt to discredit his testimony; it may or may not be a coincidence that shortly after Burkett began speaking publicly about Bush's Guard service, Burkett's medical disability status was reduced along with his monthly disability payments.) (USA Today, New York Times, Ian Williams)
- February 11: Publisher Sander Hicks interviews 32-year Texas National Guard veteran Harvey Gough. Gough confirms that in 1993, while he was stationed at Camp Mabry, two officials from Bush's gubernatorial campaign, Dan Bartlett and Danny James, visited the camp and thorouoghly scrubbed Bush's military records. When asked what specifically was removed from Bush's files, Gough replies, "I think quite a bit. I think all his time in Alabama." (Sander Hicks)
- February 11: According to the military records released by the White House, Bush left his Texas Air National Guard assignment and moved to Alabama in 1972, even though the Air Force denied his request for a transfer. Bush did not even ask for an official transfer until nine days after he moved to Alabama in May 1972. The Air Force quickly rejected Bush's request, saying the fighter pilot was "ineligible" to move to the Alabama unit Bush wanted, a squadron of postal handlers. Nevertheless, Bush stayed in Alabama until his Texas commanders finally gave him written authorization five months later to train there. Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense for personnel and a Navy flier in Vietnam, says a pilot losing his flight status was a serious matter. "We spent $1 million to train him to fly," Korb says. "You're supposed to be ready to fly if we need you. If you didn't show up for your flight physical, good heavens!" (Knight-Ridder/Biloxi Sun-Herald)
- February 11: Author/filmmaker Michael Moore, one of the most vociferous critics of George W. Bush's military record, lists seven questions for the president's military service that the "payroll sheets" revelations don't answer. In an open letter to the president, Moore asks Bush directly:
To date, none of these questions have been answered. (Michael Moore)
- "How were you able to jump ahead of 500 other applicants to get into the Texas Air National Guard, thus guaranteeing you would not have to go to Vietnam? What calls did your father (who was then a United States Congressman representing Texas) make on your behalf for you to get this assignment?"
- "Why were you grounded (not allowed to fly) after you either failed your physical or failed to take it in July 1972? Was there a reason you were afraid to take the physical? Or, did you take it and not pass it? If so, why didn't you pass it? Was it the urine test? The records show that, after the Guard spent years and lots of money training you to be a pilot, you never flew for the rest of your time in the Guard. Why?"
- "Can you produce one person who can verify that he served with you in the Guard during the year that your Texas commanders said you did not show up? Why have you failed to bring forth anyone who served with you in the Guard while you were in Alabama? Why hasn't ONE SINGLE PERSON come forward?"
- "Can you tell us what you did when you claim to have shown up in Alabama for Guard duty? What were your duties? You were grounded, so what did they have you do instead?"
- "Where are the sign-up sheets that would have your name and service number on them for each weekend you showed up? Aaron Brown on CNN told us how, when he was in the reserves, he had to sign in each time he reported, and his guest from the Washington Post said, that's right, and there would be 'four copies of that record' in the files of various agencies. Will you ask those agencies to release those records?"
- "If you were in fact paid for that time when you apparently went AWOL, will you authorize the IRS to release your 1972-73 tax returns?"
- "How did you get an honorable discharge? What strings were pulled? Who called who?"
- February 11: Bush administration officials term the questioning of the president's questionable military service "gutter politics," and accuse Democrats of "trolling for trash" about Bush's past. The Bush campaign refuses to release any more medical or military records than it already has. "I think what you are seeing is gutter politics. Some are simply trolling for trash for political gain," says press secretary Scott McClellan. Bush said earlier that he would make public records on his service, but critics said a recent release of pay and service records fell short of full disclosure. "If there's new information that comes to light, that's relevant to the issue, we will let you know," says McClellan. He says Bush's comments on Sunday referred to the release of pay stubs or other records that could document his attendance and service. The White House had hoped its release of pay and service records would demonstrate that Bush had met his service obligations. But those records also showed long absences during his final two years of service, a period in which Bush worked for some time on a political campaign in Alabama. Democrats and other critics said the records were inadequate. (Reuters)
- February 11: Halliburton acknowledges that the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control has reopened the 2001 inquiry into the legality of Halliburton's dealings with Iran. Democratic senator Frank Lautenberg says that a key question is whether Halliburton improperly used a foreign subsidiary to evade the law that is aimed at penalizing Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. He says it is also important to find out if any violations occurred during the 1995 to 2000 period when Vice President Cheney headed the company. Halliburton, which has more than $9 billion in Iraqi reconstruction contracts from the government, is currently the subject of a string of other investigations involving its business dealings. The inquiries involve alleged overcharges to the Pentagon for gasoline in Kuwait and Army mess halls in Iraq, questionable accounting practices and possible bribes to foreign officials. The company reported in its latest SEC filing that it initially responded to a Treasury inquiry in mid-2001 and told the government it was in full compliance with the federal sanctions law regarding transactions with Iran. While the law bars business dealings with Iran, a loophole permits U.S. companies to get around the sanctions and conduct business through foreign subsidiaries as long as these entities are not run by Americans. Halliburton has employed a bare-bones office in the Cayman Islands to do millions of dollars in business with Iran since the mid-1990s. When Cheney was Halliburton's CEO, he spoke out against unilateral trade sanctions while Halliburton lobbied Congress to change the law as it applied to Iran and other nations.
- The CBS News program 60 Minutes reported last month that a Halliburton subsidiary that deals with Iran, Halliburton Products and Services Ltd., was registered in the Cayman Islands but actually did no business from there. Instead, the network reported the subsidiary conducts its business from an office in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, that is shared with KBR, a division of the Texas-based parent company that is getting the bulk of the Iraqi reconstruction contracts. Halliburton's own Web site shows the two corporate entities -- KBR and Halliburton Limited, share the same 10th-floor Dubai address, the same telephone number and the same fax machine number. Lautenberg, a critic of Halliburton and Cheney, questioned whether the subsidiary is truly independent from its U.S. parent corporation as required by the sanctions law. "I think the evidence here is pretty clear that steps were taken to evade the law, but the more disturbing question is how long has this been going on?" says Lautenberg. Documents obtained by Lautenberg from the Department of Commerce show contacts between Kala Ltd., the British subsidiary of the Iranian National Oil Co., and Halliburton Products and Services Ltd. during 1997 and 1998, when Cheney headed the parent company. The documents show Kala soliciting bids from the Halliburton subsidiary in its Dubai office to provide oil-drilling equipment. They do not indicate whether any deals were made. Lautenberg has turned over these documents to the Treasury, and he said he is confident it will "fully investigate whether there was a violation of our sanctions law." If the Treasury Department finds violations of the Iran sanctions, it will turn the matter over to the Justice Department. (New Jersey Star-Ledger)
- February 11: Vice President Cheney's involvement with the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson is being combed through by a grand jury investigation. Informed sources say that three of the five officials who are the targets of the probe work or worked for Cheney. Members of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, an ad hoc group with close ties to Cheney, are also under investigation. Speculation is mounting over whether Bush and his top aides are considering replacing Cheney on the campaign ticket; in some eyes, Cheney is becoming more of a liability than an asset. A parallel grand jury is looking into the forgery of a document that surfaced in Italy before the war, purporting to show Iraqi attempts to buy uranium in Niger. Despite doubts over its authenticity, the document underpinned US and British claims, since proved groundless, that Saddam was reconstituting his nuclear weapons program. A third grand jury in Washington is looking into allegations that a Halliburton subsidiary paid $180 million in bribes to secure lucrative contracts to build a gas plant in Nigeria, at the time Cheney was chief executive, from 1995 to 2000. More recently the corporation has been caught overcharging millions of dollars for the delivery of gasoline to the US military in Iraq. Cheney claims to have severed his ties with the controversial company but he continues to receive payments of about $150,000 a year in tax-minimizing "deferred compensation" from his time as an executive. (Guardian)
- February 11: Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark drops out of contention, citing fellow candidate John Kerry's insurmountable momentum as the reason for his exit from the race. Clark plans on endorsing Kerry. Second-place candidate John Edwards vows to continue campaigning, as do the three remaining candidates, former Vermont governor Howard Dean, congressman Dennis Kucinich and activist Al Sharpton. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
- February 11: Colin Powell "snaps" during his testimony to Congress about the proposed foreign affairs budget. When Democratic congressman Sherrod Brown alludes to President Bush's AWOL status during Vietnam, Powell retorts, "You don't know what you are talking about," and tells Brown, "Let's not go there." Later, as Powell ruminates about how hard he tried to understand the pre-war intelligence, he breaks off and stares at a committee staff person sitting behind the congresspeople. "Are you shaking your head for something, young man, back there?" Powell thunders. "Are you part of these proceedings?" Brown says in the staffer's defense, "Mr. Chairman, I've never heard a witness reprimand a staff person in the middle of a question." Powell snaps in response, "I seldom come to a meeting where I am talking to a congressman and I have people aligned behind you giving editorial comment by head shakes." "Well, I think people have opinions," Brown says. The exchange becomes even more partisan with the rush to defend Powell from fellow Republican Dana Rohrabacher: "I think the secretary is owed an apology for that, not reprimand." GOP representative Henry Hyde, the committee's chairman, urges members to calm down, despite the "very emotional subject." While relatively minor, the incidents show the arrogance and fundamental lack of understanding of Congress's role as overseers of the executive branch as expressed not only by Powell, but by the Bush administration in general. As James Ridgeway writes, "He's not in some army camp. This is the people's house, and any member of Congress can ask whatever he or she pleases. Who does Powell think he is?" (Washington Post, Village Voice)
- February 11: The Council on American-Islamic Relations, an advocacy group, decries recent remarks made by Republican representative Peter King. King, speaking on Sean Hannity's radio program, claimed that "no [American] Muslims are cooperating" with American law enforcement officials to combat terrorism, a claim that is patently untrue. He added: "I would say, you could say that 80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists. Those who are in control. The average Muslim, no, they are loyal, but they don't work, they don't come forward, they don't tell the police." King's racist and inflammatory remarks are criticized by CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad, who says, "It is unconscionable that an elected official would defame America's Islamic leaders and ordinary Muslims, including those in his own district, just to sell a few more books for personal gain." (King appeared on Hannity's show to hawk his novel Veil of Tears, a fictional account of another Islamic terror attack on the US. "President Bush and other political and religious leaders should repudiate these baseless smears and reject the growing exploitation of legitimate fears of terrorism to marginalize an entire community." Awad invited King to meet with American Muslim leaders to learn more about the community; as of this writing, King has yet to respond. (Council on American-Islamic Relations)