By Bill Sammon
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Pentagon yesterday released previously missing pay records for President Bush's service in the National Guard, undermining Democratic accusations that he had shirked his duty.
"It just proves yet again that the president fulfilled his military service in the National Guard and was proud to do so, which was why he was honorably discharged," White House Deputy Press Secretary Trent Duffy said.
Earlier this year, the White House released hundreds of pages of documents, including dental records, that showed Mr. Bush served in the National Guard more than 30 years ago. But payroll records for two quarters were missing, prompting prominent Democrats to accuse him of having been absent without official leave (AWOL), a felony.
"George Bush never served in our military in our country," Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe told ABC News on Feb. 1. "I look forward to that debate with John Kerry, a war hero with a chest full of medals, standing next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL."
The fact that Mr. Bush had been honorably discharged did not impress Sen. John Kerry.
"Was he present and active on duty in Alabama at the times he was supposed to be?" the Massachusetts Democrat demanded at the time. "Just because you get an honorable discharge does not, in fact, answer that question."
Yesterday, Mr. Kerry's presidential campaign declined comment on the disclosure of the missing payroll records. But DNC spokesman Jano Cabrera expressed suspicion.
"The supposed discovery of these records on Friday afternoon, as reporters converge on Boston to cover the Democratic National Convention, is highly questionable," he said in a prepared statement.
"If the Bush administration continues to search, maybe they'll find answers to the long list of unanswered questions that remain about George W. Bush's time in the Air National Guard," he added. "Bush's military records seem to show up as randomly as he did for duty."
The White House did not ask the Pentagon to double check for the missing records, according to officials at both the White House and Pentagon.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Hubbard explained that when technicians initially searched for the records earlier this year, they could not find a binder containing accession numbers that would indicate where the records were stored. So they approximated the numbers in an effort to find Mr. Bush's payroll records for the first quarter of 1969 and the third quarter of 1972.
"They approximated wrong, so they were not located for those two quarters," Mr. Hubbard said. "In 1996 and 1997, there was a restoration process ongoing, and it was assumed that these records were damaged in that process, so we had no reason to think that we had the accession numbers wrong."
Earlier this month, the Pentagon was attempting to determine the scope of its missing records.
"Our technician, in going through hundreds of boxes of records, found the binder and then was able to determine that the wrong numbers were used in the request," Mr. Hubbard said.
Armed with the correct numbers, the Pentagon tracked down the missing records at a storage facility in Denver. The records appear to prove that Mr. Bush performed his duties without incident.
"The important thing to stress is that these two quarters present no new information," Mr. Hubbard said.
Mr. Duffy, the White House spokesman, refrained from criticizing the Pentagon over the mix-up.
"It would have been our preference, perhaps, that these records would have been released with the other ones — that was not to be," he said. "Still, it's just more proof that the president served."