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September 12, 2004

Newsweek Suggests Possible Source For CBSNews "Documents"

Bill Burkett, Who Blames Bush for Denying Him Medical Treatment For History of "Nervous Breakdowns," Has Previously Claimed to Have Seen Republican Operatives "Scrubbing" Bush's TANG Files and Throwing Them in a Trashcan; Further Claimed He "Ruffled Through" Bush "Performance Documents" Which Were Sitting in the Trash

Coincidentally Just Happens to Also Be a Source for Jim Moore, Author of Bush's Brain and Bush's War For Reelection, and Dan Rather's Final Interview-Subject During Forged-Documents Defense

None of this is anywhere near conclusive, but it seems to raise interesting questions. All emphases (boldings) which follow are my own unless specifically indicated.

Once again, it is the nocturnal newshawks at Free Republic who made the first catch.

They point to this Newsweek story:

Where did the documents come from? CBS won't say. But the trail pieced together by NEWSWEEK shows that in a sulfurous season like this one, the difference between obscurity and power is small, and anyone can get a hearing. A principal source for CBS's story was Bill Burkett, a disgruntled former Guard officer who lives in Baird, Texas, who says he was present at Guard headquarters in Austin in 1997, when a top aide to the then Governor Bush ordered records sanitized to protect the Boss. Other Guard officials disputed Burkett's account, and the Bush aide involved, Joe Allbaugh, called it "absolute garbage." Burkett may have a motive to make trouble for the powers that be. In 1998, he grew gravely ill on a Guard mission to Panama, causing him to be hospitalized, and he suffered two nervous breakdowns. He unsuccessfully sued for medical expenses.

Still, in theory, Burkett may have had access to any Guard records that, in a friend's words, "didn't make it to the shredder." Fellow officers say he wasn't a crank, but rather a stickler for proper procedure—a classic whistle-blower type. Burkett was impressive enough to cause CBS producer Mary Mapes to fly to Texas to interview him.

Bill Burkett has been telling his story to anyone who would listen for years. For example, Kevin Drum/Calpundit interviewed him here.

Here's Burkett explaining how he "overheard" officers discussing "scrubbing" Bush's TANG files:

BURKETT: ... I went into General [Daniel] James' outer office, Henrietta Valderes was not there, but the door was slightly ajar, I'd say roughly eight inches....

I heard voices, I figured somebody was on the blue couch or in the two wingback chairs that face his desk, and that's not seen unless you slightly stick your head inside the door. I stuck my head inside the door, saw that no one was there, and I was embarrassed. I stepped back and I waited for a second and I overheard this conversation.

And it was a short conversation that I overheard, I only heard a line or two of it, and I stepped out into the hallway because I was uncomfortable at this point.

[CalPundit asks:] And what was the conversation?

BURKETT: Well, that's where you really need to get Jim [Moore] because we have made sure that the words, I'm not going to get messed up on that deal. We've tried to make sure that the words were exact. I wish that you could get at least that part of the book faxed to you or something, I think that's very important that the words are exactly right.

[End quote.]

Does the name Jim Moore sound familiar? It should-- Jim Moore was Dan Rather's last "source" on his Friday defense of his use of the forged documents. He's the highly-partisan author of Bush's Brain and Bush's War for Reelection.

But getting back to Burkett's account. While Burkett never tells Calpundit "the exact quote" he heard regarding the scrubbing of the files, Calpundit gets the quote from a USAToday article:

[Burkett] says he was just outside James' open office door when his boss discussed the records on a speakerphone with Joe Allbaugh, who was then Gov. Bush's chief of staff. In Burkett's account, Allbaugh told James that Bush's press secretary, Karen Hughes, was preparing a biography and needed information on Bush's military service.

In an interview, Burkett said he recalled Allbaugh's words: "We certainly don't want anything that is embarrassing in there."

Says that. Right in earshot of Burkett. But the clumsiness of this scrubbing operation gets worse.

Burkett alleges he then saw Bush service documents discarded right in a simple trashcan, where these cagey Republican operatives had deposited them for the seeing, and for the "ruffling through."

The Watergate plumbers had nothing on Bush's Keystone Kriminals:

BURKETT: ...

I'm standing there on one foot and another, very uncomfortable with this situation, I knew I'd been guided here and I knew why at that point. I was standing right next to the trash can. I mention that only for one reason, and that is my own alibi to my own conscience. I believe if I'd been one step away from the trash can I would not have done what I did, I would have been forced to make an obvious decision.

Instead I looked down into the trashcan. Underneath most of the trash — the trash level was within two inches of the top — I saw that the trash on the bottom was basically packing cartons, I do remember that there were a couple of elastic type straps and that sort of thing, and on top there was a little bit of paper. And on top of that pile of paper, approximately five-eighths of an inch thick, and Jim wanted me to estimate the number of pages and I said probably between 20 and 40 pages of documents that were clearly originals and photocopies. And it wasn't any big deal, I looked at it, it was a glance situation, and it made no sense to me at all except at the top of that top page was Bush, George W., 1LT.

And I look back at it now and I know I was troubled that those documents were in the trashcan. I did ruffle through the top six to eight pages.

[End quote.]

Burkett's story at least puts him in the position of being able to retrieve the documents he saw. Which doesn't necessarily mean that Burkett is the source of the documents, of course -- but if anyone else has told a story that puts them in the position of 1) seeing and 2) "ruffling through" the allegedly "scrubbed" documents, I haven't heard of him.

And what sort of documents did Burkett say he saw?

BURKETT:...

Those documents were performance, what I term performance documents, which would include retirement points, [unintelligible] type documents, which would be a record of drill performance or nonperformance, and there was at least one pay document copy within the top six to eight pages of that stack that was in the trash….

Incidentally, Bill Burkett's claims about Bush's records being "scrubbed" have themselves "evolved" over time. Calpundit notes his inconsistent claims here and his skepticism about Burkett.

Of course, that skepticism melted away when Burkett began telling him a story that was "too hot not to push."

....

Whoever might have actually given the documents to Dan Rather, Bill Burkett was/is a "principle source" for the story generally. At the very least, Burkett would have been a source for confirming the genuineness of Rather's forgeries.

Is Bill Burkett -- whose stories have changed and evolved, who has a grudge against Bush due to his medical problems, who spins improbable tales of poltical operatives committing obvious crimes right in front of persons not part of the conspiracy -- is he what Dan Rather terms an "unimpeachable source" for the genuineness of the CBSNews forgeries?

If Bill Burkett is an "unimpeachable source," who, precisely, would be "impeachable"?

If Dan Rather truly believed him "unimpeachable," why was the taped interview with Mary Mapes never shown to the public? Rather's own actions prove that Rather himself did not consider Burkett a strong witness, or at least not strong enough to risk subjecting to public scrutiny, and that his recent claims of such unimpeachability are so far from the truth as to constitute deliberate lies.

I would suggest Dan Rather made the dishonest decision to air an interview not Bill Burkett -- an actual first-hand source of some sort -- but rather with Jim Moore, a simple reporter, who is at best a highly-partisan hearsay witness and not an actual witness to any of the claims made by Rather.

He chose to present nonwitness Jim Moore over actual (alleged) witness Bill Burkett so that he could get his "confirmation" without exposing the credibility -- or lack thereof -- of his actual witness to public vetting.

Update-- Jim Moore Defends Bill Burkett: BuzzFlash reported:

BuzzFlash Preface: Author and Texan James Moore has been interviewed and written commentaries for BuzzFlash in the past. ... A forthcoming book by Moore, “Bush’s War for Reelection,” has been the basis of several recent high profile stories about former career Texas National Guardsman Bill Burkett, who has accused the Bush minions of expunging Bush's Guard files. Burkett, indeed, wrote an exclusive commentary to BuzzFlash in 2002 at the time Bush appointed the alleged liasion in the cleansing of his records to oversee the nation's Air National Guard.

Jim Moore offers a Dan Rather-like "preponderance of the evidence" defense of Burkett's credibility:

A writer’s job includes connecting the pieces. I told Rezendes that a combination of facts made Burkett’s story believable. Reporters had all discovered there were documents missing from the Bush file in Austin. When they filed FOIAs, certain records did not appear. Combine that fact with Karl Rove’s history of deceptive political tactics, Burkett’s impeccable reputation as an officer and a man, and his story is worth telling, even after Conn withdraws his affirmations of events. The information speaks for itself, and rather loudly, though Burkett’s story will not be completely told until my book is released.

I think the story's pretty much told now, Jim.

Again, is it just a mere coincidence that Dan Rather's defense -- relying upon the claim that these documents reinforce what we "already know" -- sounds so much like Jim Moore's defense of using Burkett as a witness?

Seems to me that both sound similar because both might be defending the same man's credibility.

Delicious Irony Update: Dan Rather -- previously seen scolding "internet partisan political operatives" -- in fact actually used a "internet partisan political operative" as a "principle source" for his story.

Bill Burkett, after all, is like a viral rash on all the left-wing internet "political partisan" blogs.

And Jim Moore is writing for BuzzFlash!

Apparently for Dan the Document Man, "internet partisan political operatives" are "unimpeachable sources" when offering up dodgy attacks on Bush, but are not worth even considering when exposing transparent forgeries for the crude lies they are.

Update: At the suggestion of Nick Kronos, I've re-edited this post for clarity and conciseness, as well as to omit the screaming-ninny multiple-Drudge-siren nature of the first draft. Bear in mind, I woke up in the middle of the night at 4am and wrote this thing in an hour or so. It was a rush job, and I'm both sorry for and embarassed about its original crudeness.

Humor Break: If you're new to the site -- and judging by my traffic meter, almost all of you are -- check out these Top Ten Other Signs the Documents Are Forgeries.

Ignore the last entry. That's an inside-joke only longtime readers will get.



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posted by Ace at 05:52 AM

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