WASHINGTON – Documents unearthed by CBS News that raise doubts about whether President Bush fulfilled his obligations to the Texas Air National Guard include several features suggesting that they were generated by a computer or word processor rather than a Vietnam War-era typewriter, experts said Thursday.
Experts consulted by a range of news organizations pointed to typographical and formatting questions about four documents as they considered the possibility that they were forged. The widow of the National Guard officer whose signature is on the bottom of the documents also disputed their authenticity.
The documents, which were aired Wednesday night on “60 Minutes II,” bear dates from 1972 and 1973 and include an order for Bush to report for his annual physical exam and a discussion of how he could get out of “coming to drill.”
The dispute over the documents’ authenticity came as Democrats stepped up their criticism of Bush’s service with the National Guard between 1968 and 1974. The Democratic National Committee sought to fuel the controversy Thursday by holding a news conference at which Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa pointed to the documents as a fresh indictment of Bush’s credibility.
CBS News released a statement Thursday standing by its reporting, saying that each of the documents “was thoroughly vetted by independent experts and we are convinced of their authenticity.” The statement added that CBS reporters had verified the documents by talking to unidentified individuals who saw them “at the time they were written.”
CBS spokeswoman Kelli Edwards declined to respond to questions raised by experts who examined copies of the papers at the request of the Washington Post, or to provide the names of the experts CBS consulted. Experts interviewed by the Post pointed to a series of telltale signs suggesting that the documents were generated by a computer or word processor rather than the typewriters in widespread use by Bush’s National Guard unit.
A senior CBS official, who asked not to be named because CBS managers did not want to go beyond their official statement, named one of the network’s sources as retired Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges, the immediate superior of the documents’ alleged author, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian. He said that a CBS reporter read the documents to Hodges over the phone, and that Hodges replied that “these are the things that Killian had expressed to me at the time.”
“These documents represent what Killian not only was putting in memoranda, but was telling other people,” the CBS News official said. “Journalistically, we’ve gone several extra miles.”
The official said the network regarded Hodges’s comments as “the trump card” on the question of authenticity, as he is a Republican who acknowledged that he did not want to hurt Bush. Hodges, who declined to grant an on-camera interview to CBS, did not respond to messages left on his home answering machine in Texas.
In a telephone interview from her Texas home, Killian’s widow, Marjorie Connell, described the records as “a farce,” saying she was with her husband until the day he died in 1984 and he did not “keep files.” She said her husband considered Bush “an excellent pilot.”
“I don’t think there were any documents. He was not a paper person,” she said, adding that she was “livid” at CBS. A CBS reporter contacted her briefly before Wednesday night’s broadcasts, she said, but did not ask her to authenticate the records.
If demonstrated to be authentic, the documents would contradict several long-standing claims by the White House about an episode in Bush’s National Guard service in 1972, when he abruptly gave up flying and moved from Texas to Alabama to take part in a political campaign. The CBS documents purport to show that Killian, who was Bush’s squadron commander, was unhappy with Bush for his performance toward meeting his National Guard commitments and resisted pressure from his superiors to “sugarcoat” the record.
After their initial airing on the “CBS Evening News” and “60 Minutes II” programs Wednesday night, the documents were picked up by other news organizations, including the Post. A front-page story in the Post on Thursday noted that CBS declined to provide details about the source of the documents, the authenticity of which could not be independently confirmed.
On Wednesday evening, the White House e-mailed reporters copies of the documents, as supplied by CBS, as well as the transcript of a CBS interview with White House communications director Dan Bartlett rebutting allegations that Bush had shirked his military duties. While Bartlett described the emergence of the documents as “dirty politics,” he did not dispute their authenticity.
After doubts about the documents began circulating on the Internet Thursday morning, the Post contacted several independent experts who said they appeared to have been generated by a word processor. An examination of the documents by the Post shows that they are formatted differently from other Texas Air National Guard documents whose authenticity is not questioned.
William Flynn, a forensic document specialist with 35 years of experience in police crime labs and private practice, said the CBS documents raise suspicions because of their use of proportional spacing techniques. Documents generated by the kind of typewriters that were widely used in 1972 space letters evenly across the page, so that an “i” uses as much space as an “m.” In the CBS documents, by contrast, each letter uses a different amount of space.
While IBM had introduced an electric typewriter that used proportional spacing by the early 1970s, it was not widely used in government. In addition, Flynn said, the CBS documents appear to use proportional spacing both across and down the page, a relatively recent innovation. Other anomalies in the documents include the use of the superscripted letters “th” in phrases such as “111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron,” Bush’s unit.
“It would be nearly impossible for all this technology to have existed at that time,” said Flynn, who runs a document authentication company in Phoenix.
Other experts largely concurred. Phil Bouffard, a forensic document examiner from Cleveland, said the font used in the CBS documents appeared to be Times Roman, which is widely used by word-processing programs but was not common on typewriters.
CBS officials insisted that the network had done due diligence in checking out the authenticity of the documents with independent experts over six weeks. The senior CBS official said the network had talked to four typewriting and handwriting experts “who put our concerns to rest” and confirmed the authenticity of Killian’s signature.
The doubts about the documents left the White House and the Bush campaign in a state of suspended animation, with Bush aides encouraging doubts about the documents but conceding that the possibility that they were forged seemed too good to be true. White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said that officials there had not attempted to authenticate the documents but simply released copies “provided to us by CBS in the interests of openness.”
The Bush administration’s strategy Thursday was to let news organizations raise doubts and conduct forensic examinations, without taking an official position on whether the documents were genuine.
“It’s clear in reviewing the documents that they do nothing to change the fact that the president served honorably, and was proud of his service in the Air National Guard,” Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said.