DALLAS – A former Texas Air National Guard colonel relied upon by CBS News to support the authenticity of memos about President Bush’s military service said he never saw the memos before the show aired, and that he doesn’t now believe they are authentic.
Retired Col. Bobby Hodges of Arlington, Texas, also said that one of the memos’ references to undue pressure to “sugar coat” Bush’s evaluations rings false. He said the colonel that supposedly applied that pressure did not interfere in Guard affairs after his retirement, 18 months before the date on the disputed memo.
A CBS spokeswoman said that, despite Hodges’ remarks, CBS’ “60 Minutes” stands by the program aired on Wednesday.
“We believed Col. Hodges the first time we spoke to him. We believe the documents are genuine. We stand by our story and will continue to report on it,” Sandy Genelius said.
Hodges’ comments come amid other questions about the authenticity of four memos “60 Minutes” relied on to show the president received special treatment as a pilot in the early ‘70s, failed to carry out a superior’s order to undergo a physical exam and was suspended from flying for failing to meet Air National Guard standards.
Typography experts have also raised questions about the memos, stirring a vigorous debate about whether they were computer-drafted on machines not available in the early 1970s.
In an interview Friday, Dan Rather said that “60 Minutes” has been working on the story of President Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard for four to five years. But, Hodges said, the network called him on the Monday evening two days before the broadcast and said they had “just received” four memos authored by Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, President Bush’s commander at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston.
Rather agreed that the quotes were read to Hodges.
“We wanted to take the documents to him and do an interview and he declined to do that,” he said, calling Hodges statements at the time “impressive” support of the documents’ authenticity.
“The colonel said that the documents were – quote – familiar to him, and that Killian did indeed feel the way that the documents expressed.”
On Monday evening, a “60 Minutes” producer called Hodges and read him over the telephone portions of the four memos allegedly written by the now deceased Lt. Col. Jerry Killian.
Hodges says that when he was asked to verify the memos, he believed that the documents were hand-written.
“Without seeing them, I assumed that they were hand-written notes from a personal file that Lt. Col. Killian (who died in 1984) may have maintained without anyone’s knowledge,” Hodges wrote in a statement he released on Saturday.
Hodges, who retired from the Guard in 1989, said that after he saw the typewritten memos on Friday morning, he believed Killian did not, in fact, write them. “I don’t think Killian wrote them – official or unofficial,” he said.
The White House has not contested the authenticity of the memos, in which Killian says he grounded Bush for failing to meet standards for fighter pilots and for not taking a required physical. But Bush aides have said his honorable discharge proves he fulfilled his obligations to the Guard.