The ongoing row over President George W Bush’s military record has taken yet another twist with the release of documents relating to his service in the Texas Air National Guard.
The packet of records showed that the commanding officer of Bush’s basic training unit took a special interest in him as a trainee and wrote to his father to praise him.
The 1968 letter and other material released yesterday were the latest in a stream of documents released about Bush’s service during the Vietnam War. Democrats say the documents are proof that Bush got preferential treatment as the son of a congressman and UN ambassador.
Critics have also questioned why Bush skipped a required medical examination in 1972 and failed to show up for drills during a six-month period that year.
In the 1968 letter, Bush’s father, then a congressman from Texas, said in reply to the commander, “That a major general in the Air Force would take interest in a brand new Air Force trainee made a big impression on me.”
Bush went on to say that his son “will be a gung ho member” of the Air Force and that Air Force instructors had “helped awaken the very best instincts in my son.”
The Pentagon uncovered the documents during a search in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by The Associated Press seeking all of Bush’s records from the Texas Air National Guard.
A federal judge ordered the Defence Department to hand over all newly discovered Bush records to the AP by next Friday.
The White House has said repeatedly that all of Bush’s Guard records have been disclosed, only to be embarrassed when new documents have turned up.
The long-running story took an unusual turn when US TV network CBS uncovered documents purportedly showing that Bush refused orders to take a physical examination in 1972 – but then the authenticity of the documents came under doubt.
In his first public comment on the CBS documents controversy, the president said: “There are a lot of questions about the documents, and they need to be answered.”
In a telephone interview, Bush said ”I don’t know” when asked whether the White House had evidence the campaign of Democratic rival John Kerry or the Democratic Party were involved in releasing the disputed papers.
White House communications director Dan Bartlett said the newly released documents were more proof that Bush fulfilled his military obligations.
“It also demonstrates we are fulfilling the president’s request to release all the documents regarding his military service,” he said.
But the Democratic National Committee said releasing the documents on a Friday evening indicated Bush had something to hide.
“If the president was truly proud of his service he wouldn’t be releasing these documents on a Friday night,” DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe said in a statement.
“These documents demonstrate yet again that George Bush was a fortunate son who received special consideration unavailable to the average American.”
The latest documents also contain news releases that the Texas Air National Guard sent to Houston newspapers in 1970 about Bush, then a second lieutenant and new pilot.
“George Bush is one member of the younger generation who doesn’t get his kicks from pot or hashish or speed,” the news release said. “Oh, he gets high, all right, but not from narcotics.”
Three decades later, a new book by Kitty Kelley has alleged that Bush used cocaine while he was a student at Yale University and later at the Camp David retreat while his father was president.
The White House has denounced Kelley’s book and denied the charges.