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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Vietnam and Presidential Politics

Aired February 12, 2004 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. I'm Paula Zahn.
The world, the news, the names, the faces, and where we go from here on this Thursday, February 12, 2004.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): "In Focus" tonight for the full hour, two men, two choices. What are the facts about President Bush's service record?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I asked a simple question. How about a simple answer?

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: John, if you'll let me address the question, I'm coming to your answer.

ZAHN: And what about Senator Kerry's long road from war hero to anti-war activist to presidential candidate?

ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: His long record in the Senate is one of advocating policies that would weaken our national security.

ZAHN: Plus, after all these years, why does the war in Vietnam still loom so large?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Tonight, with the sudden emergence of service in Vietnam as a flash point in the presidential campaign, we will dig deeply into the issue. We'll look at George W. Bush and John F. Kerry, how each served his country occurring Vietnam and how those choices continue to create a contentious political divide.

It widened when Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe talked about the president and his Guard record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: He went to Alabama for a year while he was in the National Guard and he never showed up. I mean, I would call it AWOL. You call it whatever you want. But the issue is, the president did not show up for the year he was in Alabama, when he was supposed to show up for the National Guard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: This week, the White House fired back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCLELLAN: This is nothing but gutter politics. The American people deserve better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: All that ahead tonight.

But first, here are some of the headlines you need to know right now. Military officials tell CNN, a National Guardsman is in custody, accused of helping al Qaeda. The soldier is accused of passing along secret information on the capabilities and vulnerabilities of Humvees and tanks to the terrorist network. The soldier's unit based at Fort Lewis in Washington is training for deployment to Iraq.

Wesley Clark set to endorse his former presidential rival, John Kerry. The announcement is expected tomorrow at a Kerry campaign stopover in Wisconsin. Clark dropped out of the race yesterday.

Vietnam is still a potent factor in politics seven presidents and nearly four decades after John Kerry and President Bush decided how they would serve their country. The war divided America. And there is still a divide over how well those two men fulfilled their duty.

Let's bring in our truth squad to answer some of the questions being raised.

First, national correspondent Bruce Morton lays out the facts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two young men, two different roads.

John Kerry, class of 1966, criticizes the Vietnam War in his commencement speech, then joins the Navy and goes off to fight in it. George W. Bush, class of '68, passes an officer qualification test, graduates, joins the Texas Air National Guard, and learns to fly the F-102, a fighter. By 1969, his training over, he's assigned to a squadron in Texas.

That same year, John Kerry leads swift boats up the Mekong River. They're ambushed and Kerry attacks, beaches his boat, advances on foot, kills a Viet Cong who was aiming a rifle grenade at the boat. It wins him a Silver Star. He gets an early discharge and joins a group called Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

That same year, Bush makes 1st lieutenant. In 1971, the Vietnam Vets come to Washington to protest and Kerry asks senators, how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? In '72, Bush goes to Alabama to work in a family friend Senate's campaign. The same year, he's suspended for flight status for missing his physical. And, in '73, his Texas superiors say they can't evaluate him because he wasn't there. They assume he was serving in Alabama.

Both men left their services early, Kerry to protest the war and then to practice politics. Bush left to go to the Harvard Business School. But, of course, he went into politics, too, two men on a single road now.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: "In Focus" now, a deeper look into the service of both men and the questions being raised by that service, first, the president.

Walter V. Robinson first reported on questions about George W. Bush's National Guard service for "The Boston Globe" back in May of 2000. He just wrote a follow-up piece. He joins us now from Boston.

Good to see you. Welcome, Walter.

WALTER V. ROBINSON, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": Good evening, Paula.

ZAHN: So, first of all, Walter, it seems pretty clear what we do know at this hour. What don't we know?

ROBINSON: Well, we know, thanks to the release of some documents this week, that, in the one year between mid-'72 and mid-1973, when there had been no records showing that Lieutenant Bush appeared for duty, we now know that there was some sporadic attendance.

But, still, in eight of those months, he didn't appear. What we don't know is why his commanding officers at his base in Houston allowed him to be so slipshod in his attendance that year. We're puzzled because we now have evidence that he did do drills, but we have documents in which his commanding officers, as Bruce noted, said that they hadn't seen him at the base in Houston in a year. So that's a pretty important point that still has us puzzled.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Let me ask you this, Walter. Do you believe documents should have existed that would reinforce some of those questions you're asking tonight? Or is it possible no such paperwork ever would have been filled out?

ROBINSON: Well, there's more paperwork now than we knew about a week ago. There may be more records available. And the White House has indicated that they're going to be -- they're not going to give out as much documentation as we thought the president agreed to last Sunday.

So we don't know, for instance -- in that one year, the president fell a good two weeks short of the annual amount of training that was supposed to be done. We don't know, to answer your question, why he gave up his flight status, why he didn't take his flight physical. And we don't know why, since he had a five-year commitment, after the Air Force spent a lot of money training him to fly, why he wasn't held to that commitment, why he was allowed to leave the service early.

ZAHN: The president has admitted himself in interviews from a while ago that this was a period of time that was a problem for him. Might have this played a role?

ROBINSON: Well, I think so.

People who have examined his records in -- including a retired colonel in Texas who did some work for the Bush campaign four years ago, have pretty much admitted that the president was a low achiever in the waning days of his Guard service. We should point out that, in his early years, up until 1971, he had over 600 hours of flight time. That's a lot.

So he put in an awful lot of time early and then slacked off at the end and obviously became somewhat disinterested -- or, I should say, apparently became disinterested in continuing. And his superiors let him out early.

ZAHN: Let's talk specifically about the questions surrounding his service in Alabama. As far as you know, there is absolutely no written evidence that would support he was there? Are there any accounts of people actually remembering his being there?

ROBINSON: Well, I saw an account on the wire today from a former Republican National Committee woman in Alabama who worked on the same campaign with Mr. Bush then who said she recalls him doing military service.

The amount of time he would have spent at that unit in Alabama was so small that -- and the Bush name obviously wasn't as well known in Alabama -- that it's conceivable that people didn't know he was there. The records we now have suggest that he was there, at least a couple of times. The commander of the unit there was pretty emphatic four years ago that Bush never made an appearance at his unit. He's slightly less emphatic about that now.

ZAHN: All right, Walter Robinson, thank you very much for your insights tonight. Appreciate it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: Some of us know something about aircraft carriers for real.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: John Kerry on the campaign trail criticizing President Bush's military resume. And Kerry, as we have seen, served in the Navy in Vietnam, but made a controversial decision when he came home. He became a leader in the anti-war movement.

Congressman me now from Washington, Congressman Steve Buyer, an Army National Guard and Gulf War veteran. Good to see you, sir. Welcome.

REP. STEVE BUYER (R), INDIANA: Army Reserves.

ZAHN: Army Reserves, OK.

BUYER: Thank you.

ZAHN: Thank you for correcting that.

John Kerry, of course, choosing to go to war and then coming home and leading the anti-war movement. Do you question both of those choices?

BUYER: No, I don't.

Earlier, you opened up your show and said, why is Vietnam still an issue? Really, any war becomes an issue. Military service can have a tremendous impact upon men and women who serve. And those of us who end of serving in a theater of war, it has an impact upon who we are. And there's a saying, that those of us who serve on a distant battlefield see life in a dimension for which the protected may never know. So we come back home with a different dimension.

Some people handle it well, and some don't handle it well. And I don't think John Kerry handled his service very well. The proudest moments of my life is when I put on the uniform. I'm still a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves. And I feel so good, because the pride that uniform represents is the nation. And when John Kerry came home, he desecrated that uniform by taking his medals and throwing them. That is really unfortunate.

So I can honor his service. But he can't run on a war record when his true record is an anti-war record. It's long and consistent anti-military, anti-defense, anti-intelligence, anti-FBI throughout the -- throughout his service in the United States Senate. That's what will be focused on, I think, in the presidential campaign, Paula.

ZAHN: Let me ask you this, sir. Do you think the Vietnam War was a just war?

BUYER: Do I believe it was a just war? I don't -- no, I'm not going to answer that. I'm not going to answer that, because I was too young. And I'm not going to go back and try to relive the Vietnam era.

Likewise, we have -- I want to make this comment. I chair the Guard and Reserve Caucus in Congress. I work very hard -- co-chair it. And I work very hard on the total force concept, which is the integration of the Guard, the Reserve and the active force. And there's a oneupmanship game that goes on among veterans, that, somehow, if you served in the war, that your status is more important than someone that may have served domestically or served in the Reserve or served in the Guard.

And I don't like that at all. Paula, it's no different. We have a 1-7 ratio. For one combatant we put on the battlefield, there are seven people it takes to put them there. Look how many people it takes to put you on the air. And to say that you're more important than the producers and the directors and everybody that puts you on there, that's false. There's a great team out there.

And I don't like this going on, where veterans are attacking veterans' records. That's despicable. And if somebody does that, you need to ask, what is their motive?

ZAHN: Let's come back to maybe the more narrow issue that you were addressing, where you don't believe John Kerry handled his service well. Those were your words.

BUYER: Yes.

ZAHN: Did he or did he not have the right when he came home, particularly as a highly decorated veteran, to voice his opposition to a war he didn't believe in?

BUYER: Absolutely. Absolutely. I'm just saying, he did not -- where I have the problem is, is when he desecrated the uniform for which I and so many others wear proudly. I have a real problem with that.

With regard to his anti-war behavior, no, John Kerry has been very consistent in his anti-war rhetoric throughout the years. And he's been very consistent in being anti-military. I served on the Armed Services Committee and chaired the personnel committee during the 1990s, when Bill Clinton reduced the size of the military. John Kerry wanted to cut the military farther than Bill Clinton.

So the real question that we're going to face here as we move into the fall election is, is, who is best to serve this nation and bring us -- to make us a more secure nation, bring greater peace and understanding under the world? Will it be someone with an anti-war record, anti-military, or will it be someone who is formidable with a proven record, like George W. Bush?

ZAHN: Congressman Buyer, thank you very much for your perspective this evening.

BUYER: Good to be with you. Thank you.

ZAHN: Our pleasure.

President Bush's missing Guard records. I'll be talking with a former officer who claims higher-ups talked about cleansing Mr. Bush's file of what they called damaging information.

And also, for 40 years, Vietnam has been a campaign issue. We're going to look at why a war that ended nearly 30 years ago is still such a painful political problem.

But first, here's what the other candidates were doing during the Vietnam years. Howard Dean graduated from Yale and began medical school in New York. John Edwards was busy earning a textile degree at North Carolina State University. Dennis Kucinich served on the Cleveland City Council, where he won a seat in 1969 at the age of 23. And, in 1971, at the age of 16, Al Sharpton made headlines by urging black children of Harlem to participate in the African celebration of Kwanzaa instead of Christmas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: As John Kerry testified before Congress as a vet against the war, here's what else kept America occupied in 1971. Carole King won a Grammy for her album "Tapestry." "The French Connection" won an Oscar for best picture. "All in the Family" debuted in our living rooms. And "TIME" magazine named then President Nixon its man of the year.

How times have changed since 1971. At the time, President Bush was a member of the National Guard, a force that didn't see much action in Vietnam. But today's Guard soldiers are on the front lines in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre takes a look at the National Guard then and now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the '60s and '70s, the National Guard was barely trained for riot control, much less jungle combat.

RET. COL. SAM GARDINER, U.S. AIR FORCE: They were the third echelon. They were the last to go. They weren't very ready.

MCINTYRE: Their drills looked good on film, but, for many, service in the Guard was simply the best legal way to avoid the draft in Vietnam. In his autobiography, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell complained -- quote -- "I am angry that so many of the sons of the powerful and well-placed and so many professional athletes managed to wangle slots in the Reserve and National Guard units."

(on camera): For most of the Vietnam War, President Johnson avoided calling up the National Guard, fearful it would only further divide the country over an increasingly unpopular war. But after the 1968 Tet Offensive, he relented. And as this exhibit at the National Guard Memorial Museum in Washington shows, some 9,000 Guard troops served in Vietnam between '68 and '69; 100 of them died there.

(voice-over): But, by 1970, with the war winding down, service in the Guard was a virtual get-out-of-'Nam free card. That's a far cry from today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch to the right. Watch to the right!

MCINTYRE: At Fort Polk, Louisiana, these Guard troops train for Iraq the same way active-duty soldiers do. And many volunteered after September 11, under no illusion it would be a weekend job.

LT. GEN. STEVEN BLUM, NATIONAL GUARD CHIEF: Every one of those young men and women that chose to go in the Army Guard or the Air National Guard knew fully well that they would be deployed and put in harm's way.

MCINTYRE: With 59 Guard soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan so far and with the percentage of Guard and Reserve troops rising in Iraq above 40 percent, you would think it would be harder to get volunteers. But the Guard's top general says, no.

BLUM: Our recruiting is up. Our ability to reenlist our soldiers is up. Today's National Guardsmen join to serve their country. Make no mistake about it.

MCINTYRE: Jamie McIntyre, CNN the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: National Guard fighter pilot George W. Bush and those missing records. I will ask a former Texas Guard officer about his claims that someone wanted Mr. Bush's files altered.

And we'll look at this as the campaign issue and whether Democrats, who said Bill Clinton's lack of military service was not an issue, are being hypocritical this time around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight, there are allegations that President Bush's military service records may have been altered in some way. These are serious allegations and they come from one of our next guests.

From Austin, Texas, author James Moore, who wrote "Bush's War For Reelection," and, from Abilene, retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett, who was a top adviser to the Texas National Guard commander in charge of the president's records. He has made those accusations.

Welcome to you both.

Lieutenant Colonel, I want to start with you this evening. You claim to have heard two separate conversations where you say Mr. Bush's record was talked about. What did you hear?

RETIRED LT. COL. BILL BURKETT, TEXAS NATIONAL GUARD: Thank you, Ms. Zahn, for having me on.

I don't make the claim. I will repeat the facts that I heard. First, there are three pieces to this situation. The first was a conveyance from the governor's office to Major General Daniel James, the adjutant general, to have the files gathered, to have the files put together.

And the bottom line to that was, make sure there wasn't anything there that would embarrass the governor.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Before you go any further, when you say, the bottom line, did you hear that in a conversation, that someone needed to sanitize the records?

BURKETT: Excuse me, ma'am. I heard that. I overheard a conversation that was just outside the adjutant general's office.

ZAHN: OK. And then go on to the second point and the third point?

BURKETT: And the second point, which was the following morning, I heard and witnessed the conveyance of that directive from General James to the state services officer to gather those files and to go through the files, because Ms. Hughes from the governor's office was coming out to do research for a book, make sure there wasn't anything in there that would embarrass the governor.

ZAHN: And the third point?

BURKETT: And the third point occurred approximately 10 days later in which, in a very roundabout way, I ended up guided to the state museum, the old state museum facility, where I was introduced in the form of a very informal conversation. And I saw files on a table. But I also saw at the edge of that table a 15-gallon, roughly 15- gallon, old-style waste can, metal waste can.

At the top of that were several pages, 20 to 40 pages, approximately. I glanced down at the top of those documents. In ink was the word Bush, George W., 1LT. This was a performance report. I did something that I probably should not have done. I was right at the trash can. I filtered through the top five or six pages in that. And they were all copies and originals of old performance documents and pay records for Bush, George W., 1LT.

ZAHN: And what was so damaging about what you saw and why would those documents be thrown away?

BURKETT: I can't answer the question why those documents would be thrown away. A personnel file contains all of the positive and any potential negative things. It's an administrative file, is all that it is. But it contains every history. It is the pure paper trail. And the Army and military and all government entities, but certainly the Army and Air Force, have the most redundant paper trail that there is in the entire world.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But, in your own words, you were only able to filter through some of the top pages. In your reading of those pages, did you see anything that would have been particularly embarrassing to the governor at that point?

BURKETT: I did not scrutinize the files itself, but I think it was the action that struck me more than anything else.

But I think also, even through my shock and maybe my disappointment, remember, I was working in the administration of Governor George W. Bush. And everything that I did as the team chief for a strategic planning effort that was going to make the Texas National Guard more effective, more efficient, and more relevant to the active force, just what your previous guest has said, all of those efforts I felt had been -- had undermined our cause.

ZAHN: But, Mr. Burkett...

BURKETT: I think it was the action.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Let me just ask you this. You no doubt have heard the criticism coming your way. The White House, or particularly Scott McClellan has called your charges absolutely ridiculous. Joe Allbaugh, the man you apparently overheard talking, has denied ever having the conversation you talked about and has denied any record dumping at all.

BURKETT: Ms. Zahn, I'm not going to get in the mud.

You know, this has become a political football. I'm here to tell you the same facts that I said and I reported. And I have worked through the state legislative system in the state of Texas. This is no new allegation. This is no new charge and this is no new fact. The fact is the same today as it was in 1997. And God is my pilot and God is in my foxhole.

ZAHN: Mr. Moore, as you set about to write your book, you've had to do some of your own vetting. At a time when you've heard the amount of criticism coming Mr. Burkett's way, do you have 100 percent confidence in his account of what he's just described? And do you have any other verification from anybody else those facts are true?

JAMES MOORE, AUTHOR, "BUSH'S WAR FOR REELECTION": Well, there was somebody else there who is a general -- or chief warrant officer, retired -- who is still is in the National Guard, who spoke to Mr. Burkett's character and his credibility. And he said, when Bill Burkett opens his mouth, he speaks the truth, he's an honorable man, and you can trust him.

But more than that, Paula, I think what you do is, you take a sort of series of events and you connect them. We know that there are documents missing from Mr. Bush's National Guard retained records file in Austin. We know the way Karl Rove works as a political operative. He has a history of doing these kinds of things. And we know that the president's record in terms of his grounding as a pilot is missing. The final points totals are missing. Any medical records are missing. And a retirement statement, in terms of the points he earned, is missing.

So, all of these things are not there. Why are they not there? Why have we not been shown them and the American public not shown them?

ZAHN: But let's come back to the veracity of Mr. Burkett's charges.

MOORE: Sure. ZAHN: Because obviously you don't want to put these in the book unless you believe them to be true. Why do you think what he's telling you is credible?

MOORE: I think, as I said, No. 1, you have someone whose reputation is impeccable. Even Danny James, who is the head of the National -- Air National Guard now in Washington, has said that this is one of the most honest, hard-working individuals he had ever been around. And he sometimes worked himself so hard that he was sick.

A number of people told me both on and off the record that this was an honorable man. In addition to that, he wrote a letter to the state senator about the cleansing of the files way back in the year 2000 and filed that and asked, why isn't anyone looking into this? And he -- there is no reason for a man who is out of public life and has no interest in public life to come forward and subject himself to this kind of scrutiny and to take on the White House, other than to see that the truth is served.

And, in this case, we have an honorable man who served his country and is doing so again, and taking a great deal of grief for no reason. Why not enjoy his retirement?

ZAHN: Lieutenant Colonel Burkett, James Moore, thank you for both joining us tonight.

MOORE: Thanks for having us.

ZAHN: We appreciate it.

Now we move on to Washington get reaction from a man who oversaw the Army National Guard and reserves. Mr. Van Hipp is a former deputy assistant secretary of the Army. Welcome.

VAN HIPP, FMR. DEP. ASST. SECRETARY, U.S. Army, WASHINGTON, D.C.: Paula, good to be...

ZAHN: Appreciate your joining us.

HIPP: Good to be with you.

ZAHN: First of all, a little bit of your reaction to some of the documents the administration has released -- pay stubs. But you no doubt have heard Mr. Moore's list and one of our previous guest's list of documents they think are missing. Are you troubled by what has not been made public?

HIPP: No. It's that time of year. It's the political season. And I understand it's kind of fashionable to attack the president right now. But Paula, I looked at this, and I can tell you what really surprised me was the fact that not only the president served and fulfilled his duty in the National Guard, but the year in question -- Paula, the year in question, he actually qualified for retirement purposes in the National Guard.

Now, if we're going to line up all the National Guardsmen and reservists in this country right now who don't have good years for retirement purposes, let me tell you, that's a long line from New York to Los Angeles. So I think the Bush bashers have made a strategic blunder by going down this path because the president -- the facts are on his side. He served in the National Guard, and the year in question qualifies for a good year for retirement. So I think all they've done is made a strategic blunder and really begin to rile up the citizen soldiers of this country. And I think that's going to come back.

ZAHN: But as you know, a lot of folks who are investigating this story are particularly focusing on a seven-month period in Alabama where they can't find any corroboration, either with a paper trail or from eyewitnesses, I guess, other than one woman came forward, that he ever served in Alabama. Do you have proof that the president did serve...

HIPP: Well, the one...

ZAHN: ... in Alabama?

HIPP: The White House released today dental records in Alabama from a physical, so we know his teeth were there in Alabama during this time at an Air Force base, so -- but let me tell you this. It is a bigger issue -- I got to tell you, the '60s the '70s and the '80s, we had a horrendous problem keeping National Guard and reserve records. And that's why right now you have literally, I would say, over 1,000 Guardsmen and reservists a year, Paula, who go to their congressmen for help to compile their records for retirement purposes because the Pentagon did such a lousy job in the '60s and the '70s and the '80s in keeping these records. And that's a fact.

ZAHN: Other people are troubled by the fact that portions of the president's records have been blacked out. Do you believe he was trying to hide something or someone around him was trying to hide something?

HIPP: No. The Pentagon routinely blacks out things when the Privacy Act is in question. So if you were to file a Freedom of Information Act request right now, if CNN were to, a great deal of those documents would be blacked out under the Privacy Act. So that tells me that the Pentagon's just following the law.

ZAHN: And finally, where do you see this all going?

HIPP: I think it's going to backfire. I really do. And as far as the Bush bashers are concerned, what's -- what's -- I wonder what their position is on the 75 days of unaccounted service on Al Gore's enlistment. Was he AWOL? Of course not. They both served honorably.

ZAHN: Van Hipp, thank you.

HIPP: Thank you.

ZAHN: Very much for your time tonight.

HIPP: Thank you. ZAHN: We're going to continue our hour-long look at the campaign and military service. Will more images such as the president on the aircraft carrier be in store as the White House plans its strategy? And we're going to take a look at Vietnam in film and how movies have treated returning veterans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

JAY LENO, HOST: I'm not sure if President Bush really understands how big an issue this is. Like, today, a reporter asked him if he was a deserter. Bush said, No, I skipped the pie and the ice cream. Not a big desserter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: If the late-night comedians are joking about it, you know an issue is striking a nerve somewhere. More now on how the Vietnam war is casting its shadow over the 2004 presidential race. To some extent, the way an issue is hand by the White House can greatly affect how large the problem appears to be and how long it lives as a news story. White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux looks at how the Bush White House is handling the question of the president's military records.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCOTT MCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: These records verify that he met the requirements necessary...

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: To make the case President Bush completed his National Guard service, the White House has gone so far as to release payroll records, a performance summary, and even a copy of the president's dental exam. But that has not killed the controversy.

ALLAN LICHTMAN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: The worst way to handle it is to try to control and manipulate the message and try to spoon- feed information to the media. The media won't stand for it. The American people won't buy it.

MALVEAUX: For an administration that is usually on-message and on the offense, this week has been notably different.

TERRY HOLT, SPOKESMAN, BUSH-CHENEY '04: The president has been under attack by some of the most angry and reckless charges.

MALVEAUX: The Bush administration thought the controversy would fade away, as it had in previous races. But the image of Senator John Kerry, the war hero, against accusations of Mr. Bush shirking his military duty has elevated the issue. Republican strategists say maintaining Mr. Bush's image as the steady wartime president and straight shooter is critical to his campaign because he scores high with voters on both. Democrats believe the military issue goes to the heart of Mr. Bush's credibility and is fair game. P.J. CROWLEY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: They themselves were the ones who introduced the issue of military service into the campaign last May, when they put the president on board the carrier Abraham Lincoln under a banner that said "Mission Accomplished." That was 500 combat deaths ago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Now, republicans say that the Democrats are being hypocritical for going after Bush. They say, of course, that Democrats were complaining about the accusations that Clinton was a draft dodger. But the Democrats are saying this is about Mr. Bush making a commitment to the military, as well as to the American people -- Paula.

ZAHN: Suzanne, I understand you just got off the phone with Joe Allbaugh, who is the man who was in that office when Governor Bush was working in Texas at a time when Lieutenant Colonel Burkett has accused him of attempting to sanitize his military records. What did he tell you tonight?

MALVEAUX: Well, Paula, he is very angry about the accusations. He calls them hogwash. He says it's absolute garbage. In his words, he said he didn't even know who this "goober" was, in his own words. He also said that he had a number of meetings with officials in the National Guard, that he dealt with this in '94 and 2000 for the campaigns. But he said, Look, he said, the original records were in a vault in Denver. It would be stupid for them to try to actually alter them. He says if that had actually happened, wouldn't somebody have found out by now? The motivation, he believes, is that there was an overhaul of the National Guard, their staff there. He believes this is a situation of sour grapes. He says all he has is his name, his reputation, his credibility, and he takes issue with these accusations tonight.

ZAHN: Did he have any other reaction to some of Mr. Burkett's charges?

MALVEAUX: Well, he's just very, very angry. We asked if he was going to follow up and do anything. He said no. But he couldn't believe that these type of what he said were baseless charges would be put out there and that they wouldn't be challenged in any type of way. He says that he had conversations, numerous conversations with officials, of course, over these records. But he said that it would be silly, it would be foolish for him to actually try to alter, to cleanse these records. That is not something that they would be able to do, nor would he permit something like that to happen.

ZAHN: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much for the update.

Now, both parties have emphasized their candidates' military service, but is there a double standard in the accusations and cross- accusations? And why is this an issue now? Here to debate that, from Washington, Jim Dyke, communications director for the Republican National Committee, and Michael Brown, national finance vice chairman for the Democratic National Committee. Welcome, gentlemen. Michael, there is a perception that Democrats are being hypocritical to make this an election issue this time around, when they didn't in '92, when Bill Clinton was then vulnerable. Your reaction?

MICHAEL BROWN, DNC, NAT'L FINANCE VICE CHAIRMAN: Well, as usual with this administration, every time they make a misstep or make a mistake or a political misjudgment, they go back to the Clinton administration and point the finger of blame. It's Clinton's fault. Clinton did the same thing. This is kind of the same thing that goes on with this administration. They're going to continue to do that with every economic policy they've laid out. They say, Well, Clinton did it.

ZAHN: But why are you making this a big election year issue when it wasn't in '92?

BROWN: Well, I don't know if we are doing really anything. Certainly, the chairman of our party made a statement about it, but he was just rehashing some of the things that the media reports have been made. It's not that we...

ZAHN: Well, that's a pretty...

BROWN: ... have been...

ZAHN: ... incendiary charge, is it not, to accuse the president of the United States of going AWOL?

BROWN: Well, I think the charge would have been put to bed if all the paperwork was in order and all the things were done the way they were supposed to be done. But clearly, that's not the case. CNN and you guys are continuing to follow the story and wondering what's going on with the paperwork. Clearly, there's a problem. Clearly, there's an issue.

But Paula, this is not new. This is an old story, that this administration, the people around the president when he was governor have continued to mess this story up. They cannot put this to bed. It's not the Democrats' fault for bringing it up, it's the fact that they haven't been able to handle it properly.

ZAHN: Mr. Dyke, is there a double standard here?

JIM DYKE, RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, Senator Kerry actually set the original standard when he spoke eloquently on the Senate floor in 1992 and talked about how these types of issues shouldn't be part of national campaigns.

But what you're seeing -- in your last segment, you had two gentlemen on making baseless acts -- baseless attacks that they can't substantiate. One managed to write a book on the subject. It probably is best in the fiction section. But we're seeing this across the board from Democrats. It's the campaign season, and every time we go out and we start talking about Senator Kerry's record, the response is to compare the president to Saddam Hussein or the Taliban or -- so this is clearly the tactic that the Democrats are going to take. They don't want to talk about Senator Kerry's record. They can't match up his long Senate voting record on intelligence cuts, on defense cuts, on taking special interest money, which he's said that he wouldn't do or didn't do, not taking PAC money. He's got a PAC.

So I think that if you can change the subject and you can talk about something else, if you can talk about, you know, the president not serving -- Terry McAuliffe made a felony accusation against the president of the United States punishable by imprisonment. And today, after providing pay stubs and other...

BROWN: Jim -- Jim...

DYKE: ... recorded documentation...

BROWN: Jim, come on.

DYKE: ... the White House...

DYKE: You know better than that, Jim.

DYKE: The White House put out...

BROWN: You know much better than that.

DYKE: ... the president's dental records...

BROWN: Terry didn't -- Terry did nothing...

DYKE: ... from Alabama.

BROWN: ... like that. Terry was rehashing some press stories. It wasn't the chairman doing that. And that's unfair, to make those kind of comments. Talk about comments that are inflammatory during an election year. What Jim just made was inflammatory.

DYKE: You can't -- you can't call the president a deserter. You can't say the president is AWOL...

BROWN: He was rehashing media stories, Jim.

DYKE: ... and not back those up with facts!

BROWN: Those are media stories. Those are not from the chairman. He just rehashed some media stories. But it seems you should be happy that this story has come up because now the president doesn't have to talk about his failed tax cut. He doesn't have to talk about how he's failed with the health care system.

ZAHN: All right, gentlemen...

BROWN: He doesn't have to education. He doesn't have to talk about an economic policy...

(CROSSTALK) ZAHN: Let me move you on to one final issue. I want to replay for you what Scott McLellan, the White House spokesperson, is dealing with today in terms of the tone of the questions of reporters' line of questioning. Let's listen together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Where was he in December of '72, February and March of '73?

MCLELLAN: These records...

QUESTION: Why did he not fulfill the medical requirements to remain on active flight duty status?

MCLELLAN: These records -- these records I'm holding here clearly document the president fulfilling his duties.

QUESTION: I asked a simple question. How about a simple answer?

MCLELLAN: John, if you'll let me address the question, I'm coming to your answer.

QUESTION: Well, you could address it. Maybe you could.

MCLELLAN: Oh, I'm sorry, John, but, you know, this is an important issue.

QUESTION: I'll ask one more time.

MCLELLAN: The president...

QUESTION: Where was he in December of '72, February and March of '73? Why didn't he fulfill the medical requirement to remain on active flight duty status in 1972?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Jim, are these or are these not legitimate questions?

DYKE: Well, I think the questions have been answered. And you can't serve honorably, you can't provide pay stubs, you can't -- dental records -- I mean, what more do you want? The charge was -- the charge made by Chairman McAuliffe that the president was AWOL was that he didn't show up. So as you begin -- this is what happens in Washington. You start with something that's outrageous, that's totally baseless. And then as you ease through this story and it get some legs, you move it on along. And you spend a lot of time talking about things that are eventually disproven to be not true because when -- that's -- that's what happens when you make baseless attacks. And you -- and you -- and you don't spend time...

ZAHN: All right...

DYKE: ... talking about the issues that will be important in this campaign... ZAHN: Gentlemen, we got to...

DYKE: ...and that's Senator Kerry's record.

ZAHN: Got to leave it there. Jim Dyke, Michael Brown, thank you for joining us tonight.

DYKE: Thank you, Paula.

BROWN: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Nearly 30 years after the U.S. left Vietnam, the war still plays a major role in presidential politics. Jeff Greenfield looks at the lingering effects.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The scrutiny of President Bush's military service records raises one question that goes beyond this presidential race: Why won't Vietnam go away? Here's senior analyst Jeff Greenfield on why Vietnam preoccupies American politics after so much time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a sense after Vietnam that every other day is extra.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST (voice-over): What he did in Vietnam some 35 years ago has always been a part of John Kerry's public life. What he did there, he says, shaped his politics and his persona. What he did during Vietnam has, remarkably, become a matter of debate 32 years later, three years after he took office as president of the United States.

(on camera): Surprising? Well, it shouldn't be because for 40 years now, Vietnam in one form or another has shadowed most of our presidential campaigns as have few other matters.

(voice-over): In 1964, when Vietnam was a minor skirmish involving a handful of U.S. advisers, Lyndon Johnson won a landslide victory as the peace candidate, while Barry Goldwater's call for escalation...

SEN. BARRY GOLDWATER (R-AR), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!

GREENFIELD: ... stirred fears of war. Four years later, Vietnam was a full-fledged war. Peace candidates Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy challenged Johnson in primaries. And that fall, Richard Nixon cited the Vietnam quagmire as proof of the need for new leadership. President Nixon won a landslide reelection in 1972 when George McGovern's peace candidacy split the party. But Nixon lost, as well. His obsession with anti-war activities helped set in motion the Watergate break-in which ultimately drove Nixon from office.

The Vietnam war had ended five years before the 1980 election, but it played a major role in that election. The impression of American weakness embodied by the Iran hostage story suggested to some that the U.S. had fallen victim to a "Vietnam syndrome," a fear of using American power.

Ronald Reagan's victory was due in no small measure to a desire for a more robust use of that power. In 1984, Senator Gary Hart, who had run the McGovern's 1972 anti-war campaign, mounted a serious bid for the White House with veterans of the anti-war movement. In 1988, as the Baby Boomers were reaching middle age, Dan Quayle's vice presidential selection was imperiled by stories of his National Guard service as a possible escape hatch from Vietnam. In 1992, Bill Clinton's campaign almost ended before it really began with revelations of his efforts to stay out of the draft.

(on camera): So maybe this shouldn't surprise us. After all, events as searing as Vietnam often have a long political half-life. The Civil War helped shape American politics for a century after Appomattox. It may well be that as long as men who were young during Vietnam seek high office, they will face the same question: What did you do in the war?

Jeff Greenfield, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And we will continue our hour-long look at Vietnam's lingering influence on American politics. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COUNTRY JOE AND THE FISH (SINGING): And it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Don't ask me, I don't give a damn. Next stop is Vietnam...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Joining us now for more on why Vietnam still resonates so loudly, regular contributor Joe Klein from "Time" magazine, from Washington, "Wall Street Journal" columnist John Fund. And from New Orleans, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley is with us. His latest book is "Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War." He's also the director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies. Welcome, all.

First of all, John, to what extent do you think Vietnam still resonates with the American populace, as it relates to this campaign?

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Oh, I think this is fascinating for the political community because we get to fight all the issues that Al Gore decided not to bring up in 2000 and John Kerry said should never be brought up because Vietnam divides us and we shouldn't care who served where and when. That's what John Kerry said in 1992. In the broader country, I actually believe this is not going to be a major issue because there's so many conflicting charges, I think people are going to say, How's the economy doing? How's Iraq doing? How are things that are happening here and now going to affect my life.

ZAHN: Do you see this having more play than what John just said?

JOE KLEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE": Well, I certainly hope not. I certainly hope the election is on what John said. But you know, if it was an issue in 1992 -- John, what kind of editorials did "The Wall Street Journal" write in 1992 about Bill Clinton's military service?

FUND: Joe, I never attacked Bill Clinton on draft dodging, period!

KLEIN: I'm not saying you.

FUND: I never did!

KLEIN: But was there stuff in "The Wall Street Journal"? I don't know. There were certainly a lot of attacks from Republicans. And I thought, you know, that Clinton's evasion of the draft was relevant to his character then. And I think that this is less relevant because it just shows that toward the end of his National Guard service, George Bush wasn't taking it very seriously. But this is about...

FUND: Joe, wait a second...

KLEIN: But this is about -- this is about -- John, this is about the way Republicans have gone at the patriotism issue for about 20 years now. And Democrats just aren't going to take it this year.

FUND: Joe, Bob Kerrey, the other Kerry, the Democratic senator from Nebraska, said on CNN this morning, the bottom line is, George W. Bush served his country honorably. Forget it. I think that's a pretty good authority.

KLEIN: Oh, I think Bob Kerrey's a good authority, too. But the reason why Democrats are doing this -- let me give you an example. Today in her column, Ann Coulter attacked Max Cleland, the Vietnam war hero. She said Cleland lost three limbs in an accident during a routine non-combat mission, where he was about to drink beer with friends. He saw a grenade on the ground and picked it up. He could have done that at Fort Dix as a National Guardsman. Now, that's the sort of thing -- I also have here -- I also have here Cleland's citation for his Silver Star that he received four days before that at Khe Sanh in Vietnam in 1968.

FUND: Joe, Ann Coulter works for the Bush committee?

KLEIN: These kind of -- these kind of...

FUND: You can't just pick a columnist and say they're speaking for the Republican Party! I'm sorry! KLEIN: But John, this has been part of a pattern -- the attacks on John McCain in 1960 -- in 2000 by these trumped-up veterans groups who are now reappearing to attack John Kerry, the photos of John Kerry at the rally with Jane Fonda. Democrats weren't distributing those. It was Republicans, John. So if you're going to play that way, then I think the Democrats are going to probably play the same way. I hope that this message now, and the fact that this very minor issue has come out now, means that we don't have to deal with it the rest of the way and we can talk about fiscal policy. We can talk about the war...

FUND: Well, I agree it's a minor issue. Thank you for saying that.

ZAHN: All right, let's bring Douglas Brinkley into the picture for a broader view here. When you look back at all the polarizing issues we've seen in previous presidential campaigns, what is your take on the vitriol we're seeing in this campaign so far?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, AUTHOR, "TOUR OF DUTY: JOHN KERRY AND THE VIETNAM WAR": Well, it's been -- it's the war in Iraq. It's been a very tough last year. And there's been two sides. I mean, there's the anti-war people on Iraq and the people -- the Bush administration. I think I think the fact of weapons of mass destruction, the fact that President Bush wore that flight suit when he was on the USS Lincoln kind of triggered a response from some veterans who are angry that he was sort of playing games with the uniform.

And I think what -- there's something else at issue right are Vietnam veterans. There are over eight million of them in this country, and many of them are now hitting the senior citizen age, during their 60s, and they want better health benefits. They want better VA hospitals. And they're looking for a spokesperson, and John Kerry's campaign took off in Iowa largely because of the Vietnam vet issue. He had Vietnam veterans working with him, and they were proud Republicans, independents, Democrats at his side. And he's picked up rhythm because of this issue.

ZAHN: Picked up a rhythm, maybe. But Joe, isn't it also true, because of his anti-war activities, he also has alienated a lot of those veterans?

KLEIN: Well, I think that there always have been -- I mean, back -- going back to Nixon, when Kerry first appeared, the Nixon White House found a veteran, a pro-war veteran to counter him. This has always been contentious. A lost war lasts a long time in American politics. This war was not only lost but also morally questionable.

ZAHN: Joe Klein, John Fund, Douglas Brinkley, thank you all. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here this evening. Thanks so much for being with us tonight. Tomorrow night, a visit from "The Ethicist" himself, Randy Cohen of "The New York Times." He will answer some of your moral dilemmas, like is it ever OK to lie? Should you tell on your boss if he's cheating? All of those questions he will attempt to answer.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Again, thanks for joining us tonight. Have a good night.

END

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