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Inside Politics

White House blasts 'gutter politics'

Pentagon requests full personnel file from Vietnam era

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

George W. Bush sits in an F-102 fighter jet while serving in the Texas Air National Guard in an undated file photo.
George W. Bush sits in an F-102 fighter jet while serving in the Texas Air National Guard in an undated file photo.

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CNN's Suzanne Malveaux reports on the controversy over Bush's military service.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- People who question President Bush's Air National Guard service 30 years ago are engaging in "gutter politics" and "trolling for trash for political gain," a White House spokesman said Wednesday.

The strong words from White House press secretary Scott McClellan came a day after a contentious White House briefing at which some new records were released about Bush's Air National Guard service in Texas and Alabama during the Vietnam War era.

Some Democrats said those records don't answer questions about Bush's whereabouts and activities during part of that time, an issue that first arose in the 2000 presidential race and has heated up again this election year.

Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown of Ohio attempted to bring Secretary of State Colin Powell into the debate Wednesday during Powell's testimony before the House International Relations Committee.

While asking a question of Powell, he suggested Bush may have been AWOL during part of his National Guard service.

Powell then glared at the congressman.

"First of all, Mr. Brown, I won't dignify your comments about the president because you don't know what you're talking about," said the retired four-star general who fought in Vietnam when he was a young officer.

"I'm sorry. I don't understand what you mean, Mr. Secretary," Brown responded.

Powell then replied, "You made reference to the president ..."

"I said he may have been AWOL," Brown interrupted.

"Mr. Brown, let's not go there. Really let's just not go there," Powell said. "Let's not go there in this hearing. Do you want to have a political fight on this matter that is very controversial and I think is being dealt with by the White House? Fine, but let's not go there."

The exchange marked another day of persistent concern over the issue.

McClellan said the Pentagon had requested Bush's full personnel file and the White House expects to get a copy also.

He said any new "relevant" information would be released but did not offer a definition of what he considered to meet that test and did not commit to releasing the entire file.

McClellan did not answer directly when asked if the administration would release any records dealing with possible disciplinary issues.

The White House said the documents released Tuesday prove Bush met his requirements and was honorably discharged.

Some Democrats and others who have looked at the records said questions remain about a period from May 1972 to May 1973 -- when Bush was in Alabama where he worked on a Senate campaign part of that time.

"The handful of documents released today by the White House creates more questions than answers," Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said in a statement Tuesday.

The documents show Bush participating in some Guard activities but offer no insight as to his whereabouts in that period or the type of activities in which he may have participated.

McClellan said Wednesday he considered the key question resolved.

Those who are raising additional questions are practicing "gutter politics," he said. "The American people deserve better."

Twice he accused critics of "trolling for trash," at one point saying they are "trolling for trash for political gain."

Questions about whether Bush reported for duty have lingered since the 2000 presidential campaign when The Boston Globe uncovered a May 1973 evaluation by Bush's commander stating Bush had not been seen during the previous year.

The report stated that Bush, who was a first lieutenant, had been performing "equivalent training" at a Guard unit in Montgomery, Alabama. But the man who was the Alabama unit's commander at the time has said he does not recall Bush reporting for duty.

Bush left the Air National Guard in October 1973, eight months before his six-year military obligation was up in May 1974, and was honorably discharged.

When he was asked about his early release during an interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Bush said, "I was going to Harvard Business School and worked it out with the military."


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