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Inside Politics

Burkett: 'Jury still out' on memos CBS aired

From Ingrid Arnesen

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CNN's Jeanne Meserve on CBS' position on the documents.

CNN's John King on Bush's comments about his Guard service.
Copies:  The CBS documents

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George W. Bush
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(CNN) -- Bill Burkett, who gave CBS News the alleged documents about President Bush's National Guard service, insists "the jury is still out" on whether those documents are authentic.

"The documents have not been conclusively proven false," Burkett said. "Neither have they been proven authentic. That jury is still out."

Burkett has been under intense media scrutiny since he was revealed as the source of the documents.

On Thursday, he replied via email to a series of questions from CNN.

Burkett said he expected CBS to use its "massive and superlative abilities" to authenticate the documents prior to broadcast.

He also accused "incompetent" CBS staff of revealing his name to other news organizations, despite an agreement to protect his identity as the source of the material.

Burkett also accused the White House of using the blog community to launch a "kill the messenger campaign" against him after the documents were made public.

"The coordinated attacks against the documents, then against me, which CBS did nothing to deflect or defend, and then against Dan Rather and CBS producer Mary Mapes have not been against the validity of the documents, but rather as an attack against anything being considered at all," he said.

Burkett's wife, Nicki, described the couple as "shaken" by the uproar.

"Our name has been destroyed and cannot be reclaimed," she said in the e-mailed response. "We are presumed guilty, not only for poor judgment of involving ourselves with CBS, but now considered to be forgers and liars."

On September 8, CBS News anchor Dan Rather, on a segment of the newsmagazine "60 Minutes," reported allegations that during the Vietnam era, Bush received special consideration to get into the Texas Air National Guard and subsequently did not fulfill his service obligations, including ignoring an order to get a required physical exam.

Among the evidence cited in the story were four memos critical of the future president, purportedly written by Bush's then-squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who died in 1984.

But immediately after the broadcast, the documents came under fire by the conservative Internet community of bloggers.

Soon, media reports followed with document experts charging that the documents were produced with a modern computer word processing program, not by a 1970s-era typewriter.

Killian's former wife, son and secretary all questioned the validity of the memos, though his secretary said they did reflect his views at the time about Bush. She also said she typed a similar memo but not the one that was broadcast by CBS.

On Monday, Burkett admitted he had misled Mapes, the producer of the segment, about where he had gotten the documents.

CBS News then backed away from the story, saying it could no longer be sure the documents were genuine. Rather apologized on the network's flagship evening news broadcast.

Burkett has subsequently revealed, through his attorney, the source of the documents -- a woman who identified herself as Lucy Ramirez, who called him to tell him she had documents related to Bush's Guard service.

The memos were later handed to Burkett by an unknown man during a visit to Houston, and Burkett said he made copies and burned the originals to protect the woman's identity.

CNN has not been able to confirm this scenario of how the documents came into Burkett's possession.

After the broadcast, at a time when Rather and CBS News were publicly standing behind the story and insisting that the documents were genuine, Burkett said he was informed "that senior executives -- 'the suits' -- were getting nervous, and the extensive pressure began to mount on me to reveal my source."

"Concurrently, I was outed by the incompetent actions of the CBS staff, and my identify was confirmed according to other press reports by planned CBS leaks," he said.

Burkett did not elaborate on who at CBS was involved in revealing his identity, or what their "incompetent actions" were.

After the original "60 Minutes" broadcast, Burkett, a retired Texas Army National Guard officer and long-time Bush critic, was named as the likely source of the documents in a number of media reports.

CBS News directly disclosed his identity Monday, when he admitted misleading Mapes in an on-camera interview with Rather.

Nicki Burkett said CBS News "asked us not to respond publicly in our own defense from the time we turned over the documents" until last Saturday, when a network vice president informed them that CBS no longer had any obligation to them.

Burkett also said "the central part of my agreement with CBS was that they use their massive and superlative abilities to authenticate and verify the documents prior to broadcast in order that I and my source not have to be identified."

"CBS came to me, I did not go to them," he said. "It was in no interest of mine to be involved with this. Certainly as a source, I demanded confidentiality both for myself and my source."

CBS News did submit the memos to at least four document experts prior to broadcast; three of them later said they did not authenticate the documents, though one did verify that Killian's signatures were consistent.

Two of the experts consulted by CBS News later told CNN that they raised questions prior to the broadcast about whether the memos were genuine.

Burkett said he believes CBS News decided to broadcast the contents of the documents after the network showed them to the White House "and there was no challenge at all on authentication."

CBS News has asked former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former AP chief Louis Boccardi to investigate what went wrong during the preparation of the document story.

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