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Friday, August 27, 2004

Barnes Storming

By way of Josh Marshall comes this must see video clip of Ben Barnes, the former Speaker of the House in Texas (also the former Lt. Governor, some time back, as he speaks to in the clip). It should put to rest any doubt of how George W. Bush found that coveted spot in the Texas Air National Guard. Josh's transcription of Barnes' words, speaking at a recent John Kerry rally:

Let's talk a minute about John Kerry and George Bush and I know them both. And I'm not name dropping to say I know 'em both. I got a young man named George W. Bush in the National Guard when I was Lt. Gov. of Texas and I'm not necessarily proud of that. But I did it. And I got a lot of other people into the National Guard because I thought that was what people should do, when you're in office you helped a lot of rich people. And I walked through the Vietnam Memorial the other day and I looked at the names of the people that died in Vietnam and I became more ashamed of myself than I have ever been because it was the worst thing that I did was that I helped a lot of wealthy supporters and a lot of people who had family names of importance get into the National Guard and I'm very sorry about that and I'm very ashamed and I apologize to you as voters of Texas.
Now compare that to this bit from the Washington Post from July of 1999 on then candidate Bush:

Bush learned that there were pilot openings in the Texas Air National Guard during Christmas vacation of his senior year at Yale, when he called Staudt, the commander of the 147th Fighter Group, and, he said, "found out what it took to apply."

"He recalls hearing from friends while he was home over the Christmas break that the Guard was looking for pilots and that Colonel Staudt was the person to contact," said his communications director, Karen Hughes. She said Bush did not recall who those friends were.

Retired Col. Rufus G. Martin, then personnel officer in charge of the 147th Fighter Group, said the unit was short of its authorized strength, but still had a long waiting list, because of the difficulty getting slots in basic training for recruits at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Martin said four openings for pilots were available in the 147th in 1968, and that Bush got the last one.

Staudt, the colonel who twice had himself photographed with Bush, said his status as a congressman's son "didn't cut any ice." But others say that it was not uncommon for well-connected Texans to obtain special consideration for Air Guard slots. In addition to Bush and Bentsen, many socially or politically prominent young men were admitted to the Air Guard, according to former officials; they included the son of then-Sen. John Tower and at least seven members of the Dallas Cowboys.

"The well-to-do kids had enough sense to get on the waiting list," Martin said. "Some [applicants] thought they could just walk in the door and sign up."

One address for those seeking help getting in was Ben Barnes, a Democrat who was then the speaker of the Texas House and a protege of Gov. John B. Connally. A top aide to Barnes, Nick Kralj, simultaneously served as aide to the head of the Texas Air National Guard, the late Brig. Gen. James M. Rose.

An anonymous letter addressed to a U.S. attorney in Texas, produced in a discovery proceeding for an ongoing lawsuit, charged that Barnes assisted Bush in getting into the Guard. The suit was brought by the former director of the Texas Lottery Commission, who believes Barnes, now a lobbyist, may have played a role in his dismissal.

In a deposition for the suit, Kralj confirmed that he would get calls from Barnes or his chief of staff, Robert Spelling, "saying so-and-so is interested in getting in the Guard." Kralj said he would then forward the names to Gen. Rose.

In an interview, Barnes also acknowledged that he sometimes received requests for help in obtaining Guard slots. He said he never received such a call from then-Rep. Bush or anyone in the Bush family.

However, when asked if an intermediary or friend of the Bush family had ever asked him to intercede on George W.'s behalf, Barnes declined to comment. Kralj, in his deposition, said he could not recall any of the names he gave to Gen. Rose.

Hughes, Bush's spokeswoman, said: "The governor has no knowledge of anyone making inquiries on his behalf."

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