Washington — A packet of Texas Air National Guard records released Friday showed that the commanding officer of President Bush's basic training unit took a special interest in him as a trainee and wrote to his father to praise him. Democrats called that proof of preferential treatment.
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 letter and other material were the latest in a stream of documents released about Bush's service three decades ago during the Vietnam War, when Bush's critics say he received preferential treatment as the son of a congressman and U.N. 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.
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 on Wednesday ordered the Defense Department to hand over all newly discovered Bush records to the AP by Sept. 24.
The AP lawsuit also led to the release earlier this month of previously undisclosed flight logs for the years Bush spent as a trainee and pilot, mostly on the F-102A fighter.
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 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.
White House communications director Dan Bartlett said the 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.
The Democratic National Committee said releasing the documents on a Friday evening indicated Bush had something to hide.
"These documents demonstrate yet again that George Bush was a fortunate son who received special consideration unavailable to the average American," DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe said in a statement.
In addition to the letter from Bush's father, the latest documents contain news releases that the Texas Air National Guard sent to Houston newspapers in 1970 about young 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 Camp David while his father was president.
The White House has denounced Kelley's book and denied the charges.