On May 2, 1973, one of George W. Bush’s superior officers in the Texas National Guard wrote an evaluation of him that would later become famous. By that date, Bush had long since gone to Alabama to work on a Senate campaign, and Lt. Col. William D. Harris wrote that “Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of report. A civilian occupation made it necessary for him to move to Montgomery, Alabama. He cleared this base on 15 May 1972 and has been performing equivalent training in a non-flying status with the 187 Tac Recon Gp., Dannelly ANG Base, Alabama.” Harris marked “Not Observed” in the boxes in which he was directed to grade Bush’s performance.
What was less noticed about the report is that another Texas Air National Guard officer, Lt. Colonel Jerry B. Killian, wrote, “I concur with the comments of the reporting official” just below Harris’ account. The document–with Killian’s signature–was among a thick stack of papers from Bush’s Air National Guard years released in February by the White House.
Now Killian himself is in the news. On Wednesday, CBS News released four previously undisclosed documents which it said were written by Killian, who died in 1984. One of them, dated August 18, 1973, refers to Killian’s reluctance to evaluate Bush’s performance. Suggesting that top Texas Air National Guard officers were putting pressure on him to “sugar coat” Bush’s performance rating, Killian wrote, “Bush wasn’t here during rating period and I don’t have any feedback from 187th in Alabama. I will not rate.”
But as the first document suggests, months before, Killian–and Harris–had quite decisively declined to rate Bush’s performance. If Killian was under pressure to “sugar coat” Bush’s performance, he had certainly not yielded to it. Nor had anyone else “sugar coated” the Bush evaluation.
A year before the “Not Observed” rating, according to the CBS documents, Killian was again concerned about the possibility of special treatment for Bush. A document attributed to Killian, dated May 4, 1972, orders Bush to report for a physical examination. Then another document, dated May 19, 1972, says Killian had a phone conversation with Bush about the young lieutenant’s desire to transfer to an Air National Guard unit in Alabama. Bush, according to the document, said he might not have time to take his physical exam. “I advised him of our investment in him and his commitment,” the document says, purportedly in Killian’s words. “I also told him I had to have written acceptance before he would be transferred, but think he’s also talking to someone upstairs.”
But according to the documents released by the White House, just seven days later, on May 26, 1972, Killian signed on to a glowing report of Bush’s performance. “Lt. Bush is an exceptional fighter interceptor pilot and officer,” the report, written by Harris, said. “He eagerly participates in scheduled unit activities.” The evaluation even took approving note of the fact that, “Lt. Bush is very active in civic affairs in the community and manifests a deep interest in the operation of our government. He has recently accepted the position as campaign manager for a candidate for United States Senate.” Below Harris’s signature, there was the statement, “I concur with the comments and ratings of the reporting official,” signed by Killian.
And a year before that, on May 27, 1971, Killian concurred with yet another evaluation that said, “Lt. Bush is an exceptionally fine young officer and pilot…[He] possesses sound judgment and is mature beyond his age and experience level…. He continually flies intercept missions with the unit to increase his proficiency even further.”
When viewed together, the documents released by the White House in February, which are unquestionably authentic, and the documents released by CBS, which many experts suggest may be forgeries, portray Killian as Jekyll-and-Hyde figure. Publicly, he praised Bush, while privately, in memos CBS says he wrote only for his own files, he expressed serious misgivings about the treatment given the prominent young officer.
There has been a great amount of analysis of the questionable typography and appearance of the CBS memos. But as the events described above suggest, even if there were no physical questions about the documents, the story they tell still wouldn’t add up.
And there are other, smaller questions. For example, none of the documents released by the White House bears the letterhead “111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron/P.O. Box 34567/Houston, Texas 77034,” and yet that is at the head of two of the CBS documents. Perhaps more importantly, on every document released by the White House last February, Killian’s name is written, “JERRY B. KILLIAN, Lt. Colonel, TexANG,” the last letters referring to the Texas Air National Guard. But on the two CBS documents with Killian’s name on them, he is simply called “Lt. Colonel” or “Lt. Colonel/Commander.” Judging by the earlier documents, it would have been somewhat out of character for Killian to refer to his rank without mentioning the Texas Air National Guard. Yet that is what he is purported to have done in the CBS documents.
Now, Killian’s widow has cast still more doubt on the CBS papers. “Number one, he would not have typed because he did not type,” Marjorie Connell told ABC News. “Number two, the wording in these documents is very suspect to me. I just don’t believe that, it looks like some things may have been picked up out of a document and then other things just made fictitiously to fill in things, to make them flow. I just can’t believe that this is his words, my late husband’s words.”
And finally, Killian’s son has also questioned the CBS documents. Referring to the “sugar coat” memo in particular, Gary Killian told the Associated Press, “It just wouldn’t happen. The only thing that can happen when you keep secret files like that are bad things…. No officer in his right mind would write a memo like that.”