WASHINGTON - The White House released 30-year-old payroll records and other documents yesterday that aides say prove that President Bush fulfilled his duties in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War and did not sidestep military service as some critics have charged.
The documents show that the president was recorded as reporting for duty during 1972 and 1973 and worked enough hours to satisfy the requirements for an honorable discharge.
Holding up photocopies of payroll documents for the cameras at the White House, Bush's spokesman, Scott McClellan, declared that "the records have now been fully released."
He called accusations that Bush did not satisfy his military obligations "outrageous and baseless" and said "it's just really a shame that people are continuing to bring this up."
Bush aides are trying to rebut allegations that the president shirked his duties by failing to show up for training sessions and other activities at an Alabama air base in 1972, an issue the White House is eager to put to rest.
Yet McClellan left hanging questions about a five-month period from May through the end of October 1972 in which the records show he received no pay or credit for duties performed.
Bush has said he spent that time working on a congressional campaign in Alabama and received permission to carry out his Air National Guard duties there, rather than in his home state of Texas. Bush returned to Texas in the fall of 1972.
Nor did McClellan, despite persistent questioning, explain why commanders at the Alabama base said they do not recall seeing Bush during times he was assigned to their unit.
McClellan also refused to offer an explanation for why the president missed a flight physical in July 1972 after he had made the request to move to Alabama. As a result of skipping the examination, his flight status was suspended.
A senior administration official, asked about the missed exam and loss of flight credentials, said Bush had been "granted permission to attend drills in Alabama in a nonflying capacity because they flew different planes there" than the aircraft Bush was trained to fly in Texas.
Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National Chairman, said that the information released yesterday "creates more questions than answers" and that "there is still no evidence that George W. Bush showed up for duty as ordered while in Alabama."
Whether Bush satisfied his Guard duties came up from time to time but was not a major point of contention in the 2000 presidential campaign. The issue was raised anew last month by filmmaker Michael Moore, who called Bush a "deserter" while he was campaigning in New Hampshire with Democratic candidate Wesley K. Clark.
McAuliffe subsequently contrasted Democratic front-runner John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, with Bush, whom he said was "AWOL" - absent without leave - when he was supposed to be serving in Alabama.
Kerry suggested last week that Bush joined the Guard to avoid going to war, saying people opted for the Guard "because the odds of being called up and going to Vietnam were very low."
But yesterday he said he does not intend to say more about Bush's service.
"It's not an issue that I chose to create," he said. "It's not my record that's at issue, and I don't have any questions about it."
A perception that Bush tried to avoid military service could undercut him as he portrays himself as a "war president" who deserves a second term. In a recent Time/CNN poll, 60 percent of respondents said they believed Kerry did his duty during the Vietnam War, while 39 percent said the same for Bush.
In an interview broadcast Sunday on the NBC's Meet the Press, Bush said: "I put my time in - proudly so." As for allegations that he missed some training sessions and other Guard duties, he said, "They're just wrong."
"There may be no evidence, but I did report. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged," he said.
The president said he believed all relevant documents about his service had been made public in 2000 but that he would release more if found. White House officials later learned that documents they released yesterday had turned up at a National Guard records center in Colorado.
After moving back to Texas from Alabama in the fall of 1972, Bush has said, he returned to Guard duty at Ellington Air Force Base.
But in May 1973, Bush's commanders at Ellington wrote that they could not do his annual evaluation because "he has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report."
White House officials stressed that Bush might have been overlooked in Texas because he was no longer on flying status when he returned from Alabama.
Still, the records show Bush did not report for service at Ellington in December 1972 or in February or March 1973. He did report often after the commanders noted his absence, squeezing in drills over a short period in June and July, just before he received an early discharge to attend Harvard Business School.
Retired Lt. Col. Albert C. Lloyd Jr., former personnel director for the Texas Air National Guard, told the Boston Globe in 2000 that commanders in Texas might have hinted to Bush that he would not be doing much flying since he had trained on aircraft that his original unit at Ellington was phasing out.
"Maybe George Bush took that as a signal and said, 'Hell, I'm not going to bother going to drills.'"
But after Bush returned to Texas, Lloyd said, "I'll bet someone called him up and said, 'George, you're in a pickle. Get your ass down here and perform some duty.' And he did."
Yesterday, White House officials released a new statement from Lloyd, who reviewed the latest documents at their request. Lloyd wrote that Bush "completed his military obligation in a satisfactory manner."
John Goheen, a 23-year veteran Guardsman and now spokesman for the National Guard Association, said the records released yesterday are likely accurate and that, typically, Guard members receive credit for days on which they perform service.
He added, though, that guardsmen can sometimes work out arrangements with superiors to make up missed days and still receive pay and credit.
In Bush's first four years in the Guard, which he joined in May 1968 as he graduated from Yale University, his record was unquestioned and he was considered by superiors an able and enthusiastic pilot.