Dan Bartlett Declined to Answer Thornburgh Panel’s Questions About President’s Military Service in 2004, Email Reveals

More from the Rather v. CBS docs.

On Tuesday, December 7, 2004, former U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh sent an e-mail to Dan Bartlett, then the White House communications director.

At the time, Mr. Thornburgh was heading up an independent panel, established by CBS, to investigate the flawed 60 Minutes Wednesday story about President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard, which aired on September 8, 2004.

“As I mentioned on the phone, we are in the homestretch of our assignment and would find it very helpful if we could secure written responses from the President to the following questions so that we can tie up a couple of loose ends,” wrote Mr. Thornburgh.

Mr. Thornburgh then posed eight questions:

(1) Was there a waiting list to become a pilot of the Texas Air National Guard at the time you entered?

(2) Do you recall Colonel Killian being dissatisfied in any way about your National Guard service in 1972 and 1973?

(3) Were you ever ordered to take a physical in May 1972 or at any other time?

(4) Did Colonel Killian say in May 1972 that you could do Equivalent Training for three months or transfer?

(5) Do you recall being suspended from flight status on or about August 1, 1972? If so, how was that suspension communicated to you?

(6) Why were you suspended from flight status? Was there a reason other than not taking a physical?

(7) Describe your communications with Colonel Killian about a transfer to Alabama in 1972.

(8) Did Colonel Killian or anyone else ever inform you that Colonel Killian was being pressured in any way about your status by a superior officer?

The next day, Mr. Bartlett responded. “I must say, I was somewhat surprised by the questions,” he wrote. “I guess we viewed your work as more focused on what CBS did/did not do regarding their reporting, not the substance of their charges. The answers to your questions can be easily found in the public records so we would prefer to keep him out of participating in your report.”

Roughly a month later, on January 5, 2005, Mr. Thornburgh (along with former head of the Associated Press Louis Boccardi) published their findings in a 200-plus page report (PDF). Afterwards, some critics complained that despite its great length, the report failed to answer some crucial questions about (a) CBS News’ handling of the story and (b) Mr. Bush’s military service.


On August 18, 2008, with the rift between CBS News and conservatives in the Bush administration largely healed (thank you Nicolle Wallace!), Mr. Bartlett joined CBS News as a political analyst.


Dan Bartlett Declined to Answer Thornburgh Panel’s Questions About President’s Military Service in 2004, Email Reveals