Allah and Jeff Goldstein have been wondering about the timeline set out in the Washington Post for how CBS put together the “Sixty Minutes II” story, and what it means in the hunt to identify who was responsible for creating and disseminating forgeries. You’ll want to read their whole analyses. Now, it appears that CBS will point the finger at Bill Burkett, see here and here, a guy about whom Kevin Drum – who interviewed Burkett in February – said
I talked with Burkett at length back in February, and speaking as someone who believes his story about Bush’s files being purged, I still wouldn’t trust him for a second if he suddenly produced a bunch of never-before-seen memos out of nowhere. If he really is CBS’s “unimpeachable source,” they’ve got some very serious problems with their news judgment.
Here’s the basic timeline derived from quotes from the WaPo article, which I’ve excerpted and bullet-pointed:
*In mid-August, Mapes told her bosses that she had finally tracked down a source who claimed to have access to memos written in 1972 and 1973 by the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, Bush’s squadron commander in the Texas Air National Guard.
*During the Republican National Convention in New York [August 30-September 2], Rather got a call from Ben Barnes, a onetime Texas lieutenant governor and veteran Democrat who has known the anchor, a former Houston TV reporter, for 30 years. Barnes said he was ready to say before the cameras that he had pulled strings to get Bush a coveted slot in the Texas Guard in 1968. Mapes had long been urging Barnes to tell his story.
*On Friday, Sept. 3, the day after the convention ended, Mapes hit pay dirt. She told Howard her source had given her the documents.
*The next stop was Texas. Rather was in Florida, so CBS chartered a plane to get him to Austin. On Sunday, Sept. 5, he and Mapes interviewed Robert Strong, an administrative assistant in the Texas Guard during Bush’s service there.
*Document analyst Marcel Matley flew from California to New York, and Rather interviewed him on Labor Day, Sept. 6
*On Tuesday, Sept. 7, as Rather sat down in a CBS studio with former Texas lieutenant governor Barnes, the top brass was turning its attention to the explosive story.
The story ran Wednesday, September 8.
So, that’s it? Well, here’s an item quoted by Goldstein that needs to be factored in:
In an Aug. 21 posting [on a Yahoo group for Texas Democrats], Burkett referred to a conversation with former senator Max Cleland (D-Ga.) about the need to counteract Republican tactics: �I asked if they wanted to counterattack or ride this to ground and outlast it, not spending any money. He said counterattack. So I gave them the information to do it with. But none of them have called me back.�
Cleland confirmed that he had a two- or three-minute conversation by cell phone with a Texan named Burkett in mid-August while he was on a car ride. He remembers Burkett saying that he had �valuable� information about Bush, and asking what he should [do] with it. �I told him to contact the [Kerry] campaign,� Cleland said. �You get this information tens of times a day, and you don�t know if it is legit or not.”
Cleland, as we know, was in Texas August 25 to deliver a letter to the president’s ranch in Crawford; on August 21, Cleland was in Wisconsin.
Anyway, that’s all background here. Someone with more time to spend on this can connect these dots, but I’d like to add a few links to the fire:
*On August 22, with no apparent prompting from anything in the news, Josh Marshall, out of the blue, calls for Ben Barnes to come forward:
Now, as fate would have it, Ben Barnes is a Democrat. Was then, is now. And he supports John Kerry.
But he’s never really spoken openly about how he helped Bush hop in front of everyone else or other aspects of the president’s abbreviated military service, about which he is said to know a great deal.
Maybe now would be the time?
By August 27, still well before Barnes was reportedly in touch with Dan Rather, Marshall touts a Kerry campaign video featuring Barnes:
You’ll want to link through to this one — it’s a video clip of Ben Barnes, the former Speaker of the House in Texas, the guy who got President Bush into the Texas Air National Guard.
I’m told the tape is from a recent Kerry rally . . .
[snip; includes Barnes saying, “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.”]
Now, I don’t know what Ben Barnes looks like. And I do not independently know the provenance of the tape. But I’ve spoken to two sources who know Barnes. And they tell me that that is Barnes on the tape.
One of those two men is Jim Moore — co-author of Bush’s Brain. Moore told me this afternoon that the clip is from June 8th of this year, at a Kerry rally in Austin. Moore assures me that the tape is legitimate.
I placed a call to Barnes’ office and left a message with one of his assistants; but the request for comment has not yet been returned.
Click through Marshall’s site to see the video. Soon, Marshall was pushing the Barnes-is-talking story; by September 1, six days before Barnes supposedly met with Rather, Marshall reported:
A bit more on Ben Barnes, the guy from Texas who got President Bush into the Guard way-back-when.
Apparently, the attacks on Kerry’s war record just proved too much for him. As we’ve noted previously, for almost a decade now Barnes has gone to great lengths to avoid causing trouble for the president on the Guard matter. And the Bush folks in Texas have made it clear to him during this election cycle that if he spills the beans about the president that they’ll do everything in their power to put him out of business in the state (Barnes is now a lobbyist). And that heat has, I’m told, increased dramatically in recent days.
But apparently those threats haven’t done the trick because he has already taped a lengthy interview slated to appear in the not-too-distant future on a major national news show in which he’ll describe the strings he pulled to keep Bush out of Vietnam and apparently more.
(Between you and me, according to my three sources on this, Barnes told his story to Dan Rather — remember, the Texas connection — for 60 Minutes.)
(Allah noted a similar report in Salon that day). What does it all mean? Not clear yet. But Marshall’s sources were clearly pushing Barnes to come forward and get him to talk to Rather, at precisely the time that Burkett was talking to Max Cleland and was, apparently, involved in getting the forged documents to CBS.
Developing . . .