Barnes says he’s ashamed for getting Bush into Texas Guard

Barnes says he’s ashamed for getting Bush into Texas Guard

The Associated Press State & Local Wire

August 28, 2004, Saturday, BC cycle

Barnes says he’s ashamed for getting Bush into Texas Guard

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 795 words

DATELINE: DALLAS

In a video posted on the Internet, former Texas House Speaker Ben Barnes said he is “more ashamed at myself than I’ve ever been” because he helped President Bush and the sons of other wealthy families get into the Texas National Guard so they could avoid serving in Vietnam.

“I got a young man named George W. Bush into the National Guard … and I’m not necessarily proud of that, but I did it,” Barnes, a Democrat, said in the 45-second video, which was recorded May 27 before a group of John Kerry supporters in Austin. Barnes, who was House speaker when Bush entered the Guard, later became lieutenant governor.

Barnes said he became ashamed after walking through the Vietnam Memorial and looking at the names of people who died.

The video was posted June 25 on the Web site http://www.austin4kerry.org/ but didn’t get much attention until Friday, when Jim Moore, an Austin-based author of books critical of Bush, sent out e-mail messages calling attention to it just days before the GOP National Convention starts in New York.

“The video just speaks for itself,” Barnes told The Associated Press in a brief telephone interview Saturday. He declined to answer specific questions about what role he had in helping Bush get into the Guard, but he said he may have more to say next week.

Bush – who joined the National Guard in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, and served until 1973 – maintains that he received no special treatment. Both he and his father, the former president, have said they did not ask for help in finding the Guard opening.

Bush said Saturday in Lima, Ohio, that he is “proud of my service” in the National Guard.

He made the comment after a questioner in a friendly audience at a high school commented, “I’m feeling sorry on your behalf the fact that they are trying to bring this issue up about the National Guard. I have many many good friends that served in the Guard during the … Vietnam War.”

“There’s eight of them that are changing parties because they’ve had it with the Democrats,” said the man in the audience.

“The question is who’s best to be the commander in chief to lead us in peace. That’s the question,” Bush responded to applause.

Earlier Saturday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said of Barnes’ comments: “It is not surprising coming from a longtime partisan Democrat. The allegation was discredited by the commanding officer. This was fully covered and addressed five years ago. It is nothing new.”

Barnes, who described himself as an active fund-raiser for the Democratic presidential candidate, said he’s contacted by people with the Kerry campaign all the time “but I haven’t talked to anybody” about the video.

Five years ago, Barnes found himself at the center of questions about Bush’s Vietnam-era service when the then-Texas governor emerged as the Republican presidential front-runner.

At that time, Barnes’ lawyer issued a statement saying Barnes had been contacted by the now-deceased Sidney Adger, a Houston oilman and friend of Bush’s father, who was then a congressman. Adger asked Barnes to recommend Bush for a pilot position with the Air National Guard and he did, that statement said.

“Neither Congressman Bush nor any other member of the Bush family asked Barnes’ help,” according to the 1999 statement.

The Kerry campaign has alleged that Bush got into the Guard by jumping ahead of 150 applicants. Texas National Guard officials have said they do not have records to show how many people were on a waiting list.

Although Bush’s unit had a waiting list for many spots, the Yale University graduate was accepted because he was one of a handful of applicants willing and qualified to spend more than a year in active training, and lots of time after training, flying single-seat F-102 fighter jets, The Dallas Morning News reported in 1999. The unit Bush signed up for – the 147th Fighter Interceptor Group, based in Houston – had 156 openings among its authorized staff of 925 military personnel, the newspaper said, citing records provided by a Guard historian.

In the video, Barnes claims that Bush was not the only rich kid he helped.

“I got a lot of other people in the National Guard because I thought that was what people should do when you’re in office, you helped a lot of rich people,” he said.

“And I walked through the Vietnam Memorial the other day and I looked at the names of the people that died in Vietnam,” he said. “I became more ashamed of myself than I’ve ever been because it was the worst thing I did – help a lot of wealthy supporters and a lot of people who had family names of importance get in the National Guard.

“I’m very sorry of that and I’m very ashamed of it and I apologize to the voters of Texas for that.”