CBS Producer Brokered Conversation Between Burkett, Kerry Aide On Bush National Guard Records
On the day CBS apologized for using documents (now believed to be forgeries) purporting to come from the President's National Guard superiors questioning Bush's military record, a new twist threatens to ensnare the Kerry campaign in the controversy. USA Today reports this morning that CBS "arranged for a confidential source to talk with Joe Lockhart, a top aide to John Kerry, after the source provided the network with the now-disputed documents about President Bush's service in the Texas National Guard." Lockhart, "the former press secretary to President Clinton, said a producer talked to him about the 60 Minutes program a few days before it aired on Sept. 8. She gave Lockhart a telephone number and asked him to call Bill Burkett, a former Texas National Guard officer who gave CBS the documents." Lockhart "couldn't recall the producer's name. But CBS said Monday night that it would examine the role of producer Mary Mapes in passing the name to Lockhart." Burkett "told USA TODAY that he had agreed to turn over the documents to CBS if the network would arrange a conversation with the Kerry campaign." USA Today adds, "The network's effort to place Burkett in contact with a top Democratic official raises ethical questions about CBS' handling of material potentially damaging to the Republican president in the midst of an election."
According to the Wall Street Journal, Lockhart described the contact this way in an interview: "The Saturday before the '60 Minutes' story, the CBS producer contacted me and said someone who had been helpful to them on the story had been trying to reach the Kerry campaign, wanted to talk to someone on the campaign. She gave me the guy's number. It was Burkett. I called the guy. ... We talked really for three or four minutes about the Swift Boat controversy. He believed our response was inadequate, that Kerry should push back about the Vietnam experience. I thanked him for his advice. End of the story." According to USA Today, Burkett also talked to former Georgia senator Max Cleland and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean "during the past 45 days." The White House reacted to the latest disclosure stating that CBS' contact with Lockhart was inappropriate. "The fact that CBS News would coordinate with the most senior levels of Sen. Kerry's campaign to attack the president is a stunning and deeply troubling revelation," said Dan Bartlett, White House communications director. CBS said in a statement that an independent panel would look into the Kerry campaign's contact with Burkett.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, "said attention should still be paid to questions about whether Mr. Bush fulfilled his service obligations three decades ago."