Published on Wednesday, September 8, 2004 by the Independent/UK
Bush Faces Pressure Over Drugs and Draft
by Rupert Cornwell
WASHINGTON -- After weeks in which John Kerry's military record has been picked to pieces, President George Bush now faces a double blast of scrutiny over his own past, raising new questions over his avoidance of the Vietnam draft and his alleged use of drugs.
The first salvo is due to be fired on CBS tonight, when Ben Barnes, a Democrat and the lieutenant governor of Texas in 1968, will explain his role in securing for the 22-year-old Yale graduate Bush a coveted place in the state's Air National Guard - a unit so full of the sons of Texas's rich and powerful that it was known as the "Champagne Unit".
The saga of the future President's failure to go to Vietnam has inevitably returned to the headlines here as counterpoint to the controversy over his opponent's war record, amid accusations by a group of veterans that Mr Kerry has lied over his service in Vietnam, for which he received five decorations.
In recent months Mr Barnes has said he feels "very ashamed" about helping Mr Bush and the sons of other prominent Texans, and is said to have told friends that he did it to "collect chits" from powerful families. In the interview he is expected to expand on these comments.
In a predictably scathing reaction, the Bush campaign - long prepared for a counterattack on the Vietnam issue after the furore over the ads about Mr Kerry - has dismissed Mr Barnes as a "partisan Democrat", peddling a rehash of old allegations against the President. Last week George Bush Snr, the former president, described charges that he pulled strings for his son as "total lies". Mr Barnes himself has acknowledged he received no direct approach from the Bush family to have George W admitted in the Texas National Guard - a virtual guarantee that he would not be sent to Vietnam.
More trouble may be heading Mr Bush's way with the publication next week of The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty, by the controversial muckraking biographer Kitty Kelley, which purports to give more details of the President's past misbehaviour, including the allegation he used cocaine at Camp David during his father's Presidency between 1989 and 1993.
Rumors of youthful drug taking by Mr Bush have often surfaced. Though he has admitted to being an alcoholic until he gave up drinking completely in 1986, he has sidestepped the cocaine stories. Questioned on the issue during the 2000 campaign, he acknowledged merely that he had made "some mistakes" and that he had learned from those mistakes.
The latest book by Ms Kelley, said to be the fruit of four years' research, follows previous unflattering studies of Nancy Reagan, Frank Sinatra and the British Royal family.
Using the same tactic as against Mr Barnes, the White House commented that The Family appeared to be filled "with the same trash discredited years ago".
The most sensational allegation in the book is that the Presidential son used cocaine at Camp David. The source is reportedly Sharon Bush, his former sister-in-law, who was involved in a messy divorce in 2003 from the President's younger brother Neil after 22 years of marriage.
Ms Kelley says that the Bush family used their power and wealth to cover up scandals.
She alleges that George W Bush began to drink at high school, and continued to do so at Yale.
She quotes one former student as saying, "Poor Georgie, he couldn't relate to women unless he was loaded."
Perhaps the book's most improbable claim is that Laura Bush, now the model of primness and propriety as First Lady, both sold and smoked marijuana during her days at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd