WASHINGTON (CNN) — Three document experts who were asked by CBS News to examine memos alleging that President Bush received special treatment during his service in the Texas Air National Guard told CNN Tuesday that they did not authenticate the documents — and one said the network “ignored” her reservations about them before a “60 Minutes” broadcast last week.
Emily Will, a document examiner in North Carolina who said she examined two of the documents for CBS News prior to the broadcast, said she “had serious questions” about their authenticity, although she did not reach a definitive conclusion about whether they were fabrications.
Will told CNN she had concerns about signatures on the documents, as well as the type of the text and the content. She told ABC News that she questioned whether the memos could have been produced by a typewriter and found “five significant differences” in the questioned handwriting.
While Will told CNN that she did not advise the network to spike the story, she said she did tell CBS News that “if you run this on Wednesday, on Thursday you are going to have 100 document examiners asking you these questions.”
Also, Marcel Matley — who appeared Friday on the CBS Evening News during anchor Dan Rather’s lengthy defense of his reporting on the memos — told CNN that he could only verify that Lt. Col. Jerry Killian’s signatures on the documents in question were from the same source.
The memos were purportedly written in 1972 and 1973 by Killian, Bush’s squadron commander, for his private files. He died in 1984.
“When I saw the documents, I could not verify the documents were authentic or inauthentic. I could only verify that the signatures came from the same source,” Matley said. “I could not authenticate the documents themselves. But at the same time, there was nothing to tell me that they were not authentic.”
Linda James, another document examiner from Texas hired by CBS News, told CNN that she, too, did not authenticate the documents. She described them as being of “very poor quality,” which she found surprising given “what they were about … and who it was concerning.”
“I didn’t feel I could give an opinion, and I certainly would not authenticate,” she told CNN.
Tuesday evening, ABC News reported that James and Will had raised questions about the authenticity of the documents with CBS News before the 60 Minutes broadcast.
In response, CBS News — which has stood behind the authenticity of the memos — issued a statement saying James and Will played only a “peripheral role” in assessing one of the four documents cited in the report, “and they did not render definitive judgment on that document.”
“Ultimately, they played a peripheral role and deferred to another expert who examined all four of the documents used,” the statement said. “More importantly, the content of the documents was backed up by our reporting and our sources who knew the thoughts and behavior of Lt. Colonel Jerry Killian at the time.”
The statement did not identify the expert who examined all of the documents and rendered the definitive judgment.
But James told CNN that “I didn’t defer to anybody … I have my own opinion.”
Will agreed that CBS News did not rely on her for a final assessment of the documents, but she said “they seem to have ignored” her opinion.
“If they had relied on it, they would not have done that story,” Will said. She said she “in no way” deferred to another expert, although she did refer CBS News to a typewriter expert because she did not know the exact timeline of typewriter development.
The memos in question were purportedly written by Killian. In them, the author complained he was being pressured to “sugar coat” the future president’s performance evaluations and that Bush failed to meet performance standards while a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, including getting a required physical exam.
The author also wrote that he believed Bush — at the time the son of a Texas congressman — was “talking to someone upstairs” to get permission to transfer to the Alabama National Guard to work on a Senate campaign.
But the authenticity of those documents has come under fire in media reports, with some document experts insisting they were not written on a typewriter in the 1970s but generated on a computer at a later date.
Forensic document experts who have examined the memos have told CNN that they cannot conclusively determine whether the documents are authentic — but some features in them raise questions about whether they were actually written in the early 1970s.
Rather and CBS News have insisted that the documents came from a “solid” source, that their contents were backed up by other reporting and that the memos had been authenticated by document experts.
However, Rather conceded that CBS had only obtained photocopies of the documents, not the originals, which experts say would shed light on their authenticity. The network has also not revealed the source of the documents.
On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, called on CBS News to say where it got the memos.
“I understand that people want to protect their sources, but we’re dealing with the alleged forgery of government documents to influence a presidential race during war,” DeLay told reporters. “This isn’t politics as usual. It’s dangerous and possibly criminal.”
First lady Laura Bush also waded into the controversy over the documents in a radio interview Monday.
“You know, they probably are altered, and they probably are forgeries, and I think that’s terrible, really,” Laura Bush told Radio Iowa. “That’s actually one of the risks you take when you run for public office or when you’re in the public eye.”
A senior Bush campaign aide said the first lady was expressing her own opinion. Officially, the White House has said only that the authenticity of the documents is unclear, although the aide noted that there are “more and more serious questions being raised.”
The questions about the documents prompted Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., to take the floor of the House Tuesday to demand answer to two questions: “What did Dan Rather know, and when did he know it?”
“I understand we believe in the First Amendment,” Hayworth said. “All we ask … is that Dan Rather answer those two questions.”
However, despite the challenges to the veracity of the memos, the Democratic National Committee continued to pound away on the issue, unveiling a new two-minute video challenging Bush to answer questions about his Guard service raised by CBS News and other media reports.
“George Bush is a son of privilege — a fortunate son who has spent his entire life receiving special favors and having strings pulled for him,” said DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe. “He’s gone from being a fortunate son who uses special influence to being an unfortunate president who makes especially wrong choices for America.”
Responding to the video, which the DNC plans to air at campaign events and on its Web site, RNC spokesman Jim Dyke issued a statement calling it “as creative and accurate as the memos they gave CBS.”