What had George W. Bush done during the volatile Vietnam years? Who was he back then, really? Was he a young man who volunteered to pilot fighter jets off the country's coastline, a brave young flier ready and willing to risk his life in the skies over Vietnam?
Or was George W. Bush -- like so many well-connected young men in the Vietnam era -- simply doing whatever he could to avoid fighting or flying anywhere near the jungles of Southeast Asia? Did he complete his service to the National Guard or walk away without looking back simply because his family's status meant that he could?
Did he do his duty? Did he tell the truth?
Our story on September 8, 2004 also presented never-before-seen documents purportedly written in 1972 by Bush's then-commander, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian. Killian had died in 1984 and his important testimony on Bush's service had not been part of all the years of debate that had raged over whether or not the president had fulfilled his Guard duties.
These documents appeared to show that Killian had not approved of Bush's departure from the Guard in 1972 to work on a Senate campaign for Republican Roy Blunt in Alabama. They showed that Killian had ordered Bush to take a physical that was never completed and that Killian had been pressured by his higher-ups to write better reports on Bush than were merited by the future president's performance. The Killian memos, as they came to be called, turned on its head the version of George W. Bush's Guard career that the White House had presented. These new memos made Bush look like a slacker, not an ace pilot.
I had spent weeks trying to get these pieces of paper and every waking hour since I had received them vetting each document for factual errors or red flags.
I worked to compare the new memos with the official documents I had received since 1999. They meshed in ways large and small.
Furthermore, the content, the essential truth of the story contained in the memos, had been corroborated by Killian's commander general Bobby Hodges in a phone conversation two days before the story aired. On September 6, he had said the memos reflected Killian's feelings at the time and this was what he remembered about how Killian had handled Bush's departure from the Guard.
We had a senior document analyst named Marcel Matley fly to New York to look at all the documents we had, the official documents that had been previously released by the White House as well as the "new" ones. After examining them for hours, blowing up signatures and comparing curves, strokes, and dots, he gave his best opinion on their authenticity. Since the documents were copies, not originals, he could not offer the 100 percent assurance that came by testing the ink or the paper.
But he said he saw nothing in the typeface or format to indicate the memos had been doctored or not produced at the time they were alleged to have been. The analyst also vouched for the Killian signatures after comparing them with more than a dozen other Killian signatures we had on the photocopied official documents. A second analyst, Jim Pierce, agreed after examining two of the Killian documents and comparing them to the official records and signatures.
I felt that I was in the clear, that I had done my job, and that the story met the high standards demanded by "60 Minutes."