The source of a discredited CBS News report on President Bush’s National Guard service says Kerry campaign adviser Joe Lockhart asked him for the supporting memos, which now are regarded as forgies.
In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Bill Burkett, a Texas rancher and ex-National Guardsman, said he had a phone conversation with the former adviser to President Clinton.
Burkett said he suggested a “couple of concepts on what I thought [Kerry] had to do” to beat Bush. In return, he said, Lockhart tried to “convince me as to why I should give them the documents.”
Lockhart has told the Associated Press he does not recall talking about Bush’s National Guard records with Burkett but only remembers listening to some campaign advice for a few minutes.
The phone call was lined up by Mary Mapes, producer of the Sept. 8 “60 Minutes II” segment that presented the documents as evidence political influence was applied to “sugar coat” then-Lt. Bush’s performance review and that he failed to show up for a required physical.
Lockhart explained to the AP, “She basically said there’s a guy who is being helpful on the story who wants to talk to you.”
Mapes, he added, also spoke of records “that might move the story forward. She didn’t tell me what they said.”
Burkett insisted he did not coordinate the release of the documents with Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign.
“It caught CBS very flat-footed. They were not prepared. And I had warned them … that this would probably be one of the most highly coordinated vicious attacks that they would ever have to face,” Burkett told the Star-Telegram.
He said that while he believed the documents were authentic, he wanted CBS to verify them independently before running the story.
“I really, sincerely, 100 percent believed that the CBS ’60 Minutes’ people could absolutely authenticate this, verify it and do it right,” he said. “And if it was, in fact, substantiated, that it should be added to the public record because there are so many holes within George Bush’s [Guard] file.”
Burkett claimed CBS “snipped” key portions of his interview with the network, “to find a fall guy. And it was me.”
“By his action and inaction, Dan Rather ruined my reputation in front of 70 million people,” he told the Fort Worth paper.
Burkett admitted, however, he initially misled CBS on the original source of the documents.
A woman who identified herself as Lucy Ramirez called him in February, he said, saying she had some things “that I could probably do a lot more with than she could.”
A man identifying himself as “Colonel” handed over an envelope March 3 at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
“It was later, hours later, that I finally looked at the documents. The document that stuck out to me … was the one with the word sugar coat. And I thought, ‘Oh my God.'”
The Los Angeles Times reported Burkett said he copied the papers and burned the originals to prevent anyone from tracing them back to Ramirez.
Burkett told the Star-Telegram he has had four seizures since being identified as the CBS source. He’s been dogged by the media, he said, and received hate mail and death threats. He also believes someone is tapping his phone.
“Everything having to do with me has been basically tapped,” he said.