Ex-lawmaker says he helped get Bush into Texas Guard
In May 27 video, former speaker says he's ashamed
DALLAS -- Former Texas House speaker Ben Barnes said he is ''more ashamed of myself than I've ever been" because he helped President Bush and the sons of other wealthy families get into the Texas National Guard so they could avoid serving in Vietnam.
''I got a young man named George W. Bush into the National Guard . . . and I'm not necessarily proud of that, but I did it," Barnes, a Democrat, said in a video clip recorded May 27 before a group of John Kerry supporters in Austin.
Barnes, who was House speaker when Bush entered the Guard, later became lieutenant governor.
The video was posted June 25 on the website www.austin4kerry.org, but didn't get much attention until Friday, when Jim Moore, an Austin-based author of books critical of Bush, sent out e-mails calling attention to it just days before the GOP National Convention starts in New York.
Bush joined the National Guard in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, and served until 1973. He has said he received no special treatment.
Barnes said he became ashamed after walking through the Vietnam Memorial and looking at the names of the dead.
''I became more ashamed of myself than I've ever been because it was the worst thing I did -- help a lot of wealthy supporters and a lot of people who had family names of importance get in the National Guard," he said. ''I'm very sorry of that and I'm very ashamed of it and I apologize to the voters of Texas for that."
Barnes said in a brief telephone interview yesterday that the video ''just speaks for itself." He declined to answer specific questions about what role he had in helping Bush, but he said he may have more to say next week.
Both Bush and his father, the former president, have said they did not ask for help in finding the Guard opening.
Bush said yesterday in Lima, Ohio, that he is ''proud of my service" in the National Guard.
He made the comment after a questioner at a high school commented, ''I'm feeling sorry on your behalf the fact that they are trying to bring this issue up about the National Guard. I have many, many good friends that served in the Guard during the . . . Vietnam War."
''There's eight of them that are changing parties because they've had it with the Democrats," said the man in the audience.
''The question is who's best to be the commander in chief to lead us in peace. That's the question," Bush responded to applause.
Earlier yesterday, White House spokesman Scott McLellan said of Barnes's comments: ''It is not surprising coming from a longtime partisan Democrat. The allegation was discredited by the commanding officer. This was fully covered and addressed five years ago. It is nothing new."
Five years ago, Barnes found himself at the center of questions about Bush's Vietnam-era service when the then-Texas governor emerged as the Republican presidential front-runner.
At that time, Barnes's lawyer issued a statement saying Barnes had been contacted by the now-deceased Sidney Adger, a Houston oilman and friend of Bush's father, who was then a congressman. Adger asked Barnes to recommend Bush for a pilot position with the Air National Guard and he did, that statement said.
''Neither Congressman Bush nor any other member of the Bush family asked Barnes' help," according to the 1999 statement.