'There Were Holes in his Story'

J$P Instant Transcript! Scott Johnson of Powerline and Michael Isikoff of Newsweek.

From Fox News Live, September 17, 2004:

PATTI ANN BROWNE [FOX NEWS]: For more now on the National Guard mess we're talking with the Minneapolis attorney and sponsor of the Powerline blog Scott Johnson, and Newsweek investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff. Thank you both for joining us.

SCOTT JOHNSON [POWERLINE]: A pleasure to be here, thanks.

BROWNE: The Wall Street Journal on its editorial page had this to say, that Mr Rather isn't disclosing those sources despite the damage to his reputation, raises the possibility that they are connected to the Democratic Party or the Kerry campaign. Michael Isikoff, do you believe that is a possibility?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF [NEWSWEEK]: Well sure. I mean, first of all, in a political season, during an election campaign, it is not at all uncommon for partisans on one side or the other to try to feed stories to reporters. That, in fact, is more often the case than not. The question obviously is here, was the story correct, were the documents authentic? And the big gaping hole, I think, is that CBS has not explained anything about the chain of custody of these documents: what file they actually came from, where they've been for 30 years, and how it is they came to surface now. They don't have to reveal their source, they don't have to break a confidence, but they had to, I think originally, provide some further, more explanation than they did. They really offered no explanation, but some explanation for why it is these documents were surfacing now and where they've been all this time. They haven't done that, and that to me was the biggest red flag about this story from the get-go.

BROWNE: Scott Johnson, I'm going to ask you the same question that I asked Michael Isikoff at first, the fact that the Wall Street Journal is speculating that it's possible that somehow these forged documents either originated with the Democratic Party, or are connected to the Party. Do you believe that's the case, possibly?

JOHNSON: Well I think it's a reasonable inference. But the most important thing for your audience to understand is that these documents are blatant forgeries. They were created on Microsoft word processing software, and reduplicated within minutes by a blogger named Charles Johnson, Little Green Footballs, you can see it at our site. But those documents are a blatant forgery. And CBS now has gone from being perhaps the willing dupe of a hoaxer to a participant in a fraud. There is no reasonable person like Michael Isikoff who's looked at the circumstances, looked at the documents, and come to any other conclusion but that these documents are fraudulent. So what the Wall Street Journal has said seems to me a very reasonable inference from those circumstances.

BROWNE: Michael, back to the possible source of these documents. We're hearing a lot about this Bill Burkett, who served in the Army National Guard, said to be disgruntled, said to dislike President Bush. Also, since he was in the Army National Guard rather than the Air National Guard, it explains why some of the terminology used seems to be more common in the Army and not really used in the Air National Guard. What happens now, in terms of looking into Bill Burkett and getting to the bottom of this?

ISIKOFF: Actually, we at Newsweek were the first to disclose Bill Burkett's role in all this, as a principal source for the story.

BROWNE: Right.

ISIKOFF: And Burkett is not an unknown commodity. He had surfaced last February and made a number of allegations about efforts to, he said, purge George Bush's National Guard file in 1997, as he was getting ready to run for re-election as Governor, but also in preparation for a Presidential run. He struck me, and I spoke to him for about three-and-a-half hours on the phone during the week that he surfaced, as, he clearly was in the Guard at the time that the events took place. He had a number of people who did vouch for him, but also there were holes in his story. There were people who didn't corroborate what he was alleging. So there were enough questions that people didn't run big with the Burkett story back in February. Now, it's worth noting when he was talking with reporters such as myself back in February, he did not purport, he did not suggest that he had documents in his possession that he said were attempting to be destroyed back in 1997. So, in some way, these documents either came into his possession, or he helped facilitate the passing of these documents to CBS. This was information that came to his attention after February of 2004.

BROWNE: And, of course, reportedly the Kinko's from which the documents appear to have been faxed, he had a long-standing account there and apparently was seen in that Kinko's from some witness accounts. We're going to have to leave it there; Michael Isikoff and Scott Johnson, thank you so much for joining us.

JOHNSON: Thank you; thank you for having us.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

posted: Fri - September 17, 2004 at 01:07 PM       j$p  send