'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, February 15, 2004

What Was Helen Getting At?

Recently Helen Thomas grilled the hell out of Scottie during the White House press briefing ... the transcript is hysterical. But what was Helen getting at? She kept asking Scottie about whether Bush had ever performed community service because she was trying to substantiate the following rumor: George W. Bush was arrested for cocaine possession in 1972, through political connections the arrest was expunged from his record, but Bush had to perform punitive community service. The idea is that this episode is the cause of the holes in Bush's military records.

Where does this allegation come from? In 1999 Salon ran a gossip article that reported the above claim. According to the original Salon piece, an anonymous email circulating around media organizations purported the cocaine arrest story and that Bush performed his community service at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Houston. Salon contacted the community center and the allegation turned out to be false.

However, this story inspired J. H. Hatfield, who was currently working on the tell-all unauthorized Bush biography Fortunate Son to investigate whether Bush's stint as a counselor for Houston's Project P.U.L.L. was actually the result of a community service sentence. Bush's work with inner city children for P.U.L.L. is a fact, mentioned in an official online Bush bio (but not in the well-known miserable failure bio) as well as in A Charge to Keep; interestingly, this service took place during 1972, a contentious year in the AWOL timeline. Hatfield claimed to have found three sources close to Bush who confirmed the Bush/cocaine/community service story. Here's one of them, supposedly a former Yale classmate:

George W. was arrested for possession of cocaine in 1972, but due to his father's connections, the entire record was expunged by a state judge whom the older Bush helped get elected. It was one of those 'behind closed doors in the judges' chambers' kind of thing between the old man and one of his Texas cronies who owed him a favor ... There's only a handful of us that know the truth*

After Fortunate Son was released all hell broke lose. Hatfield was attacked by the Bushies. The Dallas Morning News suddenly received information about Hatfield's criminal past: he was a convicted felon. Hatfield at first claimed he was being set up, that some other Hatfield was the felon and that his record was clean, but then later recanted. Because of the scandal, St. Martin's Press pulled Fortunate Son from the shelves. In 2001 Hatfield killed himself in a hotel room in Springdale, Arkansas, thus spawning a thousand conspiracy theories. Here's a transcript of a Democracy Now piece that might be Hatfield's last on record statement about the cocaine arrest claim.

What should we make of this story? Well, obviously there's nothing here but a claim made by anonymous sources, so there's no direct reason to believe Hatfield's tale. But there is circumstantial evidence: the story has tremendous explanatory power. For instance, it explains why Bush didn't take his physical. If the terms of the community service had been that he had to remain clean and he hadn't remained clean then taking the physical could have had serious repercussions ... but that's just speculation. Yet ... read that transcript of Helen Thomas grilling Scottie again ... Scottie never says, "NO! He never performed punitive community service, Helen." -- Why not? For what it's worth Hatfield claimed he asked Scottie about his allegations and Scottie replied, "Oh, shit ... no comment."

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