Will the Forger of the CBS Memos Ever Face Prosecution?

As Dan Rather steps down as anchor of the CBS Evening News on Wednesday, the person who deceived him with fake memos on President Bush’s National Guard service last fall remains at large, spared from even the threat of a federal or state investigation.

Both federal and state felony statutes exist that give law enforcement authorities the ability to pursue the culprit. But neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor prosecutors in Texas have taken up the cause.

A spokesman at the Justice Department told HUMAN EVENTS that federal officials never pursued the matter last September after the “60 Minutes Wednesday” segment aired. When asked whether the department might take up the case now, spokesman Kevin Madden had a straightforward response: “No.”

The same is true at the Texas Department of Public Safety. Spokeswoman Tela Mange told HUMAN EVENTS that no investigation was started last fall and no Texas prosecutor has approached the department about launching a probe since then.

Forging federal documents–as is most likely the case with the Bush documents–and transmitting them is a federal crime, according to Chapter 63, Section 1343, of the U.S. Code. It states: “Whoever, having devised . . . any scheme or artifice to defraud . . . transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings . . . for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. . . .”

The documents–used in a Sept. 8, 2004, Bush-bashing segment on “60 Minutes Wednesday”–were faxed to CBS from a Kinko’s in Abilene, Tex., making both the U.S. Code and Texas Penal Code relevant to a forgery investigation.

Another section of the U.S. Code, Chapter 18, Section 1001, states: “[W]hoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully . . . makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”

Then there is the Texas Penal Code, which includes a section on tampering with government records. Section 37.10 of the code states that it is a felony if a person “knowingly makes a false entry in, or false alteration of, a governmental record; [and] makes, presents, or uses any record, document, or thing with knowledge of its falsity and with intent that it be taken as a genuine governmental record. . . .”

The district attorney in Taylor County, Tex., where Abilene is located, said last fall he wouldn’t prosecute unless an investigative agency turned the case over to his office. But with the Texas Department of Public Safety–the agency responsible for investigating–putting the onus on county prosecutors, nothing happened.

The same is true at the U.S. Department of Justice, which risked a politically sensitive investigation last fall in the heat of the presidential election. Because Bush was the subject of the CBS report, both he and then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft would have likely been subjected to scathing attacks from Democrats if they had pursued an inquiry.

To this day, no one has figured out where the documents originated. Former National Guardsman Bill Burkett, who gave the memos to CBS, said he obtained them from a woman named “Lucy Ramirez” of Houston, although she cannot be located, if she even exists. CBS’s own internal investigation into the botched segment failed to identify the culprit.

Although the memos included some similarities to other National Guard documents from the early 1970s, too many discrepancies existed, particularly with the typeface and military lingo used at the time. The fallout from the segment led to the ousting of four people at CBS. Rather, meanwhile, announced his resignation before CBS executives handed down their edict in January.