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GOP Activist Made Allegations on CBS Memos

THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

An Atlanta lawyer who helped get Clinton disbarred is the blogger who called them fakes.

September 18, 2004|Peter Wallsten | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — It was the first public allegation that CBS News had used forged memos in its report questioning President Bush's Air National Guard service -- a highly technical explanation posted on the Web within hours of airtime, citing proportional spacing and font styles.

But it did not come from an expert in typography or typewriter history, as some first thought. Instead, it was the work of Harry W. MacDougald, an Atlanta lawyer with strong ties to conservative Republican causes who had helped draft the petition urging the Arkansas Supreme Court to disbar President Clinton after the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal, the Los Angeles Times has learned.

The identity of "Buckhead" -- a blogger previously known only by his screen name on the site freerepublic.com and since lifted to folk hero status in the conservative blogosphere -- is likely to fuel speculation among Democrats that the effort to discredit the memos was engineered by Republicans eager to undermine reports that Bush received preferential treatment in the Texas Air National Guard more than 30 years ago.

Republican officials have denied any involvement among those attempting to debunk the CBS report.

Reached by telephone Friday, MacDougald, 46, confirmed that he was Buckhead but declined to answer questions about his political background or how he learned so much about the CBS documents so quickly.

"You can ask the questions, but I'm not going to answer them," he said. "I'm just going to stick to doing no interviews."

Until The Times identified him by piecing together information from his postings over the last two years, MacDougald had taken pains to remain in the shadows -- saying the credit for challenging CBS should remain with the blogosphere as a whole and not one individual.

"Freepers collectively possess more analytical horsepower than the entire news division at CBS," he wrote in an e-mail, using the slang term for users of the freerepublic.com site.

MacDougald is a lawyer in the Atlanta office of the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice and is affiliated with two prominent conservative legal groups: the Federalist Society and the Southeastern Legal Foundation, where he serves on the legal advisory board.

The foundation, created in 1976, advocates "limited government, individual economic freedom and the free-enterprise system," according to its website.

The foundation has fought affirmative action and domestic-partner benefits for government employees, and successfully challenged a Clinton administration plan to use proportional sampling to estimate population in the 2000 census, rather than making a hard count.

MacDougald helped draft the foundation's petition in 1998 that led to the five-year suspension of Clinton's Arkansas law license for giving misleading testimony in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment case.

And he assisted in the group's challenge to the campaign finance law sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.). The challenge, which went to the U.S. Supreme Court, was funded largely by the foundation with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the law's chief critic, and handled by former Clinton investigator Kenneth W. Starr.

The high court upheld the law, which banned unlimited contributions from corporations to federal candidates and political parties.

MacDougald is also a Republican appointee to the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections.

Last week he again plunged into a politically charged controversy -- but this time his participation was anonymous.

Operating as Buckhead, which is also the name of an upscale Atlanta neighborhood, he wrote that the memos CBS' "60 Minutes" presented Sept. 8 as being written in the early 1970s by the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian were "in a proportionally spaced font, probably Palatino or Times New Roman."

"The use of proportionally spaced fonts did not come into common use for office memos until the introduction of laser printers, word-processing software and personal computers," MacDougald wrote on the website. "They were not widespread until the mid- to late '90s. Before then, you needed typesetting equipment, and that wasn't used for personal memos to file. Even the Wang systems that were dominant in the mid '80s used monospaced fonts.

"I am saying these documents are forgeries, run through a copier for 15 generations to make them look old. This should be pursued aggressively."

The late-night posting -- less than four hours after the CBS report aired -- resulted in a flurry of sympathetic testimonials from fellow bloggers, spreading within hours to other sites. The next day, newspapers such as The Times and the Washington Post began consulting forensic experts and reporting articles raising similar questions.

The network has insisted that the four memos, dated 1972 and 1973, had been authenticated by the network's experts and by "close associates" of Killian, who say "the documents reflect his opinions and actions at the time."

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