Some Responses to the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" Ad
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ran its initial ad, the :60 TV spot "Any Questions," starting August 5, 2004 in select markets in OH, WV and WI.  O'Neill and Corsi's book Unfit for Command (Regnery) came out in the second week of August.  On August 20 the Swift Boat Veterans announced a second ad "Sell Out." 

The Kerry campaign was seen as too slow, and many observers said inept, in responding to the Swift Boat charges and they dominated discussion for much of August.  Democrats called on President Bush to specifically repudiate the "smear" ad, but he would only repudiate the 527 ads generally.  Democrats also sought to show a "web of connections" between the Swift Boat group and the Bush campaign and associates. 

The DNC in an Aug. 5, 2004 posting on its Kicking Ass blog
("Swift Boat Veterans for Trash") described "Any Questions" as a "negative smear ad."  According to Kicking Ass, "Not a single veteran in the ad served on a Swift Boat with John Kerry.  Not a word of the ad is true."  The blog also cited Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) description of the ad as "dishonest and dishonorable."

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On Aug. 5, 2004 the General Counsels to the DNC and the Kerry-Edwards 2004 campaign faxed a letter to station managers at the relevant stations stating that the ad is "an inflammatory, outrageous lie" and requesting that they "act immediately to prevent broadcast of this advertisement and deny any future sale of time."

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From the transcript of the Aug. 5, 2004 White House Press Briefing with Scott McClellan:

Q Do you -- does the President repudiate this 527 ad that calls Kerry a liar on Vietnam? 

MR. McCLELLAN: The President deplores all the unregulated soft money activity.  We have been very clear in stating that, you know, we will not -- and we have not and we will not question Senator Kerry's service in Vietnam.  I think that this is another example of the problem with the unregulated soft money activity that is going on.  The President thought he put an end -- or the President thought he got rid of this kind of unregulated soft money when he signed the bipartisan campaign finance reforms into law.  And, you know, the President has been on the receiving end of more than $62 million in negative attacks from shadowy groups. 

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In the days after the release of the ad a host of major newspapers published editorials condemning it including the Arizona Republic ("Campaign Non-Starter," August 6), Los Angeles Times ("It's Not All Fair Game," August 6), Plain Dealer ("Ad Says Kerry Lied; Record Says Otherwise," August 8), St. Petersburg Times ("An Ugly Attack," August 9), Las Vegas Sun ("Ad's Smear Should Be Condemned," August 9), Oregonian ("Now It Gets Nasty," August 11), and Washington Post ("Swift Boat Smears," August 12).

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On Aug. 10, 2004 Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center and the Center for Responsive Politics filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) charging that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is illegally raising and spending soft money on ads to influence the 2004 presidential elections.  [press release]

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From the transcript of Bush's Aug. 12, 2004 appearance on CNN'S Larry King Live: 

KING: In view of that, do you think that it's fair, for the record, John Kerry's service record, to be an issue at all?  I know that Senator McCain...
G. BUSH: You know, I think it is an issue, because he views it as honorable service, and so do I.  I mean...
KING: Oh, so it is.  But, I mean, Senator McCain has asked to be condemned, the attack on his service.  What do you say to that?
G. BUSH: Well, I say they ought to get rid of all those 527s, independent expenditures that have flooded the airwaves.
There have been millions of dollars spent up until this point in time.  I signed a law that I thought would get rid of
those, and I called on the senator to -- let's just get anybody who feels like they got to run to not do so.
KING: Do you condemn the statements made about his...
G. BUSH: Well, I haven't seen the ad, but what I do condemn is these unregulated, soft-money expenditures by very wealthy people, and they've said some bad things about me.  I guess they're saying bad things about him.  And what I think we ought to do is not have them on the air.  I think there ought to be full disclosure.  The campaign funding law I signed I thought was going to get rid of that.  But evidently the Federal Election Commission had a different view...

Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton's response to Bush's Aug. 12, 2004 appearance:
"Tonight President Bush called Kerry's service in Vietnam 'noble.'  But in the same breath refused to heed Senator McCain's call to condemn the dirty work being done by the 'Swift Boat Vets for Bush.'  Once again, the President side-stepped responsibility and refused to do the right thing.  His credibility is running out as fast as his time in the White House."

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MoveOn PAC weighed in with the ad "Swift Response."

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On Aug. 17, 2004 the campaign held a press conference at which Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.), Adm. Stansfield Turner (ret.), and several swift boat veterans rebutted the charges.

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DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe issued a statement on Aug. 18, 2004:

"By saying nothing at all George W. Bush is a complicit contributor to the slanderous, lie-filled attack ads that have been launched on John Kerry on Bush's behalf.  Instead of stepping up and taking the high road, George Bush's response has been evasion, avoidance, everything but disavowal.

"Larry King asked George Bush to 'condemn' it.  He refused.  Reporters asked the President's Press Secretary if he'd 'repudiate' it.  He ducked.  They can try to blame it on the rules or whoever else they want, but the blame belongs squarely on the Republicans.  They wrote it.  They produced it.  They placed it. They paid for it.  And now it is time for George W. Bush to stand up and say, 'enough.'

"This is not debate, Mr. President, and this unfounded attack on Senator Kerry has crossed the line of decency.  I call on you today to condemn this ad, the men who put their lies behind it, and the donors who paid for it.  It's time."

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On Aug. 19, 2004 Kerry himself responded directly in a speech to the International Association of Firefighters' Convention in Boston. (from prepared remarks)

...And more than thirty years ago, I learned an important lesson—when you're under attack, the best thing to do is turn your boat into the attacker.  That's what I intend to do today.

Over the last week or so, a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has been attacking me.  Of course, this group isn’t interested in the truth – and they're not telling the truth.  They didn't even exist until I won the nomination for president.

But here's what you really need to know about them.  They're funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas.  They're a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the President won't denounce what they’re up to tells you everything you need to know—he wants them to do his dirty work.

Thirty years ago, official Navy reports documented my service in Vietnam and awarded me the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.  Thirty years ago, this was the plain truth.  It still is.  And I still carry the shrapnel in my leg from a wound in Vietnam.

As firefighters you risk your lives everyday.  You know what it’s like to see the truth in the moment.  You're proud of what you’ve done—and so am I.

Of course, the President keeps telling people he would never question my service to our country.  Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that.  Well, if he wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: "Bring it on."

I'm not going to let anyone question my commitment to defending America—then, now, or ever.  And I'm not going to let anyone attack the sacrifice and courage of the men who saw battle with me.

And let me make this commitment today:  their lies about my record will not stop me from fighting for jobs, health care, and our security – the issues that really matter to the American people...

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Also on Aug. 19, 2004 the campaign announced its own ad "Rassmann."

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On Aug. 22, 2004 the campaign announced another ad "Issues" which addressed the Swift Boat group's attacks.

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President Bush fielded some questions on Aug. 23, 2004 at his ranch in Crawford:

THE PRESIDENT: ...I'll answer some questions. Deb.

Q Some of your supporters are refighting the Vietnam War with their comments about Kerry's war record. Do you think that these attacks of this nature are unpatriotic, un-American, seeing as we're sending young people to war at this time?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I think we ought to be debating who best to be leading this country in the war against terror. And that's what I'll continue to try to convince the American people of, is that I'm the right person to continue to lead the country in the war on terror. I think we ought to be looking forward, not backward. And that's the kind of campaign I'll continue to run.

Q But why won't you denounce the charges that your supporters are making against Kerry?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm denouncing all the stuff being on TV of the 527s. That's what I've said. I said this kind of unregulated soft money is wrong for the process. And I asked Senator Kerry to join me in getting rid of all that kind of soft money, not only on TV, but used for other purposes, as well. I, frankly, thought we'd gotten rid of that when I signed the McCain-Feingold bill. I thought we were going to, once and for all, get rid of a system where people could just pour tons of money in and not be held to account for the advertising. And so I'm disappointed with all those kinds of ads.

Yes, Adam.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. This doesn't have anything to do with other 527 ads. You've been accused of mounting a smear campaign. Do you think Senator Kerry lied about his war record?

THE PRESIDENT: I think Senator Kerry served admirably, and he ought to be -- he ought to be proud of his record. But the question is, who best to lead the country in the war on terror; who can handle the responsibilities of the Commander-in-Chief; who's got a clear vision of the risks that the country faces.


Q Mr. President, some Republicans, such as Bob Dole and some Republican donors such as --

THE PRESIDENT: What paper are you with?

Q I'm with Bloomberg.

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, good. First time I've seen you ought here. Welcome.

Q Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: No problem. Did you write the story about the Vice President? (Laughter.) Yes, go ahead.

Q That's okay. Some Republicans such as Bob Dole and some Republican donors such as Bob Perry have contributed and endorsed the message of these 527 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads --


Q Do you -- when you say that you want to stop all --

THE PRESIDENT: All of them.

Q Does that mean --

THE PRESIDENT: That means that ad, every other ad.

Q Would you encourage Republicans not to give to --

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. I don't think we ought to have 527s. I can't be more plain about it. And I wish -- I hope my opponent joins me in saying, condemning these activities of the 527s. It's the -- I think they're bad for the system. That's why I signed the bill, McCain-Feingold. I've been disappointed that for the first six months of this year, 527s were just pouring tons of money, billionaires writing checks. And I spoke out against them early. I tried to get others to speak out against them, as well. And I just don't -- I think they're bad for the system.

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The Kerry-Edwards campaign generated some media attention on Aug. 25, 2004 when it dispatched former Sen. Max Cleland and Jim Rassmann, whose life Kerry saved in Vietnam, to Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas to deliver to the President a letter signed by Democratic Senators who are veterans.  The Senators asked Bush to "recognize this blatant attempt at character assassination, and publicly condemn it." They did not get through.   The Bush-Cheney campaign responded with a letter of its own in which veterans expressed concern about Kerry's activities upon his return from Vietnam.  [exchange of letters]       

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Kerry-Edwards campaign manager Beth Cahill sent a letter to Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman on Aug. 26, 2004 asking him to explain the "web of connections."

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The DNC ran a full page ad in the Aug. 27, 2004 New York Times terming the Swift Boat campaign a smear.

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On Sept. 1, 2004 Tom Josefiak, General Counsel to Bush Cheney '04, issued this statement:

"Today, the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign moved forward on President Bush's commitment to shut down illegal activities of those soft money 527s that engage in federal elections.  Over five months ago, we filed administrative complaints with the FEC to stop certain 527 organizations from their stated goal of spending more than $300 million in banned soft money on the presidential election.  To date, the FEC has given no public indication that it has taken any action on the important issues we raised.  These particular 527s have already spent more than $63 million on attack ads and $20 million on grassroots voter programs.  To prevent these 527s from continuing to violate federal election law, we have asked the federal court to step in and order the FEC to act.  The campaign will be filing today in the US District Court for the District of Columbia."


ema Sept. 8, 2004