Kerry's Vietnam service record remains hot topic

Bush campaign adviser resigns over role in ads

Election 2004 -- The Race For President

August 23, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The controversy surrounding Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam record continued to dominate the presidential campaign over the weekend as Kerry intensified his efforts to tie President Bush to a group of veterans that says the Democrat lied about his service.

The Kerry campaign calls on Bush in new TV advertisements that begin airing today to "denounce the smear" of his war record and "get back to the issues" in the presidential contest. The spots are the latest salvo in Kerry's vigorous efforts to quell the questions swirling around his Vietnam service, which threaten to damage one of the most compelling aspects of his candidacy.

At the same time, new information surfaced to discredit the claims of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that has criticized Kerry's Vietnam record in TV ads and a book.

Campaigning in North Carolina yesterday, Sen. John Edwards, Kerry's running mate, urged Bush to condemn the veterans' spots, saying Americans "deserve to hear from you that these ads should come down."

The Bush campaign says it has no connection to the group, which has received large donations from Republican donors and Bush supporters. The Kerry campaign has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission - called "frivolous" by the Bush camp - accusing the group of illegally coordinating with the president's re-election effort.

A member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth resigned from his post as a Bush campaign adviser on veterans issues over the weekend after it was discovered that he is featured in the group's new ad.

The spot shows veterans accusing Kerry of betraying his comrades after returning from combat when, as an anti-war activist in 1971, he told a Senate committee that U.S. troops were committing atrocities in Vietnam as a result of immoral and hypocritical government policies.

With the advertising volley reawakening painful debates about the Vietnam War, former Sen. Bob Dole, a Kansas Republican and respected World War II veteran, suggested yesterday that Kerry should apologize to all veterans for his 1971 testimony.

Dole also joined the anti-Kerry veterans group in questioning the three Purple Hearts that Kerry won in Vietnam, saying on CNN's Late Edition that Kerry "never bled, that I know of," to earn the medals. "I mean, they're all superficial wounds."

Ken Cordier, a retired Air Force colonel who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, stepped down Saturday from a volunteer position on the Bush campaign's Veterans Steering Committee after his participation in the new ad was revealed. In the commercial, Cordier says of Kerry: "He betrayed us in the past; how could we be loyal to him now?" The president's campaign said it had not known of Cordier's involvement in the group.

Members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth appeared on weekend television programs to press their claims that Kerry hyped his record to win medals and advance his political career.

Their accusations came under new scrutiny after William B. Rood, who commanded a Swift boat alongside Kerry's and is now a metropolitan editor at the Chicago Tribune, wrote a first-person account published in weekend editions of the Tribune and yesterday's Sun, both of which are owned by Tribune Publishing. Rood corroborated Kerry's story of how he won his Silver Star in 1969.

Group members also dispute how Kerry won his Bronze Star and accuse Kerry of lying in military reports to win his medals. Newspaper investigations have turned up no documentation to support their accounts, and some prominent members of the group had previously praised Kerry for valiant service.

The Kerry campaign has declined to release the Massachusetts senator's full military record, something Dole called on Kerry to do.

But campaign surrogates defended Kerry's combat record yesterday, with at least one contrasting it with Bush's stateside stint in the Air National Guard.

"Senator Kerry carries shrapnel in his thigh, as distinct from President Bush, who carries two fillings in his teeth from his service in the Alabama National Guard, which seems to be his only time that he showed up," said John Podesta, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, on ABC's This Week.

In a new Internet ad, Kerry's campaign compares the criticism of his war record with similar tactics used in 2000 against Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and Vietnam veteran who challenged Bush for the party nomination.

Tad Devine, a senior Kerry campaign adviser, said on NBC's Meet the Press that the Bush campaign was using "the same tactics, the same words, and the same pack of lies" against Kerry as it did in 2000 against McCain.

Ken Mehlman, Bush's campaign manager, said the president's re-election campaign has nothing to do with the push to discredit Kerry's Vietnam service.

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