Ambassadorial nomination withdrawn by White House

Fox had contributed $50,000 to Swift Boat campaign in '04

March 29, 2007|By James Gerstenzang | James Gerstenzang,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Facing almost certain defeat in the Senate, the White House withdrew yesterday the ambassadorial nomination of Sam Fox, who contributed $50,000 to the Swift Boat veterans' campaign against Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race.

President Bush had nominated Fox, a St. Louis businessman, to be the U.S. envoy to Belgium.

The withdrawal, a rare setback for the sort of nomination that normally would sail through the Senate, reflected the muscle Democrats are exercising in Congress and the problems likely to surround any Bush appointee linked to the attacks on Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat.

Coupled with the Democratic-led investigations into whether politics played a central role in the recent firings of eight U.S. attorneys, the failed Fox nomination demonstrates the degree to which the landscape has changed for Bush on Capitol Hill.

Fox was a key donor to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that raised questions about Kerry's record as a Navy lieutenant leading patrols along South Vietnam's inland waterways during the Vietnam war. Kerry was awarded a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and three Purple Heart decorations for his service in Vietnam, but the group - in television advertisements and e-mail messages - maintained he had exaggerated his actions in combat.

Kerry, joined by some who served with him, stoutly disputed the group's claims. But many political analysts believe that he and his campaign were slow to respond to the Swift Boat veterans and that the group's attacks hurt his credibility in his tight contest with Bush.

Kerry, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, subjected Fox to sharp questioning during the panel's hearing on the nomination last month.

Kerry scolded him for contributing to a group the senator said was "smearing and spreading lies."

He pressed Fox on who sought the contribution, but the nominee said he could not remember. "I've given away sums much larger than that to a lot of other places and I can't tell you specifically who asked me, no," Fox said.

In a statement issued shortly after the White House decision to withdraw the nomination was announced, Kerry said, "Sam Fox had every opportunity to disavow the politics of personal destruction and to embrace the truth. He chose not to."

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat and, like Kerry, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Fox's "unwillingness to denounce the reprehensible activities of the Swift Boat organization and express regret for providing $50,000 to bankroll the organization convinced me that he would not be an acceptable candidate to represent the United States abroad."

The nomination was withdrawn less than an hour before the committee was scheduled to vote on it, amid indications that Fox would be defeated.

Deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush was not aware of Fox's contribution when he nominated him. She said Bush "believes that Mr. Fox is qualified to serve as ambassador to Belgium."

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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