But for people who are following the Presidential Campaign: "It's about fucking time."
Followed by: "Can I just weep in frustration now?"
Friendly Fire: The Birth of an Anti-Kerry Ad
August 20, 2004
By KATE ZERNIKE and JIM RUTENBERG
After weeks of taking fire over veterans' accusations that
he had lied about his Vietnam service record to win medals
and build a political career, Senator John Kerry shot back
yesterday, calling those statements categorically false and
branding the people behind them tools of the Bush campaign.
His decision to take on the group directly was a measure of
how the group that calls itself Swift Boat Veterans for
Truth has catapulted itself to the forefront of the
presidential campaign. It has advanced its cause in a book,
in a television advertisement and on cable news and talk
radio shows, all in an attempt to discredit Mr. Kerry's war
record, a pillar of his campaign.
How the group came into existence is a story of how
veterans with longstanding anger about Mr. Kerry's antiwar
statements in the early 1970's allied themselves with Texas
Mr. Kerry called them "a front for the Bush campaign" - a
charge the campaign denied.
A series of interviews and a review of documents show a web
of connections to the Bush family, high-profile Texas
political figures and President Bush's chief political
aide, Karl Rove.
Records show that the group received the bulk of its
initial financing from two men with ties to the president
and his family - one a longtime political associate of Mr.
Rove's, the other a trustee of the foundation for Mr.
Bush's father's presidential library. A Texas publicist who
once helped prepare Mr. Bush's father for his debate when
he was running for vice president provided them with
strategic advice. And the group's television commercial was
produced by the same team that made the devastating ad
mocking Michael S. Dukakis in an oversized tank helmet when
he and Mr. Bush's father faced off in the 1988 presidential
The strategy the veterans devised would ultimately paint
John Kerry the war hero as John Kerry the "baby killer" and
the fabricator of the events that resulted in his war
medals. But on close examination, the accounts of Swift
Boat Veterans for Truth' prove to be riddled with
inconsistencies. In many cases, material offered as proof
by these veterans is undercut by official Navy records and
the men's own statements.
Several of those now declaring Mr. Kerry "unfit" had
lavished praise on him, some as recently as last year.
In an unpublished interview in March 2003 with Mr. Kerry's
authorized biographer, Douglas Brinkley, provided by Mr.
Brinkley to The New York Times, Roy F. Hoffmann, a retired
rear admiral and a leader of the group, allowed that he had
disagreed with Mr. Kerry's antiwar positions but said, "I
am not going to say anything negative about him." He added,
"He's a good man."
In a profile of the candidate that ran in The Boston Globe
in June 2003, Mr. Hoffmann approvingly recalled the actions
that led to Mr. Kerry's Silver Star: "It took guts, and I
George Elliott, one of the Vietnam veterans in the group,
flew from his home in Delaware to Boston in 1996 to stand
up for Mr. Kerry during a tough re-election fight,
declaring at a news conference that the action that won Mr.
Kerry a Silver Star was "an act of courage." At that same
event, Adrian L. Lonsdale, another Vietnam veteran now
speaking out against Mr. Kerry, supported him with a
statement about the "bravado and courage of the young
officers that ran the Swift boats."
"Senator Kerry was no exception," Mr. Lonsdale told the
reporters and cameras assembled at the Charlestown Navy
Yard. "He was among the finest of those Swift boat
Those comments echoed the official record. In an evaluation
of Mr. Kerry in 1969, Mr. Elliott, who was one of his
commanders, ranked him as "not exceeded" in 11 categories,
including moral courage, judgment and decisiveness, and
"one of the top few" - the second-highest distinction - in
the remaining five. In written comments, he called Mr.
Kerry "unsurpassed," "beyond reproach" and "the
acknowledged leader in his peer group."
The Admiral Calls
It all began last winter, as Mr. Kerry
was wrapping up the Democratic nomination. Mr. Lonsdale
received a call at his Massachusetts home from his old
commander in Vietnam, Mr. Hoffmann, asking if he had seen
the new biography of the man who would be president.
Mr. Hoffmann had commanded the Swift boats during the war
from a base in Cam Ranh Bay and advocated a
search-and-destroy campaign against the Vietcong - the kind
of tactic Mr. Kerry criticized when he was a spokesman for
Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1971. Shortly after
leaving the Navy in 1978, he was issued a letter of censure
for exercising undue influence on cases in the military
Both Mr. Hoffmann and Mr. Lonsdale had publicly lauded Mr.
Kerry in the past. But the book, Mr. Brinkley's "Tour of
Duty," while it burnished Mr. Kerry's reputation, portrayed
the two men as reckless leaders whose military approach had
led to the deaths of countless sailors and innocent
civilians. Several Swift boat veterans compared Mr.
Hoffmann to the bloodthirsty colonel in the film
"Apocalypse Now" - the one who loves the smell of Napalm in
The two men were determined to set the record, as they saw
"It was the admiral who started it and got the rest of us
into it," Mr. Lonsdale said.
Mr. Hoffmann's phone calls led them to Texas and to John E.
O'Neill, who at one point commanded the same Swift boat in
Vietnam, and whose mission against him dated to 1971, when
he had been recruited by the Nixon administration to debate
Mr. Kerry on "The Dick Cavett Show."
Mr. O'Neill, who pressed his charges against Mr. Kerry in
numerous television appearances Thursday, had spent the 33
years since he debated Mr. Kerry building a successful law
practice in Houston, intermingling with some of the state's
most powerful Republicans and building an impressive client
list. Among the companies he represented was Falcon
Seaboard, the energy firm founded by the current lieutenant
governor of Texas, David Dewhurst, a central player in the
Texas redistricting plan that has positioned state
Republicans to win more Congressional seats this fall.
Mr. O'Neill said during one of several interviews that he
had come to know two of his biggest donors, Harlan Crow and
Bob J. Perry, through longtime social and business
Mr. Perry, who has given $200,000 to the group, is the top
donor to Republicans in the state, according to Texans for
Public Justice, a nonpartisan group that tracks political
donations. He donated $46,000 to President Bush's campaigns
for governor in 1994 and 1998. In the 2002 election, the
group said, he donated nearly $4 million to Texas
candidates and political committees.
Mr. Rove, Mr. Bush's top political aide, recently said
through a spokeswoman that he and Mr. Perry were longtime
friends, though he said they had not spoken for at least a
year. Mr. Rove and Mr. Perry have been associates since at
least 1986, when they both worked on the gubernatorial
campaign of Bill Clements.
Mr. O'Neill said he had known Mr. Perry for 30 years. "I've
represented many of his friends,'' Mr. O'Neill said. Mr.
Perry did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. O'Neill said he had also known Mr. Crow for 30 years,
through mutual friends. Mr. Crow, the seventh-largest donor
to Republicans in the state according to the Texans for
Public Justice, has donated nowhere near as much money as
Mr. Perry to the Swift boat group. His family owns one of
the largest diversified commercial real estate companies in
the nation, the Trammell Crow Company, and has given money
to Mr. Bush and his father throughout their careers. He is
listed as a trustee of the George Bush Presidential Library
One of his law partners, Margaret Wilson, became Mr. Bush's
general counsel when he was governor of Texas and followed
him to the White House as deputy counsel for the Department
of Commerce, according to her biography on the law firm's
Another partner, Tex Lezar, ran on the Republican ticket
with Mr. Bush in 1994, as lieutenant governor. They were
two years apart at Yale, and Mr. Lezar worked for the
attorney general's office in the Reagan administration. Mr.
Lezar, who died last year, was married to Merrie Spaeth, a
powerful public relations executive who has helped
coordinate the efforts of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
In 2000, Ms. Spaeth was spokeswoman for a group that ran $2
million worth of ads attacking Senator John McCain's
environmental record and lauding Mr. Bush's in crucial
states during their fierce primary battle. The group,
calling itself Republicans for Clean Air, was founded by a
prominent Texas supporter of Mr. Bush, Sam Wyly.
Ms. Spaeth had been a communications official in the Reagan
White House, where the president's aides had enough
confidence in her to invite her to help prepare George Bush
for his vice-presidential debate in 1984. She says she is
also a close friend of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of
Texas, a client of Mr. Rove's. Ms. Spaeth said in an
interview that the one time she had ever spoken to Mr. Rove
was when Ms. Hutchison was running for the Texas
treasurer's office in 1990.
When asked if she had ever visited the White House during
Mr. Bush's tenure, Ms. Spaeth initially said that she had
been there only once, in 2002, when Kenneth Starr gave her
a personal tour. But this week Ms. Spaeth acknowledged that
she had spent an hour in the Old Executive Office Building,
part of the White House complex, in the spring of 2003,
giving Mr. Bush's chief economic adviser, Stephen Friedman,
public speaking advice. Asked if it was possible that she
had worked with other administration officials, Ms. Spaeth
said, "The answer is 'no,' unless you refresh my memory.''
"Is the White House directing this?" Ms. Spaeth said of
the organization. "Absolutely not.''
Another participant is the political advertising agency
that made the group's television commercial: Stevens Reed
Curcio & Potholm, based in Alexandria, Va. The agency
worked for Senator McCain in 2000 and for Mr. Bush's father
in 1988, when it created the "tank" advertisement mocking
Mr. Dukakis. A spokesman for the Swift boat veterans said
the organization decided to hire the agency after a member
saw one of its partners speaking on television.
About 10 veterans met in Ms. Spaeth's office in Dallas in
April to share outrage and plot their campaign against Mr.
Kerry, she and others said. Mr. Lonsdale, who did not
attend, said the meeting had been planned as "an
What might have been loose impressions about Mr. Kerry
began to harden.
"That was an awakening experience," Ms. Spaeth said. "Not
just for me, but for many of them who had not heard each
The group decided to hire a private investigator to
investigate Mr. Brinkley's account of the war - to find
"some neutral way of actually questioning people involved
in these incidents,'' Mr. O'Neill said.
But the investigator's questions did not seem neutral to
Patrick Runyon, who served on a mission with Mr. Kerry,
said he initially thought the caller was from a pro-Kerry
group, and happily gave a statement about the night Mr.
Kerry won his first Purple Heart. The investigator said he
would send it to him by e-mail for his signature. Mr.
Runyon said the edited version was stripped of all
references to enemy combat, making it look like just
another night in the Mekong Delta.
"It made it sound like I didn't believe we got any returned
fire," he said. "He made it sound like it was a normal
operation. It was the scariest night of my life."
By May, the group had the money that Mr. O'Neill had
collected as well as additional veterans rallied by Mr.
O'Neill, Mr. Hoffmann and others. The expanded group
gathered in Washington to record the veterans' stories for
a television commercial.
Each veteran's statement was written down as an affidavit
and sent to him to sign and have notarized. But the
validity of those affidavits soon came into question.
Mr. Elliott, who recommended Mr. Kerry for the Silver Star,
had signed one affidavit saying Mr. Kerry "was not
forthright" in the statements that had led to the award.
Two weeks ago, The Boston Globe quoted him as saying that
he felt he should not have signed the affidavit. He then
signed a second affidavit that reaffirmed his first, which
the Swift Boat Veterans gave to reporters. Mr. Elliott has
refused to speak publicly since then.
The book outlining the veterans' charges, "Unfit for
Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against Kerry," has
also come under fire. It is published by Regnery, a
conservative company that has published numerous books
critical of Democrats, and written by Mr. O'Neill and
Jerome R. Corsi, who was identified on the book jacket as a
Harvard Ph.D. and the author of many books and articles.
But Mr. Corsi also acknowledged that he has been a
contributor of anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic
comments to a right-wing Web site. He said he regretted
The group's arguments have foundered on other
contradictions. In the television commercial, Dr. Louis
Letson looks into the camera and declares, "I know John
Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart because I
treated him for that injury." Dr. Letson does not dispute
the wound - a piece of shrapnel above Mr. Kerry's left
elbow - but he and others in the group argue that it was
minor and self-inflicted.
Yet Dr. Letson's name does not appear on any of the medical
records for Mr. Kerry. Under "person administering
treatment" for the injury, the form is signed by a medic,
J. C. Carreon, who died several years ago. Dr. Letson said
it was common for medics to treat sailors with the kind of
injury that Mr. Kerry had and to fill out paperwork when
doctors did the treatment.
Asked in an interview if there was any way to confirm he
had treated Mr. Kerry, Dr. Letson said, "I guess you'll
have to take my word for it."
The group also offers the account of William L. Schachte
Jr., a retired rear admiral who says in the book that he
had been on the small skimmer on which Mr. Kerry was
injured that night in December 1968. He contends that Mr.
Kerry wounded himself while firing a grenade.
But the two other men who acknowledged that they had been
with Mr. Kerry, Bill Zaladonis and Mr. Runyon, say they
cannot recall a third crew member. "Me and Bill aren't the
smartest, but we can count to three," Mr. Runyon said in an
interview. And even Dr. Letson said he had not recalled Mr.
Schachte until he had a conversation with another veteran
earlier this year and received a subsequent phone call from
Mr. Schachte himself.
Mr. Schachte did not return a telephone call, and a
spokesman for the group said he would not comment.
The Silver Star was awarded after Mr. Kerry's boat came
under heavy fire from shore during a mission in February
1969. According to Navy records, he turned the boat to
charge the Vietcong position. An enemy solider sprang from
the shore about 10 feet in front of the boat. Mr. Kerry
leaped onto the shore, chased the soldier behind a small
hut and killed him, seizing a B-40 rocket launcher with a
round in the chamber.
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth describes the man Mr. Kerry
killed as a solitary wounded teenager "in a loincloth," who
may or may not have been armed. They say the charge to the
beach was planned the night before and, citing a report
from one crew member on a different boat, maintain that the
sailors even schemed about who would win which medals.
The group says Mr. Kerry himself wrote the reports that led
to the medal. But Mr. Elliott and Mr. Lonsdale, who handled
reports going up the line for recognition, have previously
said that a medal would be awarded only if there was
corroboration from others and that they had thoroughly
corroborated the accounts.
"Witness reports were reviewed; battle reports were
reviewed," Mr. Lonsdale said at the 1996 news conference,
adding, "It was a very complete and carefully orchestrated
procedure." In his statements Mr. Elliott described the
action that day as "intense" and "unusual."
According to a citation for Mr. Kerry's Bronze Star, a
group of Swift boats was leaving the Bay Hap river when
several mines detonated, disabling one boat and knocking a
soldier named Jim Rassmann overboard. In a hail of enemy
fire, Mr. Kerry turned the boat around to pull Mr. Rassmann
from the water.
Mr. Rassmann, who says he is a Republican, reappeared
during the Iowa caucuses this year to tell his story and
support Mr. Kerry, and is widely credited with helping to
revive Mr. Kerry's campaign.
But the group says that there was no enemy fire, and that
while Mr. Kerry did rescue Mr. Rassmann, the action was
what anyone would have expected of a sailor, and hardly
heroic. Asked why Mr. Rassmann recalled that he was dodging
enemy bullets, a member of the group, Jack Chenoweth, said,
"If that's what we have to say," Mr. Chenoweth added,
"that's how it was."
Several veterans insist that Mr. Kerry wrote his own
reports, pointing to the initials K. J. W. on one of the
reports and saying they are Mr. Kerry's. "What's the W for,
I cannot answer," said Larry Thurlow, who said his boat was
50 to 60 yards from Mr. Kerry's. Mr. Kerry's middle initial
is F, and a Navy official said the initials refer to the
person who had received the report at headquarters, not the
A damage report to Mr. Thurlow's boat shows that it
received three bullet holes, suggesting enemy fire, and
later intelligence reports indicate that one Vietcong was
killed in action and five others wounded, reaffirming the
presence of an enemy. Mr. Thurlow said the boat was hit the
day before. He also received a Bronze Star for the day, a
fact left out of "Unfit for Command."
Asked about the award, Mr. Thurlow said that he did not
recall what the citation said but that he believed it had
commended him for saving the lives of sailors on a boat hit
by a mine. If it did mention enemy fire, he said, that was
based on Mr. Kerry's false reports. The actual citation,
Mr. Thurlow said, was with an ex-wife with whom he no
longer has contact, and he declined to authorize the Navy
to release a copy. But a copy obtained by The New York
Times indicates "enemy small arms," "automatic weapons
fire" and "enemy bullets flying about him." The citation
was first reported by The Washington Post on Thursday.
Standing Their Ground
As serious questions about its
claims have arisen, the group has remained steadfast and
This week, as its leaders spoke with reporters, they have
focused primarily on the one allegation in the book that
Mr. Kerry's campaign has not been able to put to rest: that
he was not in Cambodia at Christmas in 1968, as he declared
in a statement to the Senate in 1986. Even Mr. Brinkley,
who has emerged as a defender of Mr. Kerry, said in an
interview that it was unlikely that Mr. Kerry's Swift boat
ventured into Cambodia at Christmas, though he said he
believed that Mr. Kerry was probably there shortly
The group said it would introduce a new advertisement
against Mr. Kerry on Friday. What drives the veterans, they
acknowledge, is less what Mr. Kerry did during his time in
Vietnam than what he said after. Their affidavits and their
television commercial focus mostly on those antiwar
statements. Most members of the group object to his using
the word "atrocities" to describe what happened in Vietnam
when he returned and became an antiwar activist. And they
are offended, they say, by the gall of his running for
president as a hero of that war.
"I went to university and was called a baby killer and a
murderer because of guys like Kerry and what he was
saying," said Van Odell, who appears in the first
advertisement, accusing Mr. Kerry of lying to get his
Bronze Star. "Not once did I participate in the atrocities
he said were happening."
As Mr. Lonsdale explained it: "We won the battle. Kerry
went home and lost the war for us.
"He called us rapers and killers and that's not true," he
continued. "If he expects our loyalty, we should expect
loyalty from him."
Of course, Chris Matthews and Bill O'Reilly (no, seriously, O'Reilly!) also want the Swifties' heads on a silver platter. Matthews has been cheerfully decapitating the group and O'Reilly finds the whole business disrespectful.
Time is likewise sharpening the knives and PBS's Newshour has also done a tap dance routine on the Swifties' asses.
Also, Kerry hits back and calls the Swifties on their bullshit
Followed by Schwarzkopf Telling Bush to Stick It
Of course, none of this is cheering me up.
My regular check-in with Electoral Vote shows that Kerry is losing ground. While the site owner is pulling a "chin-up" with the news, I'm not so sure.
It also doesn't help that almost everyone is expecting an "October Surprise" from the Dubbya that includes trotting out ObL to be shown to the masses. Never mind that Al Qaeda technically doesn't have a single leader and is actually a decentralized network. Never mind stomping into Iraq under a cloud of lies was tantamount to a recruitment drive for Islamic extremist movements everywhere.
Still, wonder if people will see through it? Seems to me that a lot of people are starting to look at Tom Ridge like he's the boy who cried wolf.
ETA: It appears that there are rumors in the Arabic press that Pakistan has ObL's location narrowed down to some real estate on the Paki-Afghan border. Anyone with half-a-brain and a passing knowledge of geography could've guessed the general location, but it looks like the area of interest is a little more narrow than "somewhere along the border."
This story is not being reported in this country. So, it appears the foreign nations are expecting an October surprise to be sure. And we wonder why people think we're dumb. From Abu Aardvark via The Blogging of the President.