Sen. John Kerry’s campaign said yesterday they do not think that contacts between senior adviser Joe Lockhart and the man who leaked fake memos about President Bush to CBS News were wrong or show that Mr. Lockhart helped disseminate the documents.
Mike McCurry, an adviser and spokesman to the campaign, told reporters that Mr. Kerry “does not believe Joe did anything improper. He made a call at the suggestion of CBS News.”
But Republicans, who long had suggested that Democratic operatives were behind the spread of the memos, called on the campaign to further disclose the extent of Mr. Lockhart’s contacts with retired Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, the man who has admitted being the source for CBS.
Republicans also called on Mr. Kerry to say whether other campaign staffers had contact with Col. Burkett or were involved with the documents.
“It is time Senator Kerry came clean about all the contacts between CBS, his campaign and Bill Burkett,” Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Ed Gillespie said on Fox News Channel. “What did they know? When did they know it? What did they do, and when did they do it? It is an increasingly tangled web.”
Mr. McCurry told reporters traveling with the campaign that senior campaign staff are checking to see whether anyone else in the Kerry camp contacted Col. Burkett, but he said as of now, the campaign is “pretty satisfied no one else had contact with Burkett.”
Still, the spokesman said, the furor over the report “diverts from the discussion to be had” on the Kerry campaign’s key issues.
CBS has apologized for its report and admitted that it cannot vouch for the documents, purportedly from Mr. Bush’s commanding officer in the Texas Air National Guard. The documents in question suggest that Mr. Bush shirked duty and that his superior, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, faced political pressure to “sugarcoat” then-Lt. Bush’s evaluation.
Mr. Lockhart has admitted having a brief conversation, at the urging of CBS News producer Mary Mapes, with Col. Burkett, who used to be with the Texas Air National Guard and is a longtime anti-Bush activist.
But Mr. Lockhart says the memos weren’t discussed. He also said he called Col. Burkett before the documents were revealed to be forgeries.
Col. Burkett told USA Today in a story published yesterday that he did ask that CBS put him in touch with the campaign in exchange for providing the network with the documents. But he told the newspaper that he wanted to contact the campaign for reasons other than the memos.
“My interest was to get the attention of the national [campaign] to defend against the attacks,” he said.
Mr. Lockhart said Mrs. Mapes asked him the weekend before the story broke to call Col. Burkett, according to the Associated Press.
“She basically said, ‘There’s a guy who is being helpful on the story who wants to talk to you,’ ” Mr. Lockhart said, adding that it was common knowledge that CBS was working on a story raising questions about the president’s Guard service.
Mrs. Mapes told him that there were some records “that might move the story forward,” Mr. Lockhart said. “She didn’t tell me what they said.”