- The Washington Times - Friday, August 20, 2004

John Kerry filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission yesterday charging that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has violated campaign finance laws, and the veterans readied a second television commercial rebuking the Democratic presidential candidate for his denunciation of American soldiers after he returned from South Vietnam in 1969.

Mr. Kerry’s strong criticism appears to have raised the profile of the veterans opposing him, focusing attention on their first TV commercial that criticized Mr. Kerry’s service record. The veterans said yesterday afternoon that in the past 24 hours they received more than $250,000 from more than 3,500 donors, bringing total contributions to date to $935,000. The new commercial will be broadcast in three states beginning Tuesday.

The new ad focuses on Mr. Kerry’s 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he said U.S. soldiers and Marines had committed atrocities in South Vietnam.

“They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads,” a young Mr. Kerry, with shaggy hair and wearing military combat fatigues, testified. He told the senators that American soldiers had “randomly shot at civilians,” “cut off limbs, blown up bodies,” and “razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan.”

The TV commercial interrupts this testimony with veterans saying that Mr. Kerry’s charges deeply wounded them.

“John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I and many of my comrades in North Vietnam — in the prison camps — took torture to avoid saying,” says Paul Galanti, a POW for seven years who was imprisoned at the time of Mr. Kerry’s testimony. “It was demoralizing to us.”

The commercial closes with Mr. Galanti saying: “He dishonored his country and, more importantly, the people he served with. He just sold them out.”

Mr. Kerry this week told the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that he didn’t make his testimony controversial — “the war and the times were.”

Chad Clanton, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign, said the new TV commercial “takes Kerry’s testimony out of context, editing what he said to distort the facts. He testified as a 27-year-old Vietnam veteran. He opposed a war that, at that point, cost over 44,000 lives of the 58,245 names that are on the Vietnam Memorial wall. It says a lot that the president refuses to condemn this smear.”

But White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Kerry’s charges are off base.

“Senator Kerry losing his cool should not be an excuse for him to lash out at the president with false and baseless attacks,” Mr. McClellan said.

Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter then ridiculed Mr. Bush for continuing to read with schoolchildren for several minutes on September 11 after an aide told him that the World Trade Center had been attacked.

“Mr. McClellan needs to understand that John Kerry is not the type of leader who will sit and read ‘My Pet Goat’ to a group of second-graders while America is under attack,” Ms. Cutter said.

“John Kerry is a fighter, and he doesn’t tolerate lies from others,” she said. “Someday Mr. McClellan and George Bush will have to face the truth about the health care and economic issues facing this country. This election is about this country and its future. When Mr. McClellan realizes that, it will be too late.”

The Swift Boat veterans — a group of 260 men who served similar duty as Mr. Kerry on PCF (Patrol Craft Fast) boats in the Mekong River Delta of South Vietnam — was formed four months ago to oppose the Democratic nominee. They accuse Mr. Kerry as being unfit to be commander in chief, and their first ad charged that he embellished the facts about an incident in which he earned the Bronze Star.

In his complaint to the FEC, Mr. Kerry said the Swift Boat veterans are illegally coordinating with the Bush campaign, and the complaint points to articles in The Washington Post and New York Times to support his claim.

The newspapers reported that donors to the Bush campaign also contributed to the Swift Boat veterans, and identified one of them as Bob Perry, a Texan who has contributed to Republican campaigns in Texas and who contributed $100,000 to the Swift Boat veterans.

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said the accusation is “frivolous” and said Mr. Kerry’s campaign has engaged in coordination with liberal-leaning groups.

The veterans say there is no connection.

“I don’t support George Bush,” said Van O’Dell, one of the men who served on a boat that patrolled alongside Mr. Kerry’s boat and appeared in the first commercial. “I’ve voted for more Democrats than I have Republicans in my life.”

Retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffmann, one of the leaders of the group, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the group had to turn to TV commercials because it couldn’t get national press attention.

“We were absolutely shut out of the popular television — that is NBC, ABC and so forth,” he said. “This was our only recourse — to purchase and prepare to advertise.”

A new poll for the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center found that the first commercial has had an impact beyond the initial three-state run, which cost the group less than $200,000.

The poll found that 57 percent of those surveyed had either seen the ad or heard about it in replays and discussions on television and talk radio. The percentage was higher in the so-called battleground states.

Reaction to the commercial appeared to be evenly divided, with 46 percent finding it at least somewhat believable and 49 percent finding it at least somewhat unbelievable.

Meanwhile, Vietnam veterans in Hanoi demonstrated in support of Mr. Kerry yesterday. Calling Mr. Bush a draft dodger, the veterans donned T-shirts emblazoned with “Americans Overseas for Kerry” and showing Mr. Bush’s face with a line crossed through it.

“We had very serious disagreements among ourselves about the war, but the creed was that we never spoke ill of another veteran,” said Chuck Searcy from Athens, Ga., who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 before joining the antiwar movement at home.

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