- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 26, 2004

Bush and Kerry campaign managers yesterday dispatched dueling Vietnam veterans to deliver letters demanding that the other side stop using the Vietnam war, now more than 30 years in the past, as a campaign weapon.

The duel began when Max Cleland, the former Democratic senator from Georgia, tried to deliver a letter to President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. But Mr. Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam, never got within sight of the president’s house. Access was blocked by a permanent barrier manned by a Secret Service agent and a Texas state trooper. Neither would accept the letter.

Mr. Cleland held an impromptu press conference to accuse the president of orchestrating a series of TV commercials by the independent “527” group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, criticizing Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic candidate.

“These scurrilous attacks on John Kerry’s credibility in war, his courage, his valor are false, and George Bush is behind it,” he told reporters.

At the conclusion of the press conference, Jerry Patterson, a Vietnam veteran, tried to accept Mr. Cleland’s letter on behalf of the president, but Mr. Cleland would not relinquish it.

Nor would Mr. Cleland accept a letter from Mr. Patterson, signed by several Republican veterans of the Vietnam war, accusing Mr. Kerry of employing a double standard on the issue of the Vietnam war.

“You can’t have it both ways,” said the letter, which was signed by Mr. Patterson and Vietnam veterans including Reps. Duncan Hunter and Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California. “You can’t build your convention and much of your campaign around your service in Vietnam, and then try to say that only those veterans who agree with you have a right to speak up.

“There is no double standard for our right to free speech. We all earned it.”

In another development, Benjamin Ginsberg, a lawyer for the Bush campaign, quit the campaign after it was revealed that he was providing legal advice to the Swift Boat group.

He noted that his counterparts at the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee were not resigning, despite their ties to third-party groups that have aired $63 million in anti-Bush commercials.

“Unfortunately, this campaign has seen a stunning double standard emerge between the media’s focus on the activities of 527s aligned with John Kerry and those opposed to him,” Mr. Ginsberg wrote to the president.

Robert Bauer, a lawyer who represents America Coming Together, a third-party group producing TV commercials attacking Mr. Bush, has done legal work for both Mr. Kerry and the Democratic National Committee.

Republicans complain as well that the Kerry campaign hired Zach Exley from MoveOn.org, which has posted commercials on its Internet site comparing the president to Hitler.

A Democratic aide said there was a distinction, that unlike the Bush campaign the Kerry campaign had not said there was no connection to the third-party groups, known as 527s because of their designation in the tax code.

“We’ve been upfront from the get-go about what role Bob Bauer played,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “And when Zach Exley came over here, it was no secret. It wasn’t like he snuck in the middle of the night and popped up at a desk.”

Mr. Ginsberg is the second Bush official to resign since Saturday after a connection with the Swift Boat Veterans was disclosed. Ken Cordier, a retired Air Force colonel, was dismissed from his volunteer position in the Bush campaign after he appeared in a Swift Boat commercial.

The Cleland letter, which was signed by nine Democratic senators, called on the president to “specifically condemn” the Swift Boat ads. The president had already done that, along with all others produced by 527 groups, on Monday.

Asked which commercials should be suspended, the president replied: “That ad, every other ad. I don’t think we ought to have 527s. I can’t be more plain about it.”

Mr. Cleland insisted yesterday that the president “did not denounce that ad” to his satisfaction. White House press secretary Scott McClellan dismissed Mr. Cleland’s visit as a “stunt” aimed at diverting attention from Mr. Kerry’s “out-of-the-mainstream record and out-of-the-mainstream views.”

“Senator Kerry says he wants to talk about the issues. Today’s political stunt is an interesting way of showing it,” Mr. McClellan said. “If Senator Kerry was interested in focusing on the issues, he would join the president in calling for a stop to all these ads by these shadowy groups.”

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