- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The Bush administration yesterday challenged Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to prove he didn’t lie about the foreign leaders he says support his campaign, but the Massachusetts senator said he still won’t name them.

“I think that if Senator Kerry is going to say he has support from foreign leaders, then he needs to be straightforward with the American people and say who it is that he has spoken with and who it is that supports him,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

“Either he is straightforward and states who they are, or the only conclusion one can draw is that he is making it up to attack the president,” he said.

Vice President Dick Cheney also joined the fray, telling supporters at a campaign speech in Phoenix that Mr. Kerry should not be allowed to get away with his response to a persistent questioner Sunday in Bethlehem, Pa. Mr. Kerry told a Bush supporter at a town-hall meeting that it was “none of your business” who the leaders are.

“It is our business when a candidate for president claims the political endorsement of foreign leaders,” Mr. Cheney said. “At the very least, we have a right to know what he is saying to foreign leaders that makes them so supportive of his candidacy.”

Mr. Kerry said last week he has “met with more leaders who can’t go out and say this publicly. But boy, they look at you and say: ‘You’ve got to win this. You’ve got to beat this guy. We need a new policy.’ Things like that.”

Since then, he repeatedly has refused to divulge the identities of the leaders or even to narrow down the list. But in comments Sunday and yesterday, he no longer specifies that the meetings were face to face.

“I have heard from people, foreign leaders elsewhere in the world who don’t appreciate the Bush administration and would love to see a change in the leadership of the United States,” he told reporters yesterday, while repeating his refusal to name names.

His spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter, said it was “unfortunate” that the White House stepped into a political fray.

“This White House would be better off spending its time repairing our alliances around the world so we can collectively fight the war on terrorism and better protect the United States, rather than using the White House press room as a place to carry out political attacks,” Ms. Cutter said.

In addition to calling it a political move, the campaign also sent out a list of 10 administration claims or statements they said were not only not backed up, but also proved to be false, including: Iraq had “reconstituted” nuclear weapons; Iraq had obtained nuclear material from Africa; and the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts would create 1.8 million jobs between them.

An investigation by The Washington Times found few chances for the face-to-face meetings that Mr. Kerry first claimed.

Mr. Kerry has made no official trips abroad since he began his campaign. The Times also found only one opportunity when Mr. Kerry was in the same city as a foreign leader. That was Sept. 24, when New Zealand’s foreign minister was in Washington meeting with State Department officials.

Mr. Kerry was receiving the endorsement of the International Association of Fire Fighters that day.

Mr. Kerry is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which receives international heads of state frequently at the Capitol. According to members of the committee, they will usually meet face to face with the leaders at a coffee in the committee room.

But Mr. Kerry did not attend regularly, said Sen. John E. Sununu, New Hampshire Republican and a member of the committee.

“Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, Senator Kerry hasn’t attended any of the coffees since I’ve been a member of the United States Senate,” Mr. Sununu said.

“I think there’s a real question as to whether or not the claim was a fabrication,” he said. “He certainly hasn’t had the opportunity to meet with them personally, since he hasn’t been in the same city as any visiting head of state, which begs the question whether he’s conducting diplomacy over the phone or by e-mail.”

Mr. McClellan said Mr. Kerry has a history of not being able to back up his assertions, including his statement in February that the Bush administration, for political reasons, delayed closing a deal for Libya to give up its weapons of mass destruction program.

“Senator Kerry is the one who is making these claims. And he has refused to back them up,” Mr. McClellan said.

Republicans also charged that Mr. Kerry now is backing away from his initial statement.

On Sunday, Mr. Kerry told reporters he thought he had said he’d “heard from” those leaders.

Chad Clanton, a spokesman for Mr. Kerry, said that’s not inconsistent with Mr. Kerry’s original statement. “He’s not changing his position.”

But Terry Holt, chief spokesman for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, said Mr. Kerry “got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.”

“This is another example of John Kerry’s audacious ignorance of his own record and his own statements. There’s a personality profile developing here. There’s a denial streak in him.”

Mr. Kerry’s initial statement last week was reported that he said he had “met with foreign leaders.”

That quote came from the “pool report” of Mr. Kerry’s fund-raiser in Florida, from Boston Globe reporter Patrick Healy, the only reporter allowed in the meeting, who filed the report for use by all the press traveling with Mr. Kerry.

Mr. Healy yesterday sent an update to members of the traveling press corps telling them that after listening to his tape of Mr. Kerry, he now thinks the senator said he has “met with more leaders,” not “met with foreign leaders.”

Mr. Kerry was responding to a comment from his Florida finance chairman, who had said how enthusiastic people — “Europeans and elsewhere” — are to get rid of Mr. Bush.

Mr. Kerry’s response, as Mr. Healy now transcribes it, reads: “I’ve been hearing it, I’ll tell ya. The news, the coverage in other countries, the news in other places. I’ve met more leaders who can’t go out and say it publicly. But boy they look at you and say, ‘You gotta win this. You gotta beat this guy. We need a new policy. Things like that. So there is enormous energy out there.”

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