- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

President Bush bowed to Democratic pressure yesterday and abruptly withdrew the ambassadorial nomination of a “Swift Boat” supporter, as the White House said it was unaware the nominee aided the group that undermined Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

Mr. Bush pulled the nomination of businessman Sam Fox, who helped raise $200,000 for the president’s re-election campaign, as ambassador to Belgium hours before a Senate committee vote. But the White House move came weeks after Mr. Fox’s $50,000 donation to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was disclosed by Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee.

“I know that the president did not [know about the contribution] when he nominated him,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday. She said the nomination was withdrawn because it would not have passed.

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an independent organization, was widely credited with helping derail Mr. Kerry’s campaign by airing a series of ads questioning the Massachusetts senator’s military record in the Vietnam War and his public actions after returning from the war.

Mr. Kerry said, “Sam Fox had every opportunity to disavow the politics of personal destruction and to embrace the truth. He chose not to.

“The White House made the right decision to withdraw the nomination. I hope this signals a new day in political discourse,” he said.

At a committee hearing last month, Mr. Kerry asked Mr. Fox to repudiate his financial contributions to the group, but Mr. Fox defended his donation.

“When I’m asked, I just generally give.” Mr. Fox, who serves as chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition, has raised more than $1 million for Republican candidates, according to public campaign-finance records.

John E. O’Neill, who helped found the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, called the withdrawal of Mr. Fox’s nomination “an outrage.”

“Our money came from 155,000 individual donors, including 7,000 active-duty members of the military,” Mr. O’Neill said. “Presumably, the Democrats have sent a message that they are not qualified to serve for higher office as well.”

Mr. O’Neill added that he has never met Mr. Fox and any claims that he was directly involved in the Swift Boat Veterans campaign are false.

“It’s a tragedy,” he said, calling the blocking of Mr. Fox “a particularly cowardly act, whether it was done by Republicans or Democrats.”

Senate Democrats celebrated the White House’s retreat.

Three Democrats running for their party’s 2008 presidential nomination, Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Barack Obama of Illinois, have said they opposed Mr. Fox. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, who is not running for president, supported the nomination, as did Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

“I had serious concerns about Mr. Fox’s candor, judgment and qualifications for this important post, and I am pleased that the Bush administration acknowledged that it would not be able to muster the votes to confirm his nomination,” Mr. Obama said.

Lieberman spokesman Marshall Wittman said Mr. Fox’s full record should have been taken into consideration, including his “high level of personal honor,” and that one political contribution should not prevent him from service.

The White House was defensive about the withdrawal but explained that there simply was no way to fight the Democrat-controlled Senate on the issue.

“Unfortunately, we received word that because of politics, some members of the Senate would have voted against his nomination, which would have prevented him from serving in this important position. So we are disappointed that they made their decision based on partisan politics instead of his leadership abilities. And that’s why we withdrew the nomination,” Mrs. Perino said.

• Jon Ward contributed to this report.

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