Tuesday, September 21, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — At the behest of a CBS producer, an adviser to John Kerry said he talked to a central figure in the controversy over President Bush’s National Guard service shortly before the release of documents whose authenticity CBS said it could not verify.

Joe Lockhart said he made the call to retired Lt. Col. Bill Burkett of the Texas National Guard at the suggestion of CBS producer Mary Mapes.

“He had some advice on how to deal with the Vietnam issue and the Swift Boat” accusations, Mr. Lockhart said yesterday. “He said these guys play tough, and we have to put the Vietnam experience into context and have Kerry talk about it more.”

Mr. Lockhart said Miss Mapes asked him the weekend before the story broke to call Mr. Burkett.

“She basically said there’s a guy who is being helpful on the story who wants to talk to you,” Mr. Lockhart said. Miss Mapes told him there were some records “that might move the story forward. She didn’t tell me what they said.”

The White House called the exchange evidence of coordination between the Kerry campaign and Col. Burkett.

“The fact that CBS News and a high-level adviser to the Kerry campaign coordinated a personal attack on President Bush is a stunning and deeply troubling development,” said White House communications director Dan Bartlett.

He urged Mr. Kerry to hold accountable anybody involved in helping CBS obtain the documents.

Mr. Lockhart said he thanked Col. Burkett for his advice after a three- to four-minute call and said he does not recall talking to Col. Burkett about Mr. Bush’s Guard records. Mr. Lockhart denied any connection between the presidential campaign and the papers.

“It’s baseless to say the Kerry campaign had anything to do with this,” he said. After Mr. Bartlett made his comments last night, he said that “Bartlett is wrong.”

CBS News apologized yesterday for its story questioning Mr. Bush’s Guard service, claiming it was misled by the source of documents that several experts have dismissed as fakes.

Former Sen. Max Cleland, Georgia Democrat, also said he had a brief conversation last month with Col. Burkett, who told him he had information about Mr. Bush.

Col. Burkett told USA Today in a story for today’s editions that he did not discuss the papers with the Kerry team.

“My interest was to get the attention of the national [campaign] to defend against the attacks” from the Swift Boat veterans, he told the newspaper.

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