Thursday, September 9, 2004

The White House yesterday accused John Kerry of “coordinating” attacks on President Bush’s National Guard service in response to the president’s widening lead in the polls.

“You absolutely are seeing a coordinated attack by John Kerry and his surrogates on the president,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One. “The polls show Senator Kerry falling behind, and it’s the same old recycled attacks that we’ve seen every time the president has been up for election.”

Mr. Kerry refused to denounce Texans for Truth, a group known by its tax code classification as a 527, for running TV ads that criticize the president’s National Guard service. Last month, the Kerry campaign demanded that Mr. Bush denounce ads by another 527, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which questioned Mr. Kerry’s Vietnam service.

Asked about the veracity of the anti-Bush ads yesterday, Mr. Kerry twice told an Associated Press reporter: “That’s for the White House to answer.”

White House spokesman Trent Duffy accused the Massachusetts Democrat of employing a double standard.

“When given the opportunity to put it to rest, Senator Kerry instead kept it alive,” he said of the flap over Mr. Bush’s service. “Nor did he condemn the ads, even though he had called on President Bush to condemn the Swift Boat ads.”

For more than six months, Mr. Kerry has been questioning whether Mr. Bush fulfilled his military obligations after transferring from one National Guard unit in Texas to another in Alabama. The White House says the president’s honorable discharge is proof that he fulfilled his duties.

“Was he present and active on duty in Alabama at the times he was supposed to be?” Mr. Kerry demanded in February. “Just because you get an honorable discharge does not, in fact, answer that question.”

Yesterday, the White House contrasted Mr. Kerry’s attacks on the president’s military record with Mr. Bush’s praise of Mr. Kerry’s Vietnam service.

“His going to Vietnam was more heroic than my flying fighter jets,” Mr. Bush told NBC on Aug. 28. “He was in harm’s way; I wasn’t.”

Although the Democratic National Committee (DNC) yesterday issued a statement saying “Bush lied” about his National Guard service, the president took a different tack when asked by a reporter whether “Kerry lied about his war record.”

“I think Senator Kerry served admirably,” Mr. Bush replied on Aug. 23. “He ought to be proud of his record.”

Such sentiments have been echoed by Vice President Dick Cheney, former Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot and White House political strategist Karl Rove. By contrast, Mr. Kerry, in addition to attacking the president, has slammed Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rove for obtaining deferments during the Vietnam conflict.

“I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and who misled the nation into Iraq,” Mr. Kerry told a rally last week.

Yesterday, the president’s military record was savaged by DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, at a press conference.

“George W. Bush’s cover story on his National Guard service is rapidly unraveling,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “George W. Bush needs to answer why he regularly misled the American people about his time in the Guard and who applied political pressure on his behalf to have his performance reviews sugar-coated.”

Mr. Harkin said Mr. Bush “lied to the American people.” He said the “real difference” between Democrats’ claims and those from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is that documents support Mr. Kerry’s war record, while undercutting Mr. Bush.

“Those other people who made these ads were lying,” Mr. Harkin said of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. “The documents back up Senator Kerry.”

The remarks drew a sharp rebuke from Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

“Harkin’s vicious attacks today crossed the line of acceptable political discourse,” he said. “John Kerry and his fellow Democrats are unable to move beyond what happened 35 years ago.”

Although the Kerry campaign and press have been quick to claim links between Mr. Bush and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, there was little outcry yesterday over links between Mr. Kerry and Texans for Truth.

The group’s biggest donor is Daniel O’Keefe, who gave $100,000 for production of the anti-Bush ads. Mr. O’Keefe, a Hollywood producer, also donated $10,250 to the Kerry campaign and $24,000 to the DNC, according to the Political Money Line Web site.

By accusing Mr. Kerry of “coordinating” with Texans for Truth, Mr. McClellan essentially was accusing him of flouting the McCain-Feingold Act, which prohibits such coordination.

“Senator Kerry will do anything he can to avoid defending his record and talking about the clear choices that the American people face,” the presidential spokesman said.

Kerry senior adviser Joe Lockhart, while not addressing the substance of Mr. McClellan’s accusations, said he “seems to have lost his cool.”

“Rather than deal with real issues with real candor, Mr. McClellan is resorting to hurling nonsensical, inaccurate and baseless charges at the Kerry campaign,” Mr. Lockhart said. “This is a classic political tactic: When you can’t tell the truth or you don’t know the truth, blame your opponent.”

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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