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Thursday, August 26, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Bush lawyer resigns over swift-boat flap

By Seattle Times news services

Former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., presents a letter to Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, left, yesterday at the Bush ranch. Cleland was protesting ads critical of John Kerry's Vietnam record.
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The top lawyer for President Bush's re-election campaign resigned yesterday after acknowledging he had advised a veterans group that has led the attack on Sen. John Kerry's war record.

Although Benjamin Ginsberg, leader of the 2000 Bush recount legal effort, said his dual roles were "entirely within the boundaries" of federal election law, he wanted to end the "distraction" that his work with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had caused.

Election-law experts agreed that Ginsberg's double duty was permissible as long as he didn't engage in any coordination.

Ginsberg's involvement with the swift-boat group caught the Bush campaign by surprise, sources said, and it could create problems for a presidential re-election organization that had stressed it had no ties to the Swift Boat Veterans.

"The resignation underscores a serious problem of perception," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Ginsberg's resignation capped another day of fast-breaking developments in a controversy that has dominated the campaign for almost three weeks.

The Kerry campaign attempted to force a showdown near Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, a triple amputee from wounds suffered in Vietnam, tried to deliver a letter from nine Democratic senators who are veterans that called on Bush to renounce the anti-Kerry ads.

"These scurrilous attacks on John Kerry's conduct in war, his courage and his valor are false, and George Bush is behind it," Cleland said after he was turned away from Bush's ranch. "Where is his shame?"

The Bush campaign sent out Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Marine veteran from Vietnam, to take the letter.

Patterson produced a letter of his own — signed by him and six other veterans — accusing Kerry of trying to "have it both ways."
"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," Patterson's letter said.

While both campaigns continued to spar, both candidates came under criticism from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who supports Bush but has denounced the anti-Kerry ads. In an interview with Knight Ridder Newspapers, McCain reiterated his disgust with the attacks on Kerry, but urged Kerry to pull an ad that uses McCain to attack Bush.


More documentary evidence supporting Kerry surfaced. A Navy report from a military unit known as Task Force 115 says Kerry was under enemy fire on March 13, 1969, when he rescued Special Forces soldier James Rassmann, leading to a Bronze Star and his third Purple Heart. Task Force 115 was commanded by Roy Hoffmann, now chairman of Swift Boat Veterans.

John O'Neill, the chief critic of Kerry's military record, told President Nixon in 1971 that he had been in Cambodia in a Swift boat — a claim at odds with recent statements that he was not. "I was in Cambodia, sir. I worked along the border," O'Neill said in a tape found at the National Archives. O'Neill yesterday did not dispute what he said to Nixon, but insisted he never was actually in Cambodia.

Compiled from Knight Ridder Newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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