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Kerry campaign's quick response to Swift boat vets

By
MARIE HORRIGAN, UPI Deputy Americas Editor

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- The campaign for Democratic Party presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts issued an exhaustively researched and extensively sourced 36-page refutation Thursday of allegations Kerry lied about events during his service in Vietnam, including how and why he received medals, and had fled the scene of a battle.

The document outlined extensive connections between the group levying the charges, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and high-ranking Republicans, including presidential adviser Karl Rove, and said the allegations were part of a right-wing effort to smear Kerry.

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The release came less than a day after Swift Boat Veterans for Truth launched a three-state advertising campaign that questions Kerry's character and fitness based on members' personal knowledge of his military performance.

In a series of sworn affidavits obtained by United Press International, members of the group charged Kerry lied about events that led to his receiving a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. They said Kerry fled the scene of battle leaving behind several other boats, one of which was disabled, and recommended himself for commendation under false pretenses.

The Kerry campaign's document outlines connections between the group's top funders and President Bush and Rove, as well as contradictory statements by some of the people offering testimony on behalf of the group.

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"Far from being a grass-roots organization of veterans, this group is a front for the right-wing Texas Republicans to try and take away one of John Kerry's political strengths -- his service to the country in Vietnam," the document said.

In an effort to impugn Kerry's record, the group has made "ridiculous claims such as: Kerry's wounds were self-inflicted, Kerry never received enemy fire on the day he saved Jim Rassmann's life, and Kerry was not a good commander.

"Needless to say, all of these are false, and they have been contradicted by official Navy documents, eyewitness accounts, independent investigations and, in some cases, by the very same people who are now making these claims."

The document focuses on three people -- Houston developer Bob Perry, media consultant Merrie Spaeth and Dallas real-estate magnate Harlan Crow -- who are connected to the group as well as to Republicans causes.

Perry, who has donated two-thirds of the group's funding, is described as the largest political donor in Texas. The document reports he has donated $5 million over the past three years to Republicans and conservative causes, including more than $130,000 to Bush family campaigns. Perry also has worked numerous times with Rove to elect Texas Republicans, the document said.

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The document described Spaeth as closely tied to Bush. According to the document, Spaeth was a spokeswoman for Bush's 2000 smear campaign against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., then his opponent for the party's nomination. Crow, the document said, is a steady GOP fundraiser and trustee to the "George Bush Foundation." Spaeth occasionally writes a column that UPI distributes.

It also refutes specific allegations and testimony against Kerry, including allegations by one of Kerry's commanding officers, Grant Hibbard, that he was not engaged in combat and had minor wounds when he put in for a Purple Heart. However, Hibbard's action report after the incident indicated he had not observed any significant weaknesses and in fact gave Kerry the highest ratings in three categories.

Another commanding, George Elliott, also has come out against Kerry but had described him as "unsurpassed" as a Swift boat commander in a 1969 report.

Dr. Louis Letson claims to have treated Kerry after the firefight and described his wounds as very superficial, but the campaign's document says Letson has no evidence to prove he treated Kerry.

Besides the document, the campaign also offered quotes from some of Kerry's veteran supporters, who have been central to his campaigning.

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"These assertions are garbage. These people weren't there with John Kerry. If he hadn't made the right command decisions, in my opinion, we would be some of the names on that wall," Gene Thorson, one of Kerry's crewmates, said in comments provided by the campaign.

Jim Rassmann, a former Special Operations officer Kerry said he saved during a firefight, disputed the group's allegations there had been no enemy fire.

"That's a pure fabrication. ... The fire was strong enough to knock out Tommy Belodeau's machine gun. ... I was in the middle of the firefight," Rassmann said.

Rassmann also denied allegations he was just one of many people in the water during the action. "There was one person in the water that day, and that was me. Anyone who is telling you otherwise is giving you a lie," he said in those same comments.

Campaign spokesman Chad Clanton told UPI the group's charges were "patently false."

"This crowd clearly has a partisan political agenda," he said. "You know, it's not surprising they have close ties to the Bush White House and that they're funded by some of Bush's top donors in Texas.

"The bottom line is, John Kerry risked his life to save the lives of others," he said. "He volunteered to serve his country, he put his life on the line in the battlefield. And, you know, it's pretty disgusting the way some people are trying to tear down his military record.

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"You've got to wonder what political goals they have in mind. You've got to wonder who's behind them," he said.

The campaign's document directly addresses that question. Its final page -- headlined "Who Could Be Organizing These False, Negative Attacks on John Kerry?" -- features a picture of Bush with his arm around Rove.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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