The Swift Boat Veterans have scored a direct hit. They have scuttled a top lawyer for the president. Benjamin Ginsberg resigned recently after revealing he had advised the veterans group that has been maligning John Kerrys war record in Vietnam.
Ginsberg is the second person to leave the Bush campaign because of ties to the veterans unit, called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. They have been attacking Kerry by means of television commercials and a book. The anti-Kerry effort has been directed by a writer who masterminded the attack on Sen. John McCain in the 2000 presidential election when McCain posed a strong threat to Bushs nomination.
Kerry sent a different group of Vietnam vets, including former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, to Bushs ranch in Crawford, Texas, to deliver a letter to the president asking him to condemn the Swift Boat ads. Cleland, in his wheelchair, and the other veterans were turned away.
The Bush White House has continued to maintain it has no connection to the Swift Boat group and denies Kerrys charge that Bushs re-election team is using front groups like that to advance the presidents chances. Bush finally called for halting the ads, but stopped short of condemning them.
In his letter to the president, Ginsberg said: I have decided to resign as national counsel to your campaign to ensure that the giving of legal advice to decorated military veterans, which was entirely within the boundaries of the law, doesnt distract from the real issues upon which you and the country should be focusing.
But the dispute over what Kerry did or did not do in Vietnam has been a major distraction of the campaign, forestalling any debate of the issues or any examination of the shortcomings of George W. Bush.
Campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said federal election rules bar groups that take unlimited donations from coordinating their activities with campaigns or political parties, but does not restrict lawyers. Stanzel added: There has been no coordination at any time, between the campaign and the Swift Boat group.
Mike Russell, spokesman for the vets group, also denied any coordination with the campaign. Russell said Ginsberg will continue to advise them.
Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill replied: The sudden resignation of Bushs top lawyer doesnt end the extensive web of connections between George Bush and the group trying to smear John Kerrys military record. In fact, it only confirms the extent of those connections.
In his letter of resignation, Ginsberg said his activity for the veterans group was quite similar to links between lawyers working with the Kerry campaign and several liberal-minded groups attacking Bush, including Moveon.org, the Media Fund and Americans Coming Together.
Records show the Swift Boat group got some of its financing from long-time Bush supporters and close friends of Karl Rove, Bushs chief political strategist.