Kerry Puts Guard Story Back on Front Page

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, April 27, 2004; 10:31 AM

Throughout this winter's flurry of questions about President Bush's Air National Guard duty during the Vietnam War, Sen. John F. Kerry remained largely silent.

Even after a big White House document dump, many questions remained unanswered about Bush's service, including how he got his posting, whether he fulfilled his obligations and why he missed a key physical.

Almost every day, other folks raised the Kerry-Bush comparison. But not Kerry himself.

Yesterday, however, was different.

Under attack from the Bush camp and under cross-examination from reporters about whether he tossed away his service medals or ribbons to show his opposition to the war when he returned home -- and whether his statements over many years about the protest have been contradictory -- Kerry let loose.

And now the issue appears to be back on the table.

Think the story has new legs?

George Stephanopoulous told Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Good Morning America" today that "The Kerry campaign today will put out unanswered questions about George W. Bush in Vietnam."

Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post: "John F. Kerry on Monday sharply questioned President Bush's National Guard service in the 1970s and accused the president of spreading false information about the Massachusetts Democrat's Vietnam War protests of 33 years ago. . . .

"Kerry was responding in part to criticism Sunday from Bush adviser Karen Hughes about whether he tossed away his service medals to protest the war in 1971. Kerry was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts during two tours in Vietnam.

"The assault on Kerry by the president's allies, including Vice President Cheney, continued Monday. They portrayed the presumptive Democratic nominee as weak on defense and dishonest about his antiwar activities. . . .

"'This comes from a president who can't even show or prove that he showed up for duty in the National Guard,' Kerry said on ABC's 'Good Morning America.' 'And I'm not going to stand for it.'"

Adam Nagourney and Jodi Wilgoren write in the New York Times: "Mr. Kerry had previously declined to join other Democrats in raising questions about Mr. Bush's National Guard attendance record. But during a contentious interview on national television on Monday, when pressed on whether he threw away his Vietnam war medals in a protest in 1971, he defended himself and attacked the president. . . .

"'I did obviously fight in Vietnam, and I was wounded there, and I served there and was very proud of my service,' Mr. Kerry said. 'To have these people, all of whom made a different choice, attack me for it is obviously disturbing.'"

See my columns from early February about this winter's coverage of Bush's Guard service.

Here's Kelly O'Donnell of NBC News and Byron Pitts of CBS News with video of Kerry's statements.

Did Media Dig Enough Last Time?

Will this fully revive the National Guard story? As I wrote in Friday's column, there are some media critics out there who think the press gave up too easy on this story.

Now there's another.

James C. Moore writes in Salon: "The president of the United States is lying to hide his behavior while he was a young pilot during the Vietnam War, and he has almost taken away reporters' ability to get the whole story. Unfortunately, the national media have other distractions, and they apparently don't think the Guard story is important enough to warrant additional effort. I think they are wrong."

Talking Points Memo blogger Joshua Micah Marshall thinks Moore makes some good points.

Cheney's Deferment Baby?

Stephen Dinan writes in the Washington Times that a "Democrat-leaning group [is] suggesting that Mr. Cheney's wife became pregnant to help her husband avoid serving in Vietnam. . . .

"Mr. Cheney received five deferments, the first four because he was in school.

"But the Thunder Road Group, a consultancy working for America Coming Together, one of the Democrat-leaning 'Section 527' political operations, said Mr. Cheney's fifth deferment came when his wife became pregnant.

"The group noted that the rules governing the draft changed Oct. 26, 1965, to allow married, childless men to be drafted.

"Mr. Cheney received a deferment three months later on the grounds that his wife was pregnant. The Cheneys' first child, Elizabeth, was born, the group noted, 'nine months and two days after childless men were deemed eligible for the draft.'"

Here's the release from America Coming Together.

Dinan notes that the accusation was made in the 2000 campaign, and resurfaced on Slate last month.

Roll Out the Vice President

Anne E. Kornblut writes in the Boston Globe: "After spending $50 million in a single month and airing a raft of negative political ads against John F. Kerry, Bush campaign advisers returned to a familiar weapon yesterday: Vice President Dick Cheney, who launched a new round of coordinated attacks on the senator's national security record."

In the New York Times story mentioned above, Nagourney and Wilgoren write: "The vice president drew snickers from the heavily Republican invited audience as he read quotations from Mr. Kerry intended to portray the senator as equivocating on major issues of national security. . . .

"Mr. Cheney's appearance also signaled the extent to which the White House intends to press him into the vice president's traditional role of raising the sword against a challenger."

Ron Fournier of the Associated Press writes: "Cheney is the White House's designated attacker -- held in reserve for the toughest times and sharpest messages. When the vice president goes negative, it usually means the White House is braced for trouble.

"This week is no exception."

In addition to noting that the Supreme Court today will consider today whether Cheney should turn over information about his secret energy task force and that Cheney and Bush meet with the 9/11 panel this week, Fournier points out that Saturday is the one-year anniversary of Bush's now-infamous speech on an aircraft carrier under a "Mission Accomplished" banner.

Here's the text of Cheney's speech, where he mentions Kerry by name 32 times in 37 minutes. Here are video excerpts.

College President Scolds Cheney for 'Kerry-Bashing'

Mike Allen of The Washington Post writes: "Vice President Cheney was rebuked by his host yesterday after lambasting Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in a speech at a private college in Missouri.

"Fletcher M. Lamkin, president of Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., e-mailed students, staff and faculty shortly after Air Force Two headed back to Washington.

"'I must admit that I was surprised and disappointed that Mr. Cheney chose to step off the high ground and resort to Kerry-bashing for a large portion of his speech,' Lamkin wrote. 'The content and tone of his speech was not provided to us prior to the event -- we had only been told the speech would be about foreign policy, including issues in Iraq.'"

Virginia Young writes in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "The White House asked Westminster to sponsor the speech, which was billed as a nonpolitical foreign policy address. Some in the audience found that misleading.

"'I didn't hear the major foreign policy announcement,' said Jim Marshall, 21, a junior from St. Louis."

The Kerry campaign was clearly delighted with Lamkin's letter. It sent reporters a copy.

When Democrats Attack

Ron Hutcheson writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "In the first of a series of attacks planned for this week, Democrats on Monday questioned Cheney's Vietnam-era draft deferments and criticized his past votes in Congress against various defense programs. . . .

"Democrats' decision to turn their fire on Bush's running mate instead of focusing on their top target is unusual, but Cheney is an unusual vice president. Probably no other vice president has played such a large role in shaping administration policy.

"Cheney took the lead in pushing for war with Iraq and often went beyond the president in his public statements in linking Saddam Hussein to weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaida terrorists. 'Plan of Attack,' journalist Bob Woodward's new insider account of the run-up to war, portrays Cheney as obsessed with ousting Saddam Hussein."

Cheney and the Supremes

Gina Holland of the Associated Press previews today's impending Supreme Court arguments over whether the White House should be allowed to keep private the records of Cheney's energy task force.

"The White House is framing the case as a major test of executive power, arguing that the forced disclosure of confidential records intrudes on a president's power to get truthful advice."

If the White House loses, "Cheney could have to reveal potentially embarrassing records just in time for the presidential election."

Attack Ad

Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post and Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times analyze this new ad from the Bush/Cheney campaign, attacking Kerry's defense spending decisions.

Rutenberg says it is "one of the toughest spots either campaign has run to date."

Kurtz notes: "Local versions mention that some weapons are built in such states as Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Maine. The spot is part of a sustained campaign to erase the image of Kerry the Vietnam warrior and replace it with that of a soft-on-terror lawmaker."

Meanwhile, the President Has a Few Things to Say

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush on Monday borrowed a technique popularized by predecessor Bill Clinton: the bite-size presidential initiative. . . .

"[W]ith a federal budget deficit limiting his options and a campaign-year Congress unlikely to pass major initiatives, Bush is highlighting some of the same small-bore issues that enthralled his predecessor. Monday, he tackled three Clinton favorites: electronic medical records, hydrogen fuel cells and broadband Internet access. All three technology initiatives have the virtue of being high-concept but low-cost. . . .

"Not at all, said Dan Bartlett, White House communications director. 'It fits a broader theme: what is needed in this transformation of the economy.' Clinton's proposals were the ones that were scattershot, Bartlett said -- school uniforms one day and something else the next. Bush's are all organized around the retraining of workers and retooling of industry to adapt to a high-tech economy, Bartlett said."

Here's the text of Bush's remarks and a booklet about the plans.

Poll Watch

The new Pew Research Center poll finds: "President Bush's approval ratings have improved over the month of April even as Americans continue to express strong concerns about Iraq and the way the president is handling that situation."

A new Marist poll shows Bush approval flat at 51 percent.

Where Did the Money Go?

Dan Morgan writes in The Washington Post: "The ranking Democrats on the House and Senate Appropriations committees charged yesterday that the Bush administration had not complied with reporting requirements set by Congress for the use of a $40 billion emergency fund approved three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."

Today's Calendar

Julie Hirschfeld Davis writes in the Baltimore Sun: "President Bush will visit Baltimore's medical center for veterans today to promote his plan to computerize Americans' medical records within the next decade. . . .

"Bush chose to hold today's event in Baltimore because the veterans medical center has been at the forefront of the effort to develop computerized health records, said Jeanie Mamo, a White House spokeswoman."

Hacks vs. Wonks

Several weeks ago, Bruce Reed, formerly domestic policy adviser for Bill Clinton and now president of the Democratic Leadership Council, wrote an article for Washington Monthly that got a lot of people in town talking.

"Strip away the job titles and party labels, and you will find two kinds of people in Washington: political hacks and policy wonks," Reed wrote.

"In every administration, wonks and hacks fight it out. The measure of a great president is his ability to make sense of them both."

Reed charges that the hacks are running the White House. "The Bush White House is so obsessed with the politics of its agenda that it never even asks whether it will work."

Triumph of the Hacks? is the title of today's policy forum at the Cato Institute. Reed will join author Ron Suskind and former Bush speechwriter David Frum in a discussion. I'll report back.

© 2004