Anti-Kerry Vets Led by Longtime GOP Operative, Bankrolled by Bush Cronies
William McTavish – Capitol Hill Blue August 9, 2004
Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, the so-called “independent” group of Navy Vietnam vets who have launched attacks against Democratic Presidential Contender John F. Kerry, is led by a longtime Republican operative and financed by GOP contributors with strong tries to President George W. Bush.
The Republican roots of the group stretch back to former Republican President Richard M. Nixon when one of the group’s leaders, former Swift Boat commander John O’Neill, was recruited by White House chief counsel Charles Colson to debate Kerry on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971.
"We found a vet named John O'Neill and formed a group called Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace. We had O'Neill meet the President, and we did everything we could do to boost his group," Colson told reporter Joe Klein in a January 5 interview published in The New Yorker magazine.
O’Neill did not serve with Kerry in Vietnam and did not know him but Nixon was anxious to find a veteran, any veteran, to debate veteran and antiwar activist Kerry. The plan failed. The eloquent Kerry wiped the floor with O’Neill and those closest to the Republican O’Neill say he never forgave Kerry for embarrassing him on national TV.
O’Neill went on to clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, a Nixon appointee, and became a lawyer in Houston where he was active in Republican politics. In 1991, Texas Lawyer magazine reported O’Neill was on the short list for appointment to a federal judgeship in Texas by Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush. He didn’t get the appointment.
O’Neill is still working for the Republican Party as lead author of Unfit for Command: Swift Boat for Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, scheduled for release this week by right-wing publishing house Regnery. The group also bought $500,000 of airtime for a 60-second attack ad against Kerry to air in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Ohio and West Virginia.
Republicans gleefully claim Unfit for Command, is their Fahrenheit 9/11 in reference to the Michael Moore documentary that has earned more than $100 million and raises questions about Bush’s fitness for office.
It is a dubious comparison at best and ironic since Republicans also claim “Fahrenheit” is a work of fiction and those who have studied Kerry’s record in Vietnam say the same of Unfit for Command.
“These are malicious fabrications in the heat of the election,” says historian Douglas Brinkley, author of highly-acclaimed Tour of Duty, who has investigated Kerry’s service record extensively and says the claims in Unfit for Command are nothing more than the grumbling of “malcontents who have never forgiven Kerry for his actions in speaking out against the war.”
Brinkley points out that O’Neill’s primary source for Unfit for Command, Retired Admiral Roy Hoffman, has changed his claims against Kerry and has told conflicting stories.
“They seek retribution by fabricating stories to destroy Kerry,” Brinkley says. “Hoffman, in particular lacks credibility.”
On May 6, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Steve Schultze, interviewed Hoffman and wrote “Hoffmann acknowledged he had no first-hand knowledge to discredit Kerry's claims to valor and said that although Kerry was under his command, he really didn't know Kerry much personally.”
On August 5, however, Hoffman told Sean Hannity on his ABC radio show that "I knew him (Kerry) well, because I operated very closely with him and, uh, many of the operations, uh, most of the operations were-were conducted with multiple boats."
Another prominent figure in the anti-Kerry book as well as the ad denouncing Kerry, retired Lt. Commander George Elliott, recanted his statement last week in interviews with at least two news sources and then recounted his recant. Elliott also supported Kerry in his 1996 campaign and told a Boston audience that he felt the Senator "deserved the medals he won in Vietnam."
O’Neill further destroyed his credibility by appearing on CNN after assuring the network he had not spoke out publicly about Kerry this year. CNN later had to retract their claim of an “exclusive” interview after they learned O’Neill appeared on C-Span to discuss Kerry in March.
According to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s IRS and FEC filings, the group is bankrolled by two Bush friends: Texas GOP backer Bob J. Perry, who has donated more than $100,000 and Crow Holdings, a Dallas development company run by Harlan Crow, a trustee for the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library. Crow provided the bulk of the remaining budget for the group's operations, including the anti-Kerry television ads -- more than $400,000.
Perry, a Houston homebuilder, is a major financial backer of both Bush and Texas Congressman Tom DeLay. In the 1999-2000 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records, Perry gave more than $260,000 to Republican candidates and party committees. FEC filings show Crow gave more than $300,000 to GOP causes in the same cycle.
St. Louis businessman William Franke, a Missouri Republican with close ties to Attorney General John Ashcroft, is paying for the group’s web site, according to the IRS filings. Robert A. Hahn, the web site designer is a director for The Free Republic Network, a conservative Republican activist organization, as is webmaster Scott Swett.
© Copyright 2004 Capitol Hill Blue
More on Bush's own Fahrenheit 9/11
Vietnam Vets Organization Blasts Kerry in New TV Ad
DNC Lawyers Work To Muzzle Swift Boat Vets' Ad
Last updated 12/08/2004