Lawyer Advising Vets Quits Bush Campaign
By SHARON THEIMER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - One of President Bush (news - web sites)'s top lawyers resigned from his campaign Wednesday, a day after disclosing that he had given legal advice to a veterans group airing TV ads challenging Democrat John Kerry (news - web sites)'s Vietnam War service. The guidance included checking ad scripts, the group said.
Benjamin Ginsberg, who also represented Bush in the 2000 Florida recount that made the Republican president, told Bush in a letter that he felt his legal work for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had become a distraction for the re-election campaign.
"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, doesn't distract from the real issues upon which you and the country should be focusing," Ginsberg wrote.
The Kerry campaign portrayed Ginsberg's departure as another sign of ties between the Bush campaign and the veterans group, which has been airing ads accusing Kerry of exaggerating his Vietnam record.
"The sudden resignation of Bush's top lawyer doesn't end the extensive web of connections between George Bush (news - web sites) and the group trying to smear John Kerry's military record," said Kerry-Edwards campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill. "In fact, it only confirms the extent of those connections."
A senior House Democrat, Michigan Rep. John Dingell (news, bio, voting record), sent a letter asking Attorney General John Ashcroft (news - web sites) to investigate the possible "illegal coordination" between the two. The Bush campaign and the veterans group have denied any coordination.
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said the campaign knew Ginsberg had other clients but didn't know he was advising the Swift Boat group until reporters began asking about it Tuesday. Ginsberg said Wednesday that the campaign didn't ask for his resignation.
Mark Russell, a spokesman for the veterans group, said it would continue to get legal advice from Ginsberg, whose work included approving ad scripts.
"He offers legal counsel to make sure everything we do is in compliance," Russell said. "We have an ongoing relationship with Ben. We're going to maintain that and we're going to leave it at that. There's an attorney-client privilege there that we're going to maintain."
The Progress for America Voter Fund, a pro-Bush group, said Wednesday that Ginsberg was also providing it with legal advice and that it planned to continue the relationship.
Having an attorney in common does not automatically make the Bush campaign and the veterans group coordinated in the eyes of the Federal Election Commission (news - web sites), nor does Ginsberg's approval of the swift boat veterans' ad scripts.
Whether the two are coordinated would depend on other factors, such as what Ginsberg did with the information he obtained about the ads, FEC spokesman Bob Biersack said.
Ginsberg said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday that he didn't advise the veterans group on strategy, nor did he tell the Bush campaign or the group what he discussed with the other.
In his letter to Bush, Ginsberg accused the media of a "stunning double standard" regarding the activities of groups supporting and opposing Kerry.
Law firms on the Democratic side are also representing both the campaign or party and outside groups running ads in the presidential race. Washington attorney Joe Sandler represents the Democratic National Committee (news - web sites) and a group airing anti-Bush ads, MoveOn.org.
DNC spokesman Jano Cabrera said that "isn't even comparable" to Ginsberg's relationship with the Bush campaign and veterans group.
"Of course a lawyer can have multiple clients," Cabrera said. "The issue here is one of deception. The Bush campaign repeatedly denied anyone on staff, including its legal counsel, had any ties to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth."
Kerry is the subject of complaints by the Bush campaign and the GOP accusing his campaign of illegally coordinating anti-Bush ads with soft-money groups on the Democratic side, allegations Kerry and the groups deny.
Neither campaign has produced proof of coordination on the part of its rival.
Separately, Kerry gained some support from a prominent Republican. Senate Armed Services Committee (news - web sites) Chairman John Warner of Virginia, a former Navy secretary, said he was confident Kerry had earned his highest military award based on the officers who had endorsed it.
"Based on persons that I knew extremely well and worked with on a regular basis, I feel that I can speak to the Silver Star, that it is a credible award," Warner said.
In Texas, Democrat Max Cleland was rebuffed when he tried to deliver a letter protesting the attack ad at Bush's ranch.
The former Georgia senator, a triple amputee from his service in Vietnam, carried a letter from several Senate Democrats who wrote Bush that "you owe a special duty" to condemn the attacks on Kerry's military service.
Cleland said he wanted to hand the letter "to a responsible officer here on the gate," but neither a Secret Service officer nor a state trooper would take it. A Texas state official and Vietnam veteran, Jerry Patterson, said he would accept the letter and offered Cleland one of his own supporting Bush. Cleland left and said he would mail the letter.
Bush and Co. They just can't stop lying!