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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Swiftboat Controversy Literally at Bush's Door Steps; Kerry Turns Attention to Iraq

Aired August 25, 2004 - 15:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: A swift resignation from the Bush camp. What does it say about links between the president and anti-Kerry forces?

John Kerry does battle on another front: revisiting the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The buck doesn't stop at the Pentagon.

ANNOUNCER: Dick Cheney and the gay marriage debate.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone.

ANNOUNCER: How are Cheney's remarks playing with Republicans counting down to the convention in New York?

Now, live from the CNN Election Express in New York, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us right here in Midtown Manhattan, a hub for New Yorkers and for tourists alike. Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center among the many landmarks. We are just a quick subway or a cab ride away from Madison Square Garden, where the Republican National Convention begins just five days from now.

President Bush is still at his ranch in Texas today, presumably gearing up for his big party. But he may well be distracted over the controversy over attacks on John Kerry's Vietnam War record. Today, the Bush camp is dealing with two developments, a sudden resignation from their own ranks and some uninvited visitors from the Kerry camp.

Let's check in now with CNN's Jill Dougherty. She is in Crawford, Texas.

Hi, Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Judy.

Well, beginning with that issue of the unexpected visitor, it really was an amazing piece of political theater playing out here in quiet Crawford, Texas. And it started with Senator -- former Senator Max Cleland.

Cleland said he had a letter signed by nine other senators, former Vietnam veterans as well, who wanted to -- and he wanted to deliver it personally to President Bush. And that letter was calling on the president to denounce the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the ones who put together those attack ads.

So, Cleland arrived here, he went over to the ranch. He didn't get in and he didn't see the president.

He was actually greeted by Jerry Patterson. Patterson is the Texas land commissioner, also a former vet himself. And President Bush asked him to take the letter, any type of letter. But Cleland refused to hand it over to Patterson. He said he wanted to give it to the president directly.

And the anger of Cleland was obvious. Here's what he said to reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAX CLELAND, FMR. SENATOR: The letter is signed by some nine distinguished members of the United States Senate, all of whom have worn the uniform. One of them, Senator Dan Inouye, is the sitting -- only member of the Senate to be sitting there as the holder of the Medal of Honor.

The question is, where is George Bush's honor? The question is, where is his shame to attack a fellow veteran who has distinguished himself in combat? Regardless of the political combat involved, it is disgraceful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: And here's where the second letter comes in, Judy. And that was a letter drafted by the Bush campaign, signed by members of Congress who are supporters of the president.

And essentially, in that letter, they said there is a double standard going on. They wanted that letter to be delivered by Patterson to Senator Cleland. But Senator Cleland did not take that letter. So, again, dueling press conferences back here talking to the media, here is what Mr. Patterson said.

JERRY PATTERSON, TEXAS OFFICIAL, VIETNAM VETERAN: Either we pull them all down or all get their piece. Either they all go down or they all have their piece. It's not -- it's not mutually exclusive.

All veterans have a right to speak. But if we have 527's, you can't selectively say, this one's good, that one's bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: So a two-word description of what went on here today coming from Scott McClellan, the press secretary to the president, calling it a political stunt -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Now, Jill, connected with all this you have the sudden resignation today of the Bush-Cheney campaign chief legal counsel, Ben Ginsberg. How did that come about and what is the connection?

DOUGHERTY: Well, the connection is that, Judy, he is a -- was a lawyer for the campaign, but he was also advising in a legal capacity those Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Now, he maintained what he did was absolutely legal. In fact, that Democrats do the same thing.

He said he was advising strictly on legal issues, like campaign finance laws very complex, and that he had no connection whatsoever to any type of advice on how to run their ads, et cetera. No advice on strategy, in other words. But he felt that, in the end, it had become such an issue that he had to step down.

That is what he did. The campaign said it's sorry about it. But that is -- that's what Ginsberg decided he had to do.

WOODRUFF: All right. A day of high drama in Crawford, Texas. Jill Dougherty following it all for us. Jill, thank you very much.

Meantime, the Kerry campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, issued this statement on Ben Ginsberg. She said, "The sudden resignation of Bush's top lawyer does not end the extensive web of connections between George Bush and the group trying to smear John Kerry's military record. In fact, it only confirms the extent of those connections. Now we know why George Bush refuses to specifically condemn these false ads."

In the meantime, the Kerry camp is set to launch a TV version of an Internet ad as part of its Swift Boat defense strategy. It features John McCain during the 2004 GOP presidential primary accusing George W. Bush of ties to a veteran's group that attacked McCain.

And, on the trail today in Ohio, John Edwards continued to defend Kerry against the Swift Boat Veterans attack, pointing a finger of blame at President Bush. Well, we're going to talk more about the Swift Boat controversy ahead with Bush campaign chairman Mark Racicot and with Kerry campaign senior strategist, Tad Devine.

In the meantime, as for John Kerry, himself, the Democrat stumping today in the showdown states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota. As CNN's Joe John reports, Kerry steered clear of swift boats and turned his attention back to Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Returning to an issue that has been giving the administration headaches for months, John Kerry let off his remarks at a union local in Philadelphia, taking a new shot at the administration for the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal.

KERRY: It's not just the little person at the bottom who ought to pay the price of responsibility. Harry Truman had that sign on his desk, and it said, "The buck stops here." The buck doesn't stop at the Pentagon.

JOHNS: Taking its cue from the release of new reports on the investigation of the Abu Ghraib cases, the campaign handed out fact sheets citing what it called failure of leadership at the highest levels, failures of planning, and failure of the secretary of defense. Kerry renewed his call for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to step down, and called for an independent investigation.

KERRY: I think he ought to appoint a commission and that commission ought to report back so that these abuses can never take place again. That's leadership and that's what ought to happen.

JOHNS: Still, the main campaign message Wednesday was on jobs and the economy, promoting 10 top economists who have endorsed his proposals, while the Bush administration was arguing that Kerry's numbers don't add up.

(on camera): In Philadelphia, the Swift Boat controversy came up. Kerry essentially sidestepped it and moved on to talk about the war on terror.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: That was our Joe Johns reporting a little earlier today from Philadelphia.

Well, Vice President Cheney also is campaigning in Pennsylvania one day after giving supporters and critics alike something to talk about: his stand on gay marriage. CNN's Ed Henry is traveling with Cheney.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Vice President Cheney's bus tour is rolling through northeastern Pennsylvania, a region rich in coal and a state rich in electoral votes. Twenty-one, to be precise.

That's why President Bush has visited this state 32 times as president. This is the 14th trip for Vice President Cheney. Polls currently show, however, that John Kerry is leading by about six points in a state that both sides want desperately.

At a raucous rally that just wrapped up in tiny Potsville, Pennsylvania, Vice President Cheney said this election is not about the next four years. It's about the next 40 to 50 years and how America will be shaped. In fact, Cheney charged that the Democratic ticket is wrong on everything from taxes to terrorism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: It's simply wrong to vote to commit our troops to combat and then refuse to provide them with the resources they need. We need a president who will back our troops 100 percent. And that's exactly what we've got in George W. Bush.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: The vice president started the day at Wilkes College in Wilkesbury, Pennsylvania, at a town hall meeting. Unlike Tuesday, however, the subject of gay marriage never came up at this town hall meeting.

As you remember, the vice president made a little bit of news by reiterating his long-held position that he believes this is a matter to be dealt with by states, not the federal government. Democrats pounds on that statement, saying that the vice president is at odds with his own president and also at odds with the Republican platform that is being crafted right now in New York in advance of the Republican National Convention.

Aides say the vice president was repeating what he has said before, that the only new element is that he spoke personally about his daughter, Mary, who is a lesbian. Mary Cheney is back -- is traveling with the vice president right now. She's here in Pennsylvania. She is not on stage, but she is a campaign aide to the vice president, and she was mentioned by Lynne Cheney at two different stops, the fact that she is traveling. She takes a more behind the scenes role, however.

Now, there also is the fact that this bus tour is an effort by the campaign to humanize Mr. Cheney a little bit in advance of the convention. And, in fact, the vice president mentioned that this Sunday will be his 40th wedding anniversary at this rally. Someone shouted out, "Forty more years." The vice president joked, he would only commit to four more years.

Ed Henry, CNN, with the vice president, in Potsville, Pennsylvania.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: They look pretty human to us. Well, we're going to have more on Dick Cheney, gay marriage and the GOP platform, including a debate between a conservative and a gay Republican.

Plus, the state of security in New York and the brink of the GOP convention. And a take on the political scene from state party chairs.

And new poll numbers from New Jersey on the Jim McGreevey saga and whether it's affecting the race for the White House.

With 69 days until the election, this is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Some urgent news from Iraq. These pictures coming in to us live.

Reuters is reporting that the U.S. military has launched airstrikes in position in Najaf. The Imam Ali shrine in that city has been the scene of a standoff between Iraq troops, backed by U.S. soldiers, and fighters loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. We wanted to update you on that breaking news out of Iraqi. And, of course, CNN will keep you informed as we learn about developments on the ground in Iraq as well.

In the meantime, back here in New York City, Tom Ridge is here in the Big Apple to get a first-hand look at security preparations for the Republican convention. After visiting the New York Stock Exchange this morning, the secretary of Homeland Security paid a visit to police headquarters, and he took a tour of mobile police command centers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I can tell you that the security plans are strong and comprehensive and as well coordinated as any that we've had around any event. Federal, state and local officials are working hard and they're working together around the clock to ensure that absolutely nothing is left to chance. We are prepared.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Authorities say that security costs at this convention could go over $60 million.

Well, with me now to talk about the Republican convention and the Bush-Kerry battle in New York State are the state Republican chairman -- Sandy Treadwell is here with me in Manhattan. And up in Albany, the chairman of the Democratic Party of the state of New York. He is Denny Farrell.

Mr. Farrell, thank you for being with us. Let me start with you. Are Democrats going to welcome all these Republicans with open arms? How are you going to greet them?

DENNY FARRELL, NEW YORK DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN: Well, the -- the city of New York will open them with open arms. And we're all Democrats and Republicans. But the Democratic Party will have a lot to say about what's going on here in this charade.

They'll try to act like they're moderates, and we know they're conservatives. And we're going to get that message out.

WOODRUFF: Is that what it is, a charade?

SANDY TREADWELL, NEW YORK GOP CHAIRMAN: Not at all, Denny. I think Denny's probably a little bitter that his convention wasn't in New York. So lighten up, Denny. It's -- we're going to have a great party here. It's going to be a great celebration.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about the politics of New York State. This is well known to be a majority Democratic state. Any chance George W. Bush can pull off a win in your state?

TREADWELL: I think President Bush is going to surprise a lot of people in our state on Election Day. Yes, he's down in the polls now in our state. And my friend, Denny Farrell, outnumbers my side by two million. But President Bush has bonded with New Yorkers, and he bonded on September 11.

And that bond is firm. And I think when the people go into the voting booth on November 2, they're going to think about who they want to lead this country in the war on terror, who do they want to protect our homeland. And that's going to be President Bush, and he'll do well in New York.

WOODRUFF: Denny Farrell, a lot of focus in the campaign, however, right now, not on what's going on right now in this country, but on John Kerry's service in Vietnam 30 years ago. Is your nominee well served by this debate?

FARRELL: I think the real issue really is not what happened 35 years ago, but what's happened in the last four years. And I think people are going to talk about that. And when we talk about that, and get into that debate, which is a debate the -- the president does not want to get into, are you better off today than you were four years ago, the answer is a resounding "No."

And, by the way, I didn't say hello to my friend, Sandy. You've got to stop going too close to those open bottles. When you start thinking the only surprise we'll get is if we find out and we win with a bigger victory than we anticipated, that's going to be the big surprise. We're going to get a two million-vote plurality in New York State. That will be 400,000 more votes than we did four years ago when we beat you then.

TREADWELL: Well...

WOODRUFF: Sandy Treadwell, go ahead. What were you going to say?

TREADWELL: No, I was going to say, let's look at the large result, Denny, on November 2, when President Bush is reelected for a second term.

(CROSSTALK)

FARRELL: If we look at the larger vote -- if we look at the larger vote four years ago, we won that one also.

WOODRUFF: What about his larger point, that -- I mean, he called it a charade. He said Republicans are putting moderate voices up as speakers at the convention, when the party, the platform, the president much more conservative than that.

TREADWELL: Well, we are a huge, diverse party. And I think one of the thrills of the convention is it's all of America in one room. And the over-arching issue of our party now is the war on terrorism, and the president's firm resolve and strong leadership.

And our party, although we disagree on some issues, being huge and being geographically spread around the country, there are a lot of issues that bind us. Issues like smaller government and lower taxes.

WOODRUFF: Are you comfortable with language in the party platform basically embracing the president's position on gay marriage, saying there should be a U.S. constitutional amendment to gay marriage?

TREADWELL: Well, Judy, the platform is being worked on as we speak. And we have two wonderful representatives doing that through the day and probably through the night.

WOODRUFF: But the assumption is that's the language that's going to be in there.

TREADWELL: Well, obviously, I hugely support President Bush and his leadership, and our party does as well in New York.

WOODRUFF: All right. Ducking the question, but doing it with a smile, Sandy Treadwell, is the chair of the Republican Party here in New York State.

Thank you very much.

Denny Farrell, who's the chair of the Democratic Party, it's great to see you both. We appreciate it. Thank you very much.

FARRELL: Thank you, Sandy.

WOODRUFF: Well, new television ads criticizing both Bush and Kerry. We're going to look at the airwaves next in our "Campaign News Daily."

Also, New Jersey's governor also faces a critical new ad as Republicans increase the pressure for him to step aside earlier than planned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: We're right here in Midtown Manhattan, reporting, as we count the days leading up to the Republican National Convention. Right now, we check the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily."

For the second day in a row, a new poll finds George Bush leading John Kerry in the showdown state of Arizona. A new survey by Arizona State University and KAET Television gives Bush 47 percent and Kerry 39 percent among registered voters. The Arizona poll we reported yesterday gave Bush a five-point edge over Kerry.

The anti-Bush MoveOn.org political action committee is launching 10 new TV ads. The spots are scheduled to be released one week until Election Day. The ads are produced by various Hollywood actors and producers, all of whom oppose Bush's re-election. Matt Damon, Rob Reiner and Rebecca Romane (ph) are among those who helped to create the ad.

A political group that supports Bush's re-election has purchased TV ad time in two showdown states. The Progress for America Voter Fund is spending almost $2 million to air two different spots in Wisconsin and Iowa. The ads question John Kerry's past Senate votes on military and intelligence issues. The group ran the same two ads earlier this summer in Nevada and New Mexico.

The Kerry campaign is making a play for Republican voters who may be unhappy with the Bush administration. The Kerry campaign says the leaders of Republicans Vote Kerry-Edwards include former Nixon and Reagan White House officials, as well as a retired Navy rear admiral.

Well, next door in New Jersey, John Kerry appears to be in good shape in a head-to-head match-up against George W. Bush. The latest Quinnipiac University poll gives Kerry a 12-point advantage over Bush, 51-39.

Garden State voters are split, however, on Governor Jim McGreevey and his decision to wait until November 15 before leaving office. Forty-six percent say he should leave immediately, while 48 percent say he should wait.

Governor McGreevey made his first public appearance today since announcing nearly two weeks ago that he was resigning after having a homosexual affair. He signed two bills into law, but he made no comments about his decision to leave office.

Also today, RNC chairman, Ed Gillespie, travels to New Jersey. I'm sorry. We're going to break in here.

There is comment from Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, on events earlier today in Texas on the Swift Boat controversy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How would you characterize or respond to what happened today here in Crawford (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, you know, Senator Kerry says that he wants to talk about the issues. Today's political stunt is an interesting way of showing it. If Senator Kerry was serious about focusing on the issues, he would join the president in calling for a stop to all these ads by these shadowy groups.

The president has focused on the issues and his agenda. And he's focused on the clear choices that the American people face. He has done that throughout the campaign. It appears that Senator Kerry is really just trying to divert attention from his out of the mainstream record and his out of the mainstream views. And I think that's what you're seeing more of today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Mr. Patterson told us that the campaign wrote the letter he delivered (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And in that letter is says there should be no double speak, standard for our right to speech. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And the president called and thanked him.

Does the president believe that all veterans have the right to speak out? Or does he believe that all of these ads should be...

MCCLELLAN: Well, actually, Senator Kerry has -- Senator Kerry's campaign has made that very comment. And I think he was speaking as a veteran, Commissioner Patterson was speaking as one of those veterans.

In terms of the letter itself, you might want to ask the campaign about it. I'm sure they'd be glad to talk to you more about it.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: The president -- the president believes this campaign should be focused on the issues, and it should be focused on the differences that face the voters. Senator Kerry says that's what he wants this campaign to be about, yet today's political stunt was just the latest example that he really isn't interested in talking about the issues.

He doesn't want to talk about his record. He doesn't want to talk about his out of the mainstream views. And that's what you're seeing more of today.

Let me go to Ben. Thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did he choose to...

MCCLELLAN: I know we want to have it back and forth between you two, but I'll try to get around to everybody else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did he choose Jerry Patterson? I mean, Patterson said he hadn't been involved in the campaign (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

MCCLELLAN: I'm sure -- like I said, I'm sure the campaign would be glad to talk to you more about some of the arrangements for today. He was here representing the campaign and speaking on behalf of veterans who support the president.

Go ahead, Bob.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Ben Ginsberg had nothing to do with the Swift Boat (UNINTELLIGIBLE), why did he resign?

MCCLELLAN: I think he stated very clearly in his letter. He talked about how he supported the president's re-election efforts, yet he did not want to be a distraction to the campaign and be a distraction to the issues that are before us.

This was a decision that he made. Ben Ginsberg is someone who is an expert on election laws. And I know a lot of people go to him to talk to him. And we respect his decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Scott, you say it's a political stunt. Wasn't the Bush campaign party to this stunt by issuing its own letter to be given to...

MCCLELLAN: Well, what we have continued to do, Jill, is to call on Senator Kerry to join us in condemning all of these ads by these shadowy groups that are funded by unregulated soft money. There shouldn't be a double standard. There should be one standard. And the president has been on the receiving end of more than $63 million in negative attacks from these shadowy groups. He knows what it's like. He has -- he has seen what these groups have done.

There's a bigger issue involved here, and that's why we continue to call on Senator Kerry to join us in calling for an end to all of this activity and all of these ads. Senator Kerry's moment of truth keeps coming and going, yet he continues to refuse to join us in calling for a stop to all of these ads by these shadowy groups -- Dana.

WOODRUFF: White House spokesman Scott McClellan meeting with reporters today just outside Crawford, Texas. As you could tell, he was commenting on the arrival at the Bush ranch in Crawford today of Max Cleland, the former Georgia senator, Jim Rassmann, both allied with the Kerry campaign, trying to deliver a letter to the president, urging him to condemn the so-called Swift Boat Veterans For Truth attack ads on John Kerry. You just heard Scott McClellan say this is John Kerry's way of trying to divert attention away from his own record. This is a story we're following. The second half hour of INSIDE POLITICS from New York City begins right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: John Kerry puts on his boxing gloves.

JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Bush campaign and its allies have turned to the tactics of fear and smear.

ANNOUNCER: The Democratic presidential nominee keeps the Swift Boat stories in the spotlight. Is Kerry getting political mileage out of the controversy?

A family fight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our party can't have it both ways. We can't have the folks sitting in this room crafting a vicious mean-spirited platform and then our party trying to put lipstick on the pig by sticking Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger in prime time.

ANNOUNCER: From gay marriage to stem sell research to immigration, moderates and conservatives argue over the Republican party platform.

Now live from the CNN Election Express in New York JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back to New York City, soon to become the unofficial temporary headquarters for the Republican party. This city already teaming with GOP insiders as well as political reporters like us and pundits. Many are wondering if the big Swift Boat controversy will have faded at all by the time the convention opens in Madison Square Garden next Monday. Well, there is no let-up in the Swift Boat sparring today, prompted in part by the resignation of a top lawyer for the Bush campaign. Benjamin Ginsberg stepped down after revealing that he had also advised the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth group attacking John Kerry's military record. Ginsberg said he's leaving because he has become a distraction, not because of anything that he had done wrong.

The Kerry camp says Ginsberg's resignation only confirms the connection between President Bush and the Swift Boat Veterans.

While Senator Kerry was on the campaign trail today, his allies stayed on Swift Boat damage control. In recent days Kerry has moved from defense to offense on this issue. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider looks at Kerry's strategy and what he hopes to accomplish.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Political experts know every negative attack carries the risk of blow back.

DAVID GERGEN, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: While negative ads work in a short term, if they're seen as unfair, as below the belt, as smear tactics, they can backfire on the candidate in the long term.

SCHNEIDER: The Kerry campaign is trying to create blow back against President Bush for the Swift Boat Veterans' attacks on Kerry's Vietnam war record.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This claim that John Kerry's service in Vietnam over 30 years ago back in 1968, that his service was not proud nor honorable, it's a lie. And the American people now know that it's a lie.

SCHNEIDER: Since President Bush has refused to denounce the attacks, Kerry is pinning responsibility on him.

KERRY: The Bush campaign and allies have turned to the tactics of fear and smear.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats are trying to show a pattern.

JOHN PODESTA, FMR. CLINTON CHIEF OF STAFF: We saw it in 2000 when this crowd -- not this group but this crowd went after Senator McCain. We saw it in 2002 when they went after Max Cleland. It's about the politics of personal destruction.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats are still outraged over the attacks on Cleland, a disabled Vietnam veteran defeated in his bid for reelection to the Senate.

Now, Cleland has dramatized the issue by going to Crawford, Texas in an unsuccessful effort to deliver a letter of protest personally by President Bush.

MAX CLELAND (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: This president has gone after three Vietnam veterans in four years. That's got stop.

SCHNEIDER: The third is McCain, a Vietnam prisoner of war whose confrontation with Bush over this issue in 2000 is featured in a Kerry Internet ad that is about to be released for TV.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (D), ARIZONA: George Bush had a vent and he paid for it and stood next to a spokesman for a fringe veterans group. That fringe veteran said that John McCain had abandoned the veterans. I don't know how -- if you can understand this, George, but that really hurts.

SCHNEIDER: At first, Democrats treated the attacks as a threat. Now, they're treating them as an opportunity.

EDWARDS: These ads were intended -- that have been running now for about three weeks -- they were intended to attack the character of John Kerry. In fact, they've shown us something about the character of George W. Bush.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The second Swift Boat Veterans ad which attacks Kerry for his anti-war activism after he returned from Vietnam is potentially more damaging but by challenging the credibility of his attackers, Kerry may succeed in blunting the impact of that ad -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thank you very much. We have two different, very different campaign views of the whole Swift Boat debate. I'm going to talk with Kerry senior strategist Tad Devine in just a moment but first we're joined by Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot.

Marc Racicot, why won't the president do as Senator Kerry asked and Max Cleland and all the others who are allied with John Kerry and that is to specifically condemn these attack ads on John Kerry's service in Vietnam?

MARC RACICOT, BUSH CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: In fact, the president has denounced all of these ads, Judy. The fact of the matter is he's the only one with a principled position here. We filed before the FEC back in April to try and eliminate all of these ads. We asked the Democrats to join us. We've asked Senator Kerry to join us. They've all declined. The fact of the matter is it appears as if Senator Kerry wants to leave all of these ads except for some that he doesn't like. It's a very disingenuous position to try and occupy. It's quite hypocritical. The president said, look, I denounce all these ads, including this ad.

So they've tried to, I think, make a silk purse out of a sow's ear here and it's just not working.

WOODRUFF: But Marc Racicot, what we heard today from Max Cleland, what we've heard from other Kerry allies is they're making a distinction. They're saying these ads specifically, they are scurrilous, they're untruthful. And we heard Max Cleland today and Jim Rassman say these besmirch the reputation of all the other Vietnam veterans that served with John Kerry.

RACICOT: Well, Judy, the president has denounced all of them. When someone said, this ad? He said, yes, this ad, included all of them. Let's rid the system of all of these ads.

I set about by signing a law to try and eliminate this process from the campaign. The fact of the matter is the opposition is smearing this president in this campaign with their allegations about what it is that's taking place. They're alleging criminal conduct on behalf of this campaign and on behalf of the president. They're alleging that people are lying, including the president of the United States.

So the fact is they simply will not join the joint effort. They want to move away from talking about John Kerry's record. We want to talk about his defense posture. We want to talk about the fact he simply voted for war in Iraq and then turned his back on the appropriations that were going to allow for our soldiers and sailors to be safe and secure. We want to talk about energy, we want to talk about taxes, we want to talk about education. John Kerry is the one that does not want to talk about these things and wants to seize the moment and try and somehow imply that the Bush campaign is involved in these activities, which we are not.

WOODRUFF: Well, they are saying that -- among other things, they're saying that they can't get on to these other issues until the president specifically denounces these ads. But what about their allegation that there's a connection between the Bush campaign attacks on John McCain and his record back in 2000, the attacks on Max Cleland two years ago and then these ads today?

RACICOT: It's an absolute fabrication. There's absolutely not one scintilla of evidence or suggestion to support. I'm telling you plainly, there is no coordination between this campaign and any 527 group. None, absolutely none. I can't understand why it is that now all of a sudden Senator Kerry wants to paint himself as a victim when $63 million worth of campaign advertising has been spent against the president calling him everything from a liar to man who wants to poison pregnant women. We don't hear a peep out of the opposition until this moment when some ads come up that they don't like. We join them in saying, OK, let's get rid of all of them, let's denounce all of them. Let's remove all of them, if we can, from this process. The retort from them is, oh, no, we just want to get rid of some of the ones we don't like.

So the president has denounced all of them and wants to move on with a discussion of the issues. And they continue to run away from that principal position.

WOODRUFF: All right, Marc Racicot, we're going to leave it there but we're immediately going to hear the other side and bring in Kerry campaign senior strategist, Tad Devine. Tad Devine, you heard what Marc Racicot is saying, essentially that your campaign is trying to run away from the issues by singling out some ads that are no worse than the ads that have been run against George W. Bush. TAD DEVINE, KERRY CAMPAIGN SR. STRATEGIST: Judy, I'm stunned by what the governor said. I don't know what world he's living in. Two people have resigned from the Bush campaign in five days because of connections to these Swift Boat Veterans.

I mean, it is unbelievable. First the veterans adviser is forced to resign. Today the general counsel of the Bush campaign, forced to resign. There is a web of connections here which is growing by the hour. And until the president does the right thing, stand up and tell the American people that these ads are dishonest and dishonorable, he'll be failing on his obligations as commander in chief.

WOODRUFF: But they're saying, and you heard him, that for the president to do that, that he has already condemned all these 527 independent group ads, and they're saying it's up to John Kerry to condemn the ads that are being run by the pro-Kerry independent groups that are smearing George W. Bush.

DEVINE: Judy, that's a red herring. I mean, listen, this is a very dishonest campaign, it's a campaign of smear and lies that has been launched against John Kerry, a decorated combat veteran. The president of the United States could do the right thing.

Three weeks ago, John McCain challenged him, he said, Mr. President, stand up and join me in disavowing these ads. And every day that goes by that the president refuses to disavow them just proves the case. There are connections here.

Today they sent out the land commissioner from Texas to attack Max Cleland. In fact, that land commissioner took $150,000 from Bob Perry, the guy who originally financed the Swift Boat campaign. This web of connections is everywhere you turn and it's catching up with the president.

WOODRUFF: Well, what about Scott McClellan's point, Tad Devine, the White House spokesman said a little while ago that this is just an effort on John Kerry's part to divert attention from the issues that the country wants to hear about, from the issues that make up his own record as a public servant, as a member of the U.S. Senate?

DEVINE: Judy, nothing could be further from the truth. John Kerry yesterday outlined choices that the American people face today. He's talking about real issues, the economy. He has been talking aobut healthcare.

We'd love a debate on the issues. But George Bush has decided to try to do to John Kerry what he did to John McCain and what his allies did to Max Cleland. And it's not going to work this time. I mean, it is simply not going to work.

John Kerry is prepared to debate his record. He is prepared to debate what happened in his service to this country, which is honorable. And he is, most of all, prepared to debate the issues.

The president's record on job creation is a shambles, four million Americans have lost their health insurance. We have an energy crisis today because of the president's policies. And this nation is not safe and more secure because of George Bush, particularly because of the situation in Iraq.

So we'd love to debate those issues. But the president started this, and I'm telling you right now, John Kerry is going to finish it.

WOODRUFF: All right. We're going to leave it there. Tad Devine, a senior adviser to the John Kerry campaign. We've heard from both sides now. If anybody had any doubt that this is issue is still front and center in this election, those doubts erased by now.

By the way colleague Wolf Blitzer will be interviewing Ben Ginsberg, the Bush campaign lawyer who did resign today, that's at 5 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Well, here in New York, GOP officials are working on and in some cases fighting over the party's platform. Coming up, we're going to get an update on one of the most divisive issues, gay marriage.

Plus, a conservative and a gay Republican will join us to debate the politics of same sex marriage.

And we'll find out how Vice President Cheney's disagreement with the president figures in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Well, we've been telling you about how Republicans have descended on Manhattan and they're hammering out some of the details in their party platform today, including planks on gay marriage and abortion, among other issues.

CNN's Bob Franken has more on the debates under way inside the GOP.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This discussion is not orderly, but there is some complication.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), GOP PLATFORM CHAIRMAN: A lot of issues weren't around four years ago that we're addressing.

FRANKEN: Issues like stem cell research, immigration, gay marriage, particularly since Vice President Cheney has gone off the reservation a bit on gay marriage.

CHENEY: Freedom means freedom for everyone, people ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.

FRANKEN: Conservatives weren't all too pleased about that, particularly since they are pleased by the president's support for a federal constitutional amendment.

GARY BAUER, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN VALUES: It's not helpful when the vice president makes a statement like that. FRANKEN: Conservatives on a platform subcommittee were able to flex their muscles, getting not only the gay marriage constitutional ban approved, but wording that restricts to husband and wife any legal marital benefits, thereby upsetting the Log Cabin Coalition, the group for gay Republicans.

CHRIS BARRON, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: That our party can't have it both ways, we can't have the folks sitting in this room crafting a vicious, mean-spirited platform and then our party trying to put lipstick on the pig by sticking Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger in prime time.

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R-MS), GOP PLATFORM SUBCMTE. CHMN.: This is the conservative party of the United States. The Democrats are the liberal party. Most Republicans are pro-life, but there's plenty of room in our party for pro-choice Republicans.

FRANKEN: Republicans for Choice group says that's merely platitude since the party is on its way once again to approving a call for a constitutional amendment banning abortion.

ANN STONE, REPUBLICANS FOR CHOICE: This is to give to Senator Bill Frist at the end of the platform hearing because these are the marbles apparently the Republican Party has lost.

FRANKEN: The one issue that Committee Chairman Frist still has to wrestle with is immigration. The president has expressed his support for amnesty in some occasions for illegals, much to the chagrin of many in the party.

FRIST: Immigration is one that hasn't been fully discussed in the national arena.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: Translation: They have not reached a compromise on immigration, but as gay rights and abortion, the opposition will be heartfelt but futile, because, Judy, as I said, the Republicans do like order, thank you.

WOODRUFF: Even though there are some on the other side.

FRANKEN: Oh yes. The Republicans insist that they're a diverse party, just like the Democrats have.

WOODRUFF: OK. Bob Franken, good to see you in Manhattan.

When we come back, could a hardline stance on same sex marriage cost the Republican Party the election in November? Some members of the party say that's exactly what could happen. We'll hear from both sides just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As we're hearing, some conservative Republicans are pushing for their party to take a hard line stance on a divisive issue, they are backing a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage supported by President Bush but not Vice President Cheney.

With me now, Tony Perkins, he is president of the Family Research Council. Thank you for being with us.

And in Washington, Patrick Guerriero, the executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, a group that pushes gay rights.

Gentleman, it's good to have you both.

Tony Perkins, to you first, vice president's Cheney's statement yesterday he does differ with the president. We knew this was the case but he's made it clear now. Is this a problem do you think. Does this make you doubt how firm the party's position is going to be.

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: It's troubling, obviously. But I don't think too much should be read into this to question the president's position. I think the administration in many ways has given the vice president some latitude on this because his daughter, a lesbian. And hey, the vice president is a father. He's man. He has emotions. He has feelings. And we understand that. But when it comes to public policy, the concern is these personal situations dictating his support of public policy or being against it. And that's where we have a problem, is allowing 3 percent of the population to dictate the definition of marriage.

WOODRUFF: Patrick Guerriero, in Washington. Now, that it's clear where the vice president stands, does it give you any hope you can get the kind of support for your position, which is getting the president to change his mind?

PATRICK GUERRIERO, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: We're realistic about where the president stands. I think Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council owe the vice president an apology. They went on the attack minutes after a devoted father recognized his devoted gay daughter and said she should be able to make decisions about who she spends her life with, have that freedom.

They attacked him almost immediately. And what this is a reminder if the Republican party focuses on divisive cultural issues, it devised our party, it divides our country and it actually divides even the White House. We should be focusing on the war on terrorism, that's why the convention is taking place in New York and I look forward to joining you in the next several days in New York. The far rights anti-gay politics divide the American family. That's bad for George Bush, and it's bad for the future of the Republican Party.

WOODRUFF: What about that?

PERKINS: Well, I would say the far right, there seems to be 70 percent of the public, if this is the far right that wants to see marriage preserved between the union as one man and one woman. And as I just said, we certainly see the vice president having latitude to say, to vocalize his support of his daughter and his situation, that's fine. But when it comes to public policy one's personal situation should not dictate the policy for the rest of the country. And that's where we draw the line. WOODRUFF: Tony could the...

GUERRIERO: Tony knows that both John Kerry and George Bush oppose gay marriage. This is a brand-new issue for the country. What the Republican draft that we saw today was very insulting to 1 million gay and lesbian conservatives who voted for the president in 2000. It was insulting to the millions of pro-choice men and women who voted for George Bush in 2,000. It was insulting to swing voters who want this election to be about winning the war on terrorism and jump- starting the American economy. Anti-gay rhetoric in the mist of a war on terrorism does not serve the president well.

WOODRUFF: Patrick Guerriero, quickly, is there going to be a floor fight over this question of the anti-gay marriage amendment?

GUERRIERO: We're going to fight within the platform committee today. We're going to take it to the delegates and our friends who are all speaking in prime time, I might add, instead of Jerry Falwell and Rick Santorum. And if that doesn't work, we'll take our case to the American people. There's too much at stake and we should be focusing on issues that unite all Americans.

PERKINS: Interesting, in this process of committee and the sub committees, there's unanimity. It's unanimous, that the people support the president's position on marriage. And so, Patrick and some of his friends, Patrick is a great guy and we welcome them into the party. But we're not going to allow a small segment to dictate the policy that influences the policy of not only the federal level, but the state level.

WOODRUFF: What about his point that the speakers at this convention are more moderate?

PERKINS: I would not disagree with that. We brought that point up ourselves. But we feel like the platform, especially in light of the vice presidents statement should be very consistent with the president's position and as it stands it is.

WOODRUFF: Tony Perkins, Family Research Council, Patrick Guerriero, with the Log Cabin Republicans, gentlemen we appreciate it. Talking with you both in the days to come. Thanks very much.

INSIDE POLITICS continues in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

So, that's it for this Wednesday edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff, my friends at "CROSSFIRE" are coming right up.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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