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Smeared by Ginsberg

BENJAMIN L. Ginsberg is the smoking gun. As national counsel to Bush-Cheney for five years, he has operated continuously at the center of President Bush's political organization. He was James Baker's right-hand man during the 2000 Florida recount challenge.

When Ginsberg aided the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's untruthful, scurrilous attacks on Senator John Kerry's Vietnam War record, he established a strong and obvious connection between the president's campaign and the smear.

Ginsberg is right, of course, in saying lawyers represent all kinds of legally unconnected clients. But his suggestion that there is no political connection in this case is persiflage.

Here we have a group of bitter veterans who detest Kerry's leadership in opposing the war 30 years ago and are willing to say almost anything -- frequently contradicting their own earlier statements -- to hurt Kerry's candidacy. They turn to Bush's top political lawyer for advice on campaign finance laws and then to one of Bush's top campaign contributors to fund their attack ads.

No memo trail needs to be found linking Bush personally to Ginsberg and the veterans' group; the connection is apparent.

For far too long this attack has worked to Bush's advantage. Even when Kerry and other veterans were defending his war service effectively, Vietnam headlines were obscuring stories on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses, rising deficits, growing poverty, declining health coverage, and more soldiers dying nearly every day in Iraq.

Ginsberg resigned his Bush campaign position with unintended comedy, saying he was saddened that his role had "become a distraction from the critical issues at hand in this election." Was he suggesting this bogus smear is a critical issue?

Now the politics of the issue seems to be catching up with the facts. The story is no longer Vietnam but the smear. Bush, realizing that the tide has turned against him, is trying to back-pedal and change the subject -- proposing yesterday that both campaigns join in challenging the so-called 527 groups, like the veterans and some Democratic and Republican groups, that use unregulated "soft" political contributions from wealthy donors and special interests to influence campaigns. There is a legitimate 527 issue. The members of the Federal Election Commission, appointed by Bush and Bill Clinton, have betrayed their office by not reining in groups that are too closely aligned with both campaigns.

But that is not the issue with the anti-Kerry veterans. The issue is Bush -- his refusal to condemn a patently false attack, his willingness to try to reap some political reward on the cheap, his utter lack of leadership in brushing off the role played by his close political aides. 

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