Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Kerry Versus Swift Boat Benefactor: The Transcript

Here's my transcript of John Kerry questioning Sam Fox, George W. Bush's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Belgium -- and a massive 2004 donor to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. There was a bit more than this at the start of Kerry's segment, but this is the part where Kerry questions Fox about being involved with such notorious smear merchants.

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Kerry: Let me ask a few questions that go to something that I think is important, which is a question of both a combination of citizenship and judgment, if you will, is the way I might phrase it. And I want to try to ask these questions as fairly as possible, and not try to play some kind of gotcha game here, I assure you. But it's important to me in thinking through this issue of judgment to explore this a little bit.

I assume that you believe that the truth in public life is important.

Fox: Yes, sir.

Kerry: And might I ask you what your opinion is with respect to the state of American politics, as regards the politics of personal destruction?

Fox: Senator, I am on record more than one time, several times, being interviewed by the press and particularly the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. And I am very concerned with the amount of money that's going into politics and I'm more concerned about the fact that politics has become mean and destructive. And, when I was interviewed in 2000, I said that I was very… I was for campaign finance reform because I felt that if less money was going into politics, it would turn the whole volume down. And if we turn the volume down, I would hope there would be less meanness and destructiveness.

When 527s came along, I had the very same thing to say about them. So that's the way I feel and, Senator, let me just say this: I'm against 527s, I've always been against 527s. I think, again, they're mean and destructive, I think they've hurt a lot of good, decent people.

And, Senator Kerry, I very much respect your dedicated service to this country. I know that you were not drafted -- you volunteered. You went to Vietnam. You were wounded. Highly decorated. Senator, you're a hero. And there isn’t anybody or anything that's going to take that away from you.

But yet 527s tried to.

And with the same token, on the other side of the aisle, 527s, one 527 went so far as to compare the president of the United States with Adolph Hitler. So I am on public record as being against 527s because of all the meanness and I'm against the amount of money that goes into political campaigns, for the same reason. Not once or twice, but three or four times. And I would just, I wish, that Congress could find a way to either ban 527s or at least regulate them.

Kerry: I certainly appreciate the comments you just made, Mr. Fox, and I'm not looking for anyone to call me a hero. I think that most heroes died, and do die, and those of us who are lucky enough to get out of there are lucky.

But notwithstanding the comments you made, you did see fit to contribute a very significant amount of money in October to a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, correct?

Fox: Correct.

Kerry: Why would you do that given what you just said about how bad they are?

Fox: Well, Senator, I have to put it in the proper context and bear with me. Marilyn and I have lived the American dream -- there's no question about it. My father came here with the clothes on his back and the Fox family and the Woodman family have truly lived the American dream that's been very, very good to us.

I heard someone mention here that we gave to 250 charities. I also went back and had my staff count in '05 and '06, we've made more than 1,000 contributions. More than 100 of those were political, 900 and some odd were charitable and to institutions of learning and so forth. A great deal of those had to do with basic human needs. I think it was Senator Danforth who mentioned every time he got a letter that had Harbour Group on it, he shuddered because it was going to cost him money. Marilyn and I both raise a lot of money from a lot of people.

The point I'm making is this: We ask a lot of people for money and people ask us for money. And very fortunately, we've been blessed with being successful financially and when we're asked, we generally give -- particularly if we know who gave it.

Kerry: So, well, who asked you to give to the SBVT?

Fox: I can't tell you specifically who did because, you know, I don’t remember. As a matter of fact, if I…

Kerry: You have no recollection of why you gave away $50,000?

Fox: I gave away $50,000 because I was asked to.

Kerry: But you have no recollection of who asked you to give away $50,000?

Fox: No, sir. I've given away sums much larger than that to a lot of other places and I can't tell you specifically who asked me, no.

Kerry: Well, you don’t think that's it's important as a citizen, who doesn’t like 527s to know where your money is going and how it’s going to be spent?

Fox: Well, I think with most contributors and if you go to the other side of the political campaigns and we give to individual candidates, we don’t know how they’re going to use that money and what…

Kerry: Well at least it's accountable to an individual candidate for whom people have to vote or not vote. 527s as you said are mean, ugly and not accountable.

Fox: I agree with that. I absolutely agree with that.

Kerry: Why would you give $50,000 to a group you have no sense of accountability for?

Fox: Well, because if 527s were banned, then it's banned for both parties. And so long as they’re not banned…

Kerry: So two wrongs make a right?

Fox: Well, I don’t know, but if one side is contributing then the other side…

Kerry: But is that your judgment? Is that your judgment that you would bring to the ambassadorship? That two wrongs make a right?

Fox: No, I didn’t say that two wrongs make a right, sir.

Kerry: Why would you do it then?

Fox: Well, I did it because politically, it's necessary if the other side is doing it.

Kerry: Let me ask, did you ever see on August 20, 2004, a St. Louis Dispatch editorial, wrote the following: "The smear campaign was funded and orchestrated by a coterie of Texans with strong ties to the Bush family and the president's political director, Karl Rove. The president should disown the ads and tell his friends that he wants them to stop. Mr. Bush can't wash his hands of the Swift Boat Veterans' smear because of his close personal connections with the principals. The Swift Boats Veterans on Mr. Kerry's boat including the man he pulled from the river support Mr. Kerry's version of events. So do the records documenting the medals Mr. Kerry received. The attack ads, by contrast are riddled with inconsistencies, for example…"

And it goes on.

That was in your own newspaper, in your hometown. But a month later, you nevertheless contributed to that very group that is smearing and spreading lies.

Fox: Yes, sir. All of the 527s were smearing lies. And that…

Kerry: So you see no responsibility as an individual citizen to try to guarantee that you're not going to support that kind of politics of personal destruction?

Fox: I think if one side is giving then the other side almost has to and I think that the real responsibility should rest with the Congress to either ban 527s or to certainly curtail and regulate them. That's the problem.

Kerry: So you do believe anything goes in a political campaign?

Fox: I'm sorry?

Kerry: You do believe that anything goes in a political campaign?

Fox: No, sir, I don't. In fact …

Kerry: Well, if you don’t believe it, why wouldn't you not fund it?

Fox: I had never gotten involved in the campaign side. I'd raised money, I'd contributed money. I've never gotten involved in the campaign side and I've never gotten involved in the 527 side of looking at scripts or any of that.

Kerry: Well, let me ask you as a matter of judgment, as a citizen. Don’t you think individuals ought to take some responsibility for making sure they know what they're giving money to?

Fox: Mr. Senator, when we ask lots of people for lots of money and we're asked by people for lots of money, we just generally give. I mean, we know generally what it's used for and that's it.

Kerry: And you don’t know who asked you?

Fox: No, sir, I really don’t. I do not know who asked me. If you were to take my 1,000 contributions and go right down the list, I bet you I couldn’t give you five percent of them… Of who asked me.

Kerry: Do you recall whether it was somebody in Missouri? Was it a person? Was it by telephone?

Fox: I have no recollection.

Kerry: You have no recollection of how that came about?

Fox: No, sir.

Kerry: Do you recall thinking about it at all?

Fox: No more than that somebody must have asked and I gave.

Kerry: Why, no wonder so many people are here to embrace your… What about now? How do you feel about it now -- knowing what you know today?

Fox: Mr. Senator, let me say this: Be it 527 or anything else, if I thought what they were printing was not true, I would not contribute to it. But I personally have no way of knowing, generally, when I give.

Kerry: Let me ask you about that. On August 5, 2005, John McCain called the SBVT "completely nauseating, dishonest and dishonorable." McCain pointed out "it's the same kind of deal that was pulled on me" when he ran against Bush in 2000.

On August 15, John Warner, Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and former Navy Secretary said "I can speak to the process, that we did extraordinary careful checking on that kind of medal, a very high one, that it goes through the Secretary. So I'd stand by the process that awarded Kerry that medal and I think we best acknowledge that his heroism did gain that recognition. I feel he deserved it."

He was then, incidentally, in the Navy -- he signed my award.

August 8, 2004, General Tommy Franks called the smear boat attacks "vitriolic and hyperbole."

On August 7, 2004, Mike Johannes the Republican governor of Nebraska says the ads were "trash."

Now these are Republican leaders. These are the leaders of your own party. President Bush said that he thought that my service was honorable and they shouldn’t be questioning it. Yet, even when your own candidate does that, you saw fit to put $50,000 on the line to continue the smear.

My question to you is why? When you say you couldn’t have known -- these were people very publicly condemning it. How could you not have known?

Fox: I guess, Mr. Senator, when I'm asked I just generally give.

Kerry: So, again, I ask you the question, do you think now that you and others bear responsibility for thinking about where we put money in American politics? What we're saying, what we present to the American people -- is truth important or isn’t it?

Fox: Senator, if I had reason to believe and if I were convinced that the money was going to be used to, in any untruthful or false way, knowingly, I would not give.

Kerry: Well, sir, let me ask you this question: Did you or did you not in any of the public comments being made at the time, which I assume you were following, hear or read of any of the public statements at that point in time, with respect to the legitimacy of these charges and these smears?

Fox: Mr. Senator, I can say this…

Kerry: Did you miss this: In September of 2004, Vice Admiral Ruth, with the Navy Inspector General, wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Navy that was made public -- the New York Times, the Washington Post, every major newspaper in the country carried, saying their examination found that the existing documentation regarding my medals was legitimate.

Did you miss that too?

Fox: I don’t remember those, but I'm certain at the time I must have read them.

Kerry: Do you think this should matter to me?

Fox: I'm sorry?

Kerry: Do you think this should matter to me?

Fox: Yes, I do.

Kerry: Do you think this should matter to everyone here, as a Senator?

Fox: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, going back to the time when I said I was on record and was interviewed a number of times about campaign finance reform and about less money going in, I said one of the big reasons was not just the nastiness and so forth associated with it, but the abuse the candidates had to take to run for public office, I think it's disgraceful, I think it's terrible.

But that's the world we live in. It's what it's come to. It's unfortunate, I don’t know of a campaign, a political campaign or a 527 that's ever had anything but that as part of it. And I think it's terrible -- I do. I wish there's some way it could be changed and I think the best way to change it is to restrict the amount of money that can go into campaigns and to restrict the amount of money that can go into 527s and regulate both of them even more.

Kerry: We've been trying to do that for the 22 years I've been here and one of the most effective ways to do it would be for people like yourself and others who write the checks to know what they're giving to -- and to care about it.

So you know, there's a question here, obviously of judgment and I'm not going to try to be unreasonable about it, I'm not trying to -- you know sometimes you go to these hearings and Senators rant, rave and scream and I'm not a screamer. But I do think that this is important and I know your family's here and I'm sure they’re sitting there saying 'why are they giving my dad a hard time right now?. I understand that, I'm sympathetic to it.

But I hope -- and it's not going to make a difference in the outcome of where I am -- but it's important to the future. I think it is robbing this country of legitimate dialog, of real discussion of important issues that we face and it's a tragedy that the American people have to put up with that.

The last week alone, in Ohio, $4 million was spent on those ads. $4 million. So it has profound impact, sir. And I think it's question of judgment. A question of whether we are fighting the status quo or whether we're part of the status quo. So I'm not sure where this goes with respect to this but I certainly thought it deserved to be properly vetted.