I'm not a big Tim Russert fan, but give the man his due. Russert did a pretty good job of skewering the once-and-perhaps-future presidential aspirant, handing Kerry just enough rope to hang his nuanced self. Check out this flip-flop:
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that Iraq is less a terrorist threat to the United States now than it was two years ago?
SEN. KERRY: No, it's more. And, in fact, I believe the world is less safe today than it was two and a half years ago. [...]
The very next question:
MR. RUSSERT: Is the United States safer with the newly elected Iraqi government than we would have been with Saddam Hussein?Huh? We're less safe... and safer? Is that not another Kerry classic, along the lines of "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."?
SEN. KERRY: Sure. And I'm glad Saddam Hussein is gone, and I've said that a hundred times.
To Russert's credit, he was just warming up on the Kerry-skewering. After questioning Kerry about his evaluation of why he lost the election (Kerry blamed it on 9/11 and that people didn't want to "shift horses in midstream"), Russert zeroed in on what many (including myself) consider the real reason Kerry lost the election; the devastating SwiftVets attack on Kerry's character which exposed his true persona to the electorate:
MR. RUSSERT: You cast yourself as a potential commander in chief during the campaign, particularly at the convention, "I am John Kerry reporting for duty." [Russert pulls out a copy of "Unfit for Command" from under the desk and holds it up] What affect do you believe this book, "Unfit for Command," and the Swift Boat Veterans had on your candidacy?I'm glad that Kerry acknowledged the role of blogs in getting this story out, despite the concerted effort of the MSM to stifle it, but that's not the most damning part of his reply. Russert has just gotten Kerry to commit, on television, to his version of events as opposed to the SwiftVets. Now for the lunge:
SEN. KERRY: Well, that's for others to judge, Tim. I don't know. I mean, obviously I could have and should have responded faster and more forcefully, I think, to that. But lies and smears were proven in the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal. My crew, others, all spoke to those lies and will continue to. But, you know, there's a new communication structure in America. And I think we could have done a better job of addressing it obviously. But that wasn't--you know, what decided this race in the end was really 9/11. And, you know, I am not going to worry about the past. I am going to go forward to the future.
MR. RUSSERT: See if you could clear up one issue that I think has been left over from the campaign. And that is Steve Gardner, who was a foregunner on your PCF-44 boat, cut a commercial for the Swift Boat Veterans and made a very specific charge. Let me just show that and you can come back and talk about it a little bit.Great setup, and great question! Kerry's response is so pathetic that it is almost painful to watch:
(Videotape, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad):
MR. STEVE GARDNER: John Kerry claims that he spent Christmas in 1968 in Cambodia, and that is categorically a lie. Not in December, not in January, we were never in Cambodia on a secret mission ever.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, the New York Daily News editorial wrote an editorial, and it said this. "As for Kerry, he might ask why the Swifties' attacks have been effective. The answer is his propensity to exaggerate. ... It's looking more likely that he exaggerated, if not worse, when he claimed through the years that he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve '68. He said the memory was `seared' into him, but it's now clear Kerry was elsewhere, at least at that time. He has yet to explain. Until he does, the Swifties will have a powerful weapon in their arsenal." And they refer, Senator, to a speech on the floor in which you said that you were there, that the president of the United States was saying you were not there, that there were troops in Cambodia. You have the memory seared in you. In a letter to the Boston Herald, you remember spending Christmas Eve '68 five miles across the Cambodian border. You told The Washington Post you have a lucky hat given to you by a CIA guy "as we went in for a special mission to Cambodia." Were you in Cambodia Christmas Eve, 1968?
SEN. KERRY: We were right on the border, Tim. What I explained to people and I told this any number of times, did I go into Cambodia on a mission? Yes, I did go into Cambodia on a mission. Was it on that night? No, it was not on that night. [In other words, Kerry lied!] But we were right on the Cambodian border that night. [No you weren't. Official records place you fifty miles from Cambodia on Christmas 1968.] We were ambushed there, as a matter of fact. And that is a matter of record, and we went into the rec-- you know, it's part of the Navy records. It's been documented by the other guys who were on my boat. And Steve Gardner, frankly, doesn't know where we were. It wasn't his job, and, you know, he wasn't involved in that. But we did go five miles into Cambodia. It was on another day. I jumbled the two together, but we were five miles into Cambodia. We went up on a mission with CIA agents--I believe they were CIA agents--CIA Special Ops guys. ILet's see... Kerry's stammering response to being caught in an obvious lie is to lie some more! As others have pointed out, the Khmer Rouge were the bad guys, Communists, who were fighting the Cambodian regime which we backed at the time! Why on earth would we be supplying weapons to the group that was allied with the North Vietnamese and against the legitimate government of Cambodia? Russert has skillfully extracted a confession from Kerry; no, Kerry was not in Cambodia on Christmas 1968, and it was wrong to blame Nixon for this.
even have some photographs of it, and I can document it. And it has been documented.
MR. RUSSERT: You'll release those photographs?
SEN. KERRY: I think they were shown. I gave them to the campaign, but...
MR. RUSSERT: And you have a hat that the CIA agent gave you?
SEN. KERRY: I still have the hat that he gave me, and I hope the guy would come out of the woodwork and say, "I'm the guy who went up with John Kerry. We delivered weapons to the Khmer Rouge on the coastline of Cambodia." [I bet you do!] We went out of Ha Tien, which is right in Vietnam. We went north up into the border. And I have some photographs of that, and that's what we did. So, you know, the two were jumbled together, but we were on the Cambodian border on Christmas Eve, absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: Nixon was president-elect, not president, at that particular time. He wasn't sworn in until...
SEN. KERRY: In 1968, he wasn't sworn in yet.
MR. RUSSERT: But he was president-elect, not president.
SEN. KERRY: That's correct.
Finally, Russert gets Kerry to openly agree to something he has fought all along; the release of his military records from the government:
MR. RUSSERT: Many people who've been criticizing you have said: Senator, if you would just do one thing and that is sign Form 180, which would allow historians and journalists complete access to all your military records. Thus far, you have gotten the records, released them through your campaign. They say you should not be the filter. Sign Form 180 and let the historians...Russert should have gotten Kerry to commit to a date, i.e., "immediately." Wonder what the odds are on seeing a signed Form 180 from Kerry before 2008? BTW, for those wondering why Kerry's military records are still of intense interest to many, note that many in the know believe Kerry received a less-than-honorable discharge from the military due to his anti-war activities while still in the Navy, a discharge that was upgraded by the Carter administration. Why does this matter?
SEN. KERRY: I'd be happy to put the records out. We put all the records out that I had been sent by the military. Then at the last moment, they sent some more stuff, which had some things that weren't even relevant to the record. So when we get--I'm going to sit down with them and make sure that they are clear and I am clear as to what is in the record and what isn't in the record and we'll put it out. I have no problem with that.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you sign Form 180?
SEN. KERRY: But everything, Tim...
MR. RUSSERT: Would you sign Form 180?
SEN. KERRY: Yes, I will.
MR. RUSSERT: Jerome Corsi, the co-author of this book, says he's moving to Massachusetts and will run against you for the U.S. Senate in 2008.I think it's safe to draw a few conclusions:
SEN. KERRY: Well, that's terrific. I'm not thinking about 2008 right now, but he can do whatever he wants.
• Kerry is seriously considering another run for president in 2008
• Kerry doesn't have a chance in hell of winning re-election to the Senate, much less the presidency
If the man were anywhere near as smart as he thinks he is, he'd retire from the Senate and enjoy his wife's money in his golden years.
Note: More on Kerry and the SwiftVets here and in my August 2004 archives.
Update: Check out other takes on the Kerry appearance by Michelle Malkin, and Powerline.
Update II: Ed at Captain's Quarters catches Kerry on another flip-flop (dare I say lie?), this time on the release of his military records.
Update III: This story still won't go away... check out Powerline's latest article on the subject.