Video: ‘Accountability time’
updated 4/27/2004 8:59:11 PM ET 2004-04-28T00:59:11

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumed Democratic nominee for president, accused President Bush on Tuesday of having knowingly exaggerated evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, saying the president made “colossal mistakes” before, during and after the war.

Kerry’s charge, the sharpest accusation he has lodged on the president’s conduct of the war, came a day after the Bush campaign, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, unleashed a major assault on Kerry’s military record and his opposition to the Vietnam War.

“We know that the president and the White House exaggerated material that they were given purposefully, even though they were told otherwise,” Kerry said in an interview on MSNBC-TV’s “Hardball.”

“We know they gave misinformation, and yet the president says he’s never made a mistake,” he said, referring to Bush’s statement during a news conference this month that he could not remember a major misstep he had made during his administration.

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‘Because they could’
He accused Bush and his advisers of having gone to war in Iraq simply “because they could.”

“I think it comes down to this larger ideological, neocon concept of fundamental change in the region,” he said. But “they misjudged exactly what the reaction would be and what they could get away with.”

Video: ‘Misjudged ... what they could get away with’

“I think the president has made some colossal mistakes," Kerry said, “not the least of which is taking our nation to war in a way that was rushed, that pushed our allies away from us, that is costing the American people billions of dollars more than it ought, that is putting our young soldiers at greater risk they they ought to be, without a plan to win the peace. And he broke his promise to go to war as a last resort.”

Kerry sat for the interview Tuesday during his bus tour through four Midwestern states, on which he had hoped to highlight the loss of jobs during the Bush presidency.

In the “Hardball” interview, he said “there are all kinds of things we can do that this administration hasn’t done” to create new jobs.

“George Bush has had four years to come here, sit down with the mayors, work with these issues,” he said. “He just ignores them, gives a big tax cut to the wealthiest people, and people are hurting more and more.”

But for a second straight day, the Republican questions about his antiwar activism and the credibility of one of his three Purple Hearts dominated the day’s news.

Defense of war record
Kerry said several times under questioning from “Hardball” host Chris Matthews that he had historically refused to criticize Americans who did not serve in the military during the Vietnam War. But he said the rules had changed since the Bush campaign began aggressively questioning his military record.

Kerry said it was “accountability time” for Bush and Cheney, criticizing them for having launched heavy attacks during the 2000 presidential campaign questioning the heroism of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who spent 5½ years in a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp, and Democratic Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, who returned from Vietnam a paraplegic.

Video: ‘George Bush has had four years’

Bush served in a stateside Air National Guard assignment, while Cheney, who received three student and family deferments, did not serve in the military.

“I think it’s an effort by the Republicans to do what they always do,” Kerry said. “I'm not going to let them do it. It shows how desperate they are.”

Kerry defended his own antiwar activism, which began after he returned from two tours of duty in Vietnam, as “honorable and in the best values and traditions of America, and I'm proud of that.”

“I’ve never expressed anything except pride for our actions,” specifying that he meant not only himself but also his fellow sailors. “I’m proud of our service. I said that in the days after I came back from Vietnam, even though things were happening in larger policy that I thought were wrong, and I talked about them.”

Kerry said he had not seen a statement his campaign issued Tuesday accusing Bush of receiving special treatment during his service in the Guard and of failing to prove that he showed up for duty during part of his service. But he said the president had a responsibility to lay such questions to rest.

“You know why he should answer that question? Because I answered the questions,” said Kerry, who remained largely silent earlier this year when the controversy over Bush’s military record flared anew.

“I’ve never begrudged people the choice that they made, but once you’ve made a choice, I think you have a responsibility to honor the choice that you made,” he said.

By’s Alex Johnson


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