updated 8/23/2004 10:59:46 AM ET 2004-08-23T14:59:46

Guests: Steve Gardner, John Hurley, Steve McMahon

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight‘s top headline, a Vietnam vet who actually served on John Kerry‘s swift boat speaks out.  The real deal, this swift boat controversy is now center stage in the race for the White House. 

Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY where no passport is required and only common sense is allowed. 

It‘s been a he said-he said for weeks now, with two groups of swift boat vets telling dramatically different stories about John Kerry‘s service in Vietnam.  You‘ve heard from the critics, the pundits and the campaigns.  Tonight, in this SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY exclusive, we‘re going to be hearing from a vet who actually served on John Kerry‘s swift boat.  And I‘m going to ask him what it was like being led by young John Kerry.  And get a firsthand account of what really happened in Vietnam. 

Plus, a second ad from Swift Boat Vets for Truth.  This one attacking John Kerry‘s behavior after the war.  The Kerry camp says it‘s a foul, and it‘s complaining to the FEC that the group behind the ads has illegal ties to the Bush campaign.  Now the Bush campaign is countering that Kerry‘s campaign is the bigger offender. 

Welcome to the show.  You know, with the swift boat controversy taking center stage in the presidential campaign, I think it‘s time for a reality check.  We‘re going to do that in tonight‘s “Real Deal.”  With Republicans, Democrats, and media figures waging political warfare over John Kerry‘s war record, a little fact checking would seem to be in order.  Let‘s start with the latest news just out tonight.

First, David Corn is reporting for “The Nation” that Navy documents released this afternoon support John Kerry‘s contention that his boat was under fire on March 13, 1969, when he turned his boat around to rescue shipmate Jim Rassmann.  Last night on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, swift boat vet Larry Thurlow told us that none of the five boats on that fateful day were under attack.  But Thurlow said that if any Navy documents suggested otherwise, it was only because John Kerry probably wrote the after action documents himself, lying about the facts. 

Well, tonight‘s breaking news from Corn, Navy records cite a man named Lambert as supporting John Kerry‘s version of events.  Not in the citation for John Kerry‘s medal, but in the report in support of Larry Thurlow‘s Silver Star.  On that one, advantage Kerry. 

Now fact check number two.  The Kerry campaign launches an FEC complaint against the Bush campaign citing coordinating efforts between Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the Bush-Cheney team.  And of course, the “New York Times” front page story today even drew out a chart suggesting a vast right-wing conspiracy of almost Manchurian proportions.  But isn‘t it curious that the “New York Times” has drawn out no such charge detailing anti-Bush groups like moveon.org, or the Media Fund, or Americans Coming Together.  These after all, are groups who have been funded by a lot more than a single Texas donor like the one underwritings in the swift boat ads for George Bush.

John Kerry‘s campaign manager or former campaign manager, I should say, helps run the anti-Bush Media Fund, which has raked in millions from Democratic donors.  And Americans Coming Together is run by Harold Ickes, who has made it clear that his top goal is electing John Kerry.  ABC News reported earlier that ACT has raised $1 million from 20 separate top Democratic donors.  Also, Ickes‘ 527 group can run ads smearing George Bush‘s record. 

Now, the actions of ACT are perfectly legal.  But the selective moral outrage by the “New York Times” makes the Old Gray Lady look hypocritical.

Where was the “New York Times” when moveon.org was running contests that featured Hitler ads on their Web sites, comparing George Bush to Hitler?  Where was the “New York Times” when Harold Ickes and other so-called independent groups were holed up at the Four Seasons hotel in Boston, coordinating their Bush attacks with top Democratic donors?  And how in the hell can the “New York Times” act so shocked that one Texas donor backs this vet ad when 20 Democratic donors did the same for one of several anti-Bush campaign ads?  How can they do it?  Because they‘re biased.  And more interested it seems in electing a candidate of their choosing than exposing the truth.

What is the truth?  None of us know yet.  But just for the record, I believe all of us who did not serve in Vietnam should tread very lightly when questioning the integrity of those who did.  And that of course, includes the highly decorated John Kerry, and the men who now make up the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.  The truth is out there, and it is the duty of us to find it.  For the sake of John Kerry and those genuinely interested in finding out whether the Democratic candidate was a war hero, or a self-promoter.  And that‘s what we‘re going to keep trying to do.  And that‘s tonight‘s “Real Deal”.

Now a SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY exclusive.  Last night of course we talked to one of the Swift Boat Vets for Truth.  Tonight we are going to take you on the deck of John Kerry‘s swift boat with a man who was there and was a topic of conversation last night on “HARDBALL”.


LARRY THURLOW, ANTI-KERRY SWIFT BOAT VETERAN:  The only name that comes to mind now is a guy that is actually a member of our group, but what I‘m telling you...

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR, HARDBALL:  What‘s his name?  We want to talk to him.  Since he‘s your source, we just want to know who he is. 

THURLOW:  Steve Gardner.


PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  OK.  Steve Gardner is with us now.  I‘m Pat Buchanan.  Steve Gardner is the first member who actually served aboard John Kerry‘s boat to speak since this controversy erupted.  Steve, now you served with John Kerry on the swift boat.  Let me ask you, who is telling the truth?  Let‘s talk about one issue that Kerry mentioned, it‘s a critical part of his career.  He has referred to it again and again.  That he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  He was being fired at he  said in one example, by South Vietnamese who were drunk, in  another it was the Khmer Rouge.  In another case, it was the Vietcong firing at him.  Was John Kerry ever in Cambodia? 

STEVE GARDNER, SERVED ON KERRY‘S SWIFT BOAT:  Never in his time.  Never when I was aboard the boat with him.  Never in the months of December and January was John Kerry ever near Cambodia. 

BUCHANAN:  Steve, the reason I‘m questioning you rather than Joe, is we‘re having a little bit of trouble out of Florida with the weather.  But I‘m happy to fill in for him for a second while we‘re talking to you.  Now Steve, you were wounded pretty severely, as I understand it.  Was that in December?  Were you out of action and could Kerry have gone into Cambodia when you were out of action? 

GARDNER:  All right.  Number one, I wasn‘t wounded severely.  I had a small flesh wound in my upper right arm.  And I never lost a day of time or a minute of time on the boat. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me follow up now.  Look, again, did you talk to other swift boat fellows who were with John Kerry when you were not with him?  And did they say, look, we were up there right on the border, or we were in Cambodia at some time other than Christmas? 

GARDNER:  Never were—that boat never left the dock that I wasn‘t aboard it with John Kerry, never.  I was with that boat everywhere we went.  We were never inside Cambodia.  When he talks about his Christmas in Cambodia, he is actually sitting (ph) in Sedek (ph).  And he quotes that in his very own book, where he tells the truth about it.  He was never in Cambodia on Christmas. 

BUCHANAN:  OK.  We‘re going to come back to you about that sampan incident, which is a very serious one for you, and one you probably carried with you your entire life, given what happened.  But let‘s bring in John Hurley who has been an adviser to John Kerry.  And John, you were a veteran of Vietnam yourself, right?

JOHN HURLEY, VIETNAM VETERANS FOR JOHN KERRY:  That‘s correct Pat.  I‘m an army veteran, served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, also in the Mekong Delta.

BUCHANAN:  OK.  Now let me ask you about this famous incident, this Christmas incident in Cambodia.  John, what is John Kerry saying now?  We know what he said before, Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and that also he took CIA agents in there.  Was Kerry ever in Cambodia?  Was he taking fire in Cambodia? 

HURLEY:  He was in Cambodia.  He was taking fire in Cambodia.  But that‘s a separate incident, Pat.  The incident that Steve Gardner is referring to here was Christmas Eve day 1968.  The 44 boat with John in charge was patrolling, they were in Sedek (ph) earlier in the day gathering intelligence.

BUCHANAN:  Sedek (ph) is about 55 miles from Cambodia.  Go ahead. 

HURLEY: That‘s my understanding.  And at some point they left Sedek (ph).  They continued patrolling up the river.  Later in the day, about 5:45 as I understand it, just before the Christmas Eve truce was to begin, they rendezvoused with two PBR‘s up near the Cambodian border.  And while those three boats were sitting in the river, incoming mortar rounds started coming in, and they were under attack.  They returned fire.  An elderly man was killed that night.  And later, a short time later, they took incoming sniper rounds from the opposite bank. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  You‘re saying they‘re right up there on the border or in Cambodia, right up there.  Steve Gardner, this contradicts what you just said.  Were you on that boat that day? 

GARDNER:  I absolutely office that boat.  I would like to see him bring some paperwork up in front that shows that.  Because there are no after action reports.  Nothing was ever written about it.  We were sitting in Sedek (ph).  Sitting there watching visions of sugarplums dance through John Kerry‘s head.

HURLEY: Pat, that is not the way that the other crewmembers of John Kerry‘s boat remember it.

GARDNER:  I don‘t expect them to do anything other than that. 

HURLEY:  Drew Whitlow, Jim Wasser the other men that were on that boat will remember it distinctly.  Jim Wasser has said many times that he is still troubled by that killing of the old man on Christmas Eve, 1968.  He remembers it very clearly.

BUCHANAN:  You have two members of the swift boat.  All right.  Steve Gardner, were those the two other crew members of the swift boat that John Hurley has just identified who have contradicted flatly what you have just said? 

GARDNER:  I expect nothing less from the Kerry camp for that to transpire.  But if everything that he‘s saying is true, there should be an after action report.  Is there one?  No.  Now, to do that, when you get in a firefight in any kind of an engagement, you make an after action report.  John Kerry has never shown anybody anything like that, because there isn‘t one that exists, unless he made one up in his delusional mind.

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Steve (sic) Hurley, when was the last time you spoke with the candidate himself?  I‘m sure that you‘re with him.  You‘re close to him.  You are saying these are the questions they‘re throwing out.  Columnists are writing about it.  Senator, are you sure you were up there near Cambodia?  When was the last time you asked him that question and he reaffirmed to you personally that he was up there either in Cambodia, or right on that border taking fire, sniper fire, mortar fire, and an old man was killed? 

HURLEY:  Within the last week or 10 days or so, Pat.  But the real question here is not who remembers what, and what was going on.  This is a long time ago.  This is 35 years ago.  The real issue here is that this book, this ad that they‘ve got on the air and the entire Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is based on lies and distortions.  This is an organization that is financed by a Republican living in Texas.  But John McCain has said that this is dishonest and dishonorable. 

BUCHANAN:  How do you know—look.  I don‘t know that John Kerry is telling a lie.  I don‘t know that Steve Gardner is.  I don‘t know that John O‘Neill is.  How do you know that those guys—they‘re putting their credibility on the line.  They‘re Vietnam vets like you.  Many of them are as decorated as John Kerry.  We‘re trying to get at the truth.  How do you come on and say point blank that this man I‘m talking to, Steve Gardner is lying, and you‘re telling the truth simply because you heard it from John Kerry?

HURLEY: No.  That‘s not true, Pat.  What I‘m relying on is every single navy document that is in existence that was written in real-time in 1969 supports John Kerry‘s version of events.  That is everything from the award recommendations, to the after action reports to the medal citations themselves. 

GARDNER:  What is he talking about?  We‘re talking about Sedek (ph). 

We are talking about being in Cambodia. 

HURLEY: We‘re talking about credibility, Steve.  We‘re talking about who is believable in this.  And yesterday the “Washington Post” disclosed exactly what this organization is about, Pat.


HURLEY: Let me finish, please.  Let me finish please.  They have said all along that when John Kerry won a Bronze Star in 1969 that there was no enemy fire.  John Kerry‘s Bronze Star citation cites that they were under fire.  “The Washington Post” yesterday...


SCARBOROUGH:  Gentlemen, hold on, hold on.  John Hurley.  We‘ve got Joe Scarborough back here.  Go ahead, John Hurley.  I‘m going to let you finish this, and then when we come back, Steve, I‘ll let you respond.  Go ahead, John. 

HURLEY:  Thank you very kindly, Joe.  What I was saying was that is this organization is built on lies and distortion.  The proof of that was disclosed yesterday by the “Washington Post”.  This organization has said consistently that John Kerry was not under fire when he earned his Bronze Star in 1969.  And yet the “Washington Post”  yesterday disclosed Lieutenant Thurlow‘s Bronze Star citation which is exactly contrary to what the Lieutenant Thurlow  had said.  It says he was under fire.

Tonight the nation discloses the third recipient of a Bronze Star that day.  And his Bronze Star citation says the same thing, that they were under fire.  If you go back and read the documents that were written in real-time, they all support John Kerry. 

SCARBOROUGH:  John, the most important thing  there is also that the person that went and said that Thurlow  was, in fact, under fire was a third party, Lambert, not John Kerry.  We‘ll be right back in a second. 


SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re back talking with Steve Gardner.  Also talking to somebody that has been supporting John Kerry, John Hurley.  And I want to go back to you, Steve Gardner.  Tell me; before we went to break, you had some documents you wanted to talk about. 

GARDNER:  Yes, Joe, what I‘m talking about is, we‘re talking about the sampan incident that John has made such a big deal out of, and then not told the truth on.  And the incident that we were involved in, there was VC killed, an adult, and a young boy was killed.  In this incident, the boat had actually come within 30 yards of where we were located.  This was not good.  So when we turned the lights on him and, of course, the guy reaches for an AK-47 to shoot at us, I had to shoot him. 

All right.  When I shot him, he went in the water.  We pulled up alongside the boat after we started our motors and pulled out.  We pulled up alongside the boat, of course it‘s already sinking, but Drew Whitlow looked up at me and said, Gardner, and you need to look down here.  I said what do you need?  And he said you need to look down here.  And, of course, here laid the little boy down there dead. 

Now, under normal circumstances, nothing like that should have ever happened.  If John Kerry had been in his position, doing his job, then that wouldn‘t have transpired.

SCARBOROUGH:  What did John Kerry not do that night that caused this incident to end in such a tragedy?

GARDNER:  John Kerry had to be sitting in the pilothouse looking at the radar that we had running to make sure that that very thing that happened that night didn‘t happen.  And in allowing that to transpire, he let that boat get in close to us where I didn‘t have any choice.  When the guy swung up with a gun, I had to shoot him.  If he had been doing his job like he was supposed to, the boat would have been spotted out 250, 300 yards out.  We would have eliminated it, put illumination on it so that you could see it and the fellow would have known right then that he was caught. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And why are you saying he wasn‘t up there? 

GARDNER:  Well, somebody wasn‘t in the pilothouse doing his job.  I couldn‘t see John Kerry from the position I was in, because I had the guns turned around to look out over the expanse that we were in.  But once we got done, there was nothing more to do after the boy was shot and the old man was shot off the boat.

SCARBOROUGH:  Are you blaming the death of this young boy on John Kerry? 

GARDNER:  Absolutely.  I killed him.  There‘s not a question about that.  But what I am saying to you is that if John Kerry had been doing his job, that little boy would probably still be alive.  His father may have been in prison for a while, but quite obviously he would have gotten turned loose.  Now what it boiled down to was this.  When the report was written by John Kerry, you heard me talk about killing one man, taking a woman and a baby aboard the boat, and a little boy laying in the bottom of the boat dead.  Now that‘s all you‘ve heard talked about. 

The bogus report that I have right here in my hands is the very report that John Kerry turned in.  And when John Kerry turned that report in, all of a sudden there are four VC killed, one man killed, and two CIA‘s taken aboard, in other words captured in action.  Not a man—not a baby and her daughter, nothing like that.

SCARBOROUGH:  Are you saying that‘s a lie?  You‘re saying that‘s a lie?

GARDNER:  That‘s an absolute categorical bogus report that John Kerry wrote.  And it is a lie.  It‘s as simple as that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  John Hurley, respond.

HURLEY:  I can‘t respond.  I mean, I don‘t even know what to say to that.  Now, just be quiet, Steve, for a moment.  Give me a chance.

SCARBOROUGH:  One at a time.  Yes.  Go ahead, John.

HURLEY:  I have no idea what Steve Gardner is talking about.  It seems to me that he just said that he did not see John Kerry, and yet he‘s willing to somehow indict John Kerry for not doing his job.  He also said that he was the one that shot the young boy. 

Look, these things happen in war.  They‘re terrible.  They shouldn‘t happen.  You don‘t like to see young boys killed.  It is something that does happen. 

What we‘re focusing on now, what we should be focusing on is whether or not this group is, in fact, representing factually what did happen.  And it‘s been shown over and over again that they are not.  Every time they make some utterance, it proves to be false.  Larry Thurlow said...

GARDNER:  Prove me wrong.  Prove me wrong. 

HURLEY:  Larry Thurlow said there was no gunfire on the day that John Kerry won his Bronze Star.  And then the three Bronze Stars...

GARDNER:  You talk to me about what I know.

HURLEY:  Three Bronze Stars all say the same thing, that they were under fire that day.  How they can now come out, 35 years after the fact, and take the documents that the United States...


HURLEY:  ... the United States Navy created back in 1969.  They are saying that there‘s a giant conspiracy here, that the United States Navy is part of this lie.  It‘s all specious, Joe.

GARDNER:  Steve, I think he did answer it by saying he doesn‘t have any information right now about that incident.  I‘m sure though he will after tonight.  Steve, I want to play you an ad that has been released today by the Kerry campaign.  Take a look.


KERRY:  I‘m John Kerry and I approved this message. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The people attacking John Kerry‘s war record are funded by Bush‘s big money supporters.  Listen to someone who was there, the man whose life John Kerry saved.

JAMES RASSMANN:  It blew me off the boat.  All these Viet Cong were shooting at me.  I expected I would be shot.  When he pulled me out of the river, he risked his life to save mine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Navy documented John Kerry‘s heroism and awarded him the Bronze Star.  Today he still has shrapnel in his leg from his wounds in Vietnam.


GARDNER:  You know where he got that shrapnel? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on a second.  I want to ask you the question and then you can respond.  A lot of people looking at that ad, Steve, would say, OK, we‘ve got Jim Rassmann.  He says his life is owed to John Kerry‘s heroism.  Is he lying?  And you have got United States Navy documents supporting absolutely everything that John Kerry is telling Americans today.

GARDNER:  No, no.

SCARBOROUGH:  So is Rassmann lying, and why are these Navy documents supporting John Kerry if it‘s not the truth?

GARDNER:  You‘ve got it slightly wrong, only in the fact that the documents that we‘re talking about are the documents that John Kerry himself wrote.  Now that‘s what‘s the bone of contention been all along.  With all that 5,000 yards of withering fire that these boats ran through in that particular episode that Mr. Hurley wants to talk about, we‘re going to address.  There was only a mile; they were less than a quarter of a mile from the mouth of the canal.  So 5,000 yards the last time I looked measures out to be 2.5 miles.  And if you‘re going to put 2.5 miles worth of V.C. in a withering automatic weapons and small arms fire, that‘s a battalion of V.C. sitting in there.  Never happened in the delta, ever. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Is Jim Rassmann lying?

GARDNER:  Actually, I don‘t believe that Jim Rassmann was lying about the parts that he knew about.  He heard weapons fire.  All outbound rounds going to stop an ambush that they thought was happening.  As soon as they realized there was no fire, they immediately stopped the weapons, moved in on the PC-3, and started doing rescue operations at that time.  Now why I‘m asked to deal with this, I don‘t know.  But I‘ll be happy to.

So as they go to this, Jim Rassmann is in the water.  He‘s hearing 50 caliber weapons going off all around him.  I understand that.  I‘ve been scared to death myself.  When John Kerry flees the scene, as he said he did, the other three boats stayed there.  John Kerry turned around and came all the way back to pick up Mr. Rassmann that he had thrown off his boat when he took off, when he fled down the canal. 

When they did all the checking on this, did everything that had to be done, they looked at the—all of the guns, all the boats, there wasn‘t a bullet hole in a boat anywhere.

HURLEY:  Joe, may I...

SCARBOROUGH:  John, respond. 

HURLEY:  Joe, you like common sense, so I‘m going to deal in common sense.  Common sense says that in 1969 every single document that the Navy has and created then supports John Kerry‘s version of events.  The after action report—the after action report...


SCARBOROUGH:  Steve, hold on, hold on.  Steve, we‘re going to have to go to a break soon, but I just ask, we‘re going to do this one at a time.  We‘re not going to have a screaming, yelling debate.  With 30 seconds to break, John Hurley.  Then we‘ll get you on the other side.  Go ahead.

HURLEY:  Thank you.  The after action report that Steve Gardner refers to was not written by John Kerry.  All right?  End of discussion on the after action report.  The Bronze Star citation...

GARDNER:  That‘s a lie.

HURLEY:  ... which Larry Thurlow says he was not under fire, but his own Bronze Star citation says he was under fire.  The Bronze Star citation of Richard Lambert says they were under fire.  Three Bronze Star citations that day.  Every one of them says they were under fire.  That‘s why John McCain says of this organization, this group, this book, this ad, that it‘s dishonest and dishonorable.  This is a Republican financed smear campaign.  And it is a disgrace. 

SCARBOROUGH:  John Hurley, Steve Gardner, stay with us.  We‘re going to be bringing in Pat Buchanan, Frank Luntz, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.  And we‘re going to see the latest advertisement that is being released by the Swift Vote Veterans for Truth.  And get John Hurley‘s response to that.  All that and much much more, when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.  Stick around.


SCARBOROUGH:  With all the political infighting going on about John  Kerry‘s war record, it seems everybody debating wasn‘t on the boat with him.  Well we have somebody who was.  In a SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY exclusive, we‘ll continue out talk with a shipmate of John Kerry when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.  First, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC news desk.


SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back to our show.  We, of course, have an exclusive.  We have Steve Gardner who actually served on a swift boat with John Kerry over in Vietnam.  A lot of he said-he said.  Steve was actually there.  We also have John Hurley with us.  So glad John comes on to give John Kerry‘s side of the story.  John, I want to start with you.  You used to watch “Colombo,” right?

HURLEY:  Absolutely.  One of my favorite shows.

SCARBOROUGH:  Everybody does.  Peter Falk would go wait, it just doesn‘t make sense to me.  Let me tell you what doesn‘t make sense to me.  As you know, I‘m from Pensacola, doing this in fact tonight out of Pensacola, big Navy town.  I know Navy vets.  Old retired war vets.  And as you know, a lot of these guys are salty, they‘re tough.  I haven‘t met a lot of them that would be willing to just out and out lie.  And this isn‘t a leading question.  I want to get to the bottom of this. 

They wouldn‘t put their reputation on the line and lie for a political candidate to elect George Bush or anybody else.  Have you stopped and asked yourself why are—because I‘ve heard you say they‘re connected to Republicans in Texas.  If you stop to ask yourself, why would these guys risk their reputation, and come out and lie about John Kerry?  A guy they served with?  Again, it‘s one of those—it just doesn‘t make any sense to me. 

HURLEY:  Well, I‘ll tell you, Joe, we have to look at two of the principals in this very carefully.  One is John O‘Neill.  John O‘Neill came out of Richard Nixon‘s White House.  He was part of Richard Nixon‘s dirty tricks team, and began taking on John Kerry back in 1971.  At that time he never once raised the subject of John Kerry‘s medals, not once.  There is no issue there.  It is only when John Kerry becomes the presumed nominee of the Democratic Party that suddenly this becomes an issue.

You look at the second author of that book, Jerome Corsi, who has already shown himself to be a hate monger, that has written anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim diatribes.  You look at the people who are speaking.  If you look who is speaking for John Kerry, you will see John McCain, who is a vet, who is a Republican, who campaigns regularly with George Bush.  And he has said that this is dishonest and dishonorable.  I‘ll tell you, one other thing, Joe...

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on.  But what about the other guys, though?  Because let‘s go ahead and just assume that what you‘re saying is the truth for argument‘s sake.  What about the other 250 or so that have come out in support of this ad?  That‘s what I‘m trying to get out to the bottom of here.  Why would they do that?  Why would they lie about John Kerry?

HURLEY:  I think it‘s because of just what we‘ve said.  This is a Republican-financed smear campaign.  If you look at Larry Thurlow and what he has said, he said no hostile shot was fired on in March 13, 1969.  And yet the “Washington Post” disclosed his own Bronze Star citation says it was fire, Joe.  If you look at Lambert‘s Bronze Star citation, it says the same thing, that they were under hostile fire. 

I mean, if you look at the after action report, it says they were under hostile fire.  So you have to ask about—you have to ask what his motivation is.  His motivation is a Republican smear campaign, financed out of Texas.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Steve Gardner, I‘ll let you respond.  But before you do, I want to play everybody a preview of the new swift vets ad.  Let‘s take a look.


KERRY:  They had personally raped, cut off the ears, cut off heads...

JOE PONDER:  The accusations that John Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating.

PAUL GALANTI:  John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I and many of my comrades in North Vietnam in the prison camps took torture in what he is saying.  It demoralized us.  It dishonored his country.  And more importantly the people he served with.  He just sold them out.


SCARBOROUGH:  Steve Gardner, in the end, that‘s what it‘s all about, isn‘t it?  It‘s not what John Kerry did in Vietnam that is upsetting you guys so much.  Is this really all about what he did when he came home? 

GARDNER:  This has everything to do with what John Kerry purports to be.  The integrity of John Kerry is absolutely—he has none.  Now let‘s deal with exact facts.  I heard Mr. Hurley say that the piece of paper that I had in my hand was just a piece of paper.  Well, it is the confidential released forms of the action that John Kerry sent in.  Just set there and shake your head, buddy.  This is the actual paperwork that was done with it.

HURLEY:  John Kerry did not write the after action report on it.

GARDNER:  Well, I‘m sorry, but it says so right here that John Kerry did.  John Kerry‘s boat, the PCF-44 is the boat that this was written about and he was the only officer there that...

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on, Steve, I need some information.  Is that report that you‘re holding up for the March 13, 1969 incident?

GARDNER:  No.  This is the sampan incident.  I‘m not going to deal with that.  Because I wasn‘t there.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  The Cambodian incident.  OK.

GARDNER:  I‘m talking about the sampan incident of 20 January of 1969, where John Kerry wrote a bogus report and sent it up the chain of command.  This is how John Kerry always got these glowing reports that he got.  He would bogus up the report, send it up the chain of command.  The chain of command knew no better.

SCARBOROUGH:  Where does it say on from that John Kerry signed that report? 

GARDNER:  It doesn‘t say right here on this report.  This is John Kerry‘s boat that it‘s written about, and he‘s the standing officer that has to write about it.  It‘s as simple as that.  He‘s the only officer on the boat. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So you know for a fact then that he wrote that report?

GARDNER:  That‘s absolutely categorically, yes.  There‘s not even a question about it.  This is Navy documents.  Nobody played any games with it.  They can‘t play games with it.  This is an exact replica of what is in John Kerry‘s file that he won‘t release.

SCARBOROUGH:  Go ahead, Steve.

GARDNER:  All right.  We‘re talking about the fact that John Kerry‘s campaign over there, and they simply keep talking about the fact that we‘re Republicans.  That everybody on this is—it‘s an agenda for them.  The only agenda that this group has is the pursuit of the truth.  We have put the things out there in front of John Kerry.  John Kerry has yet to answer truthfully to any of it. 

The things that we have actually calls him on lies about.  And they‘re lies.  They‘re not just loose truths.  They‘re the fat lie that John Kerry told, they can‘t address.  So in other words, to make them feel good, they have to attack us as persons.  I want him to answer to the facts.  We‘ve put them in front of him.  They have yet to ever answer to them. 

SCARBOROUGH:  John Hurley, I‘ll give you the last word.  Go ahead. 

HURLEY:  Thank you, sir.  Joe, somebody has to remind these guys that 35 years have passed.  John Kerry has been a public figure for 35 years.  He ran for the United States Senate four times, lieutenant governor, in Congress.  No one ever raised these issues.  Not once Joe.  Not once.  Now common sense, Joe, will tell you that there‘s something missing here.  If these men are motivated by principal, they let 35 years go by. 

And then when a Republican financier in Texas comes up with $200,000 for them, just as John Kerry becomes the presumed nominee of the Democratic Party, then all of a sudden these guys are horrified.  This is just as John McCain says, Joe.  It is dishonest.  And it is dishonorable.  It is a Republican smear campaign, and has no basis in fact or truth.  The documents, the United States navy documents support John Kerry. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  John Hurley, thanks for being with us.  We greatly appreciate it.  Steve Gardner, thank you also.  I do just want to say this.  The “New York Times” report this morning talked about quite a few of these swift boat vets who had actually changed their stories.  Steve Gardner is not one of those.  He‘s been fairly consistent throughout this process.  But look at the “Times” article.  There are a lot of things I didn‘t like about it.

But if you really want to dig into the truth, you‘re going to want to go to the “New York Times” this morning.  Look at the article, and key in on those people.  See what they said in 1996 when this issue came up.  See what they‘re saying today.  See what some of them were just saying a year or two ago.  See what they‘re saying today.  I‘m not saying they were lying then.  I‘m not saying they are lying now.  I‘m just saying this is a very important issue in deciding who the next president of the United States is going to be. 

You have a responsibility, and I have a responsibility to make sure we know what we‘re talking about before we throw stones.  Now Steve Gardner, he was there.  He‘s got a right to come on this show, talk about it.  John Hurley, he‘s talked—I mean, everybody has a right to debate these issues.  I‘m just saying, this is critical that we get it right.  It‘s critical you get it right.  And that we have an informed electorate going into the November elections.  We‘ll be right back on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY in just a minute.


SCARBOROUGH:  Now let‘s bring in MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan, and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.  Pat, I want to play you again the new Kerry ad featuring Jim Rassmann, and get your take on it. 


KERRY:  I‘m John Kerry and I approved this message. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The people attacking John Kerry‘s war record are funded by Bush‘s big money supporters.  Listen to someone who was there, the man whose life John Kerry saved.

RASSMANN:  It blew me off the boat.  All these Viet Cong were shooting at me.  I expected I would be shot.  When he pulled me out of the river, he risked his life to save mine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Navy documented John Kerry‘s heroism and awarded him the Bronze Star.  Today he still has shrapnel in his leg from his wounds in Vietnam.


SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, that‘s a pretty strong ad.  Do you think that does what John Kerry needs to do to get this crisis behind him? 

BUCHANAN:  No, it doesn‘t.  I think Rassmann is telling the truth, and I think Gardner is telling the truth.  I think what happened to Rassmann, he was knocked off Kerry‘s boat, went under water.  He came up.  There are 50 caliber machine guns firing all over the lot.  He dives down, he thinks he‘s going to be dead.  But he doesn‘t realize the Americans are firing because a boat blew up.  But there was no other fire. 

That‘s my guess as to what happened.  Both are telling the truth.  But, Joe, I got to correct something.  That fellow Hurley came on there and virtually accused us of inventing John O‘Neill to go out and lie.  That is false.  We met John O‘Neill after he had come forward to respond to the vicious...

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, Pat, Pat—don‘t get too inside baseball, when you say we, who are you talking about?

BUCHANAN:  I‘m talking about the Nixon White House that he attacked.  What happened was that Kerry went up on Capitol Hill and called these vets baby killers, murderers and all the rest of it.  I was right there reporting to Nixon.  John O‘Neill came out.  He said I‘ll take that guy on.  We tried to provide him with venues on television, rightly so.  He took on Kerry right on Dick Cavett‘s show and said you are a liar, sir, and you are a coward.  If you witnessed atrocities in Vietnam, why didn‘t you report them?  And if you didn‘t report them then, why don‘t you come home and name the guys that committed them, and call them to account right now?  And Kerry backed down.  It is Hurley who is misrepresenting what happened back there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Steve McMahon, I want you to take a look at a preview of an ad that the swift vets are going to be putting out next week.


KERRY:  They had personally raped, cut off the ears, cut off heads...

PONDER:  The accusations that John  Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating.

GALANTI:  John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I and many of my comrades in North Vietnam in the prison camps took torture in what he is saying.  It demoralized us.  It dishonored his country.  And more importantly the people he served with.  He just sold them out.


SCARBOROUGH:  You know Steve McMahon, you and Pat and I have all worked in political campaigns.  This is a high-risk strategy.  I don‘t know how close the ties are to the Bush White House.  But if this blows up in their face, it could really hurt the Bush campaign as well as the Kerry campaign, couldn‘t it?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, I think you put your finger right on it, Joe.  This is a very high-risk campaign, and it stuns me quite frankly that anybody associated with or supporting this president would be attacking a guy who served in Vietnam.  Who volunteered to go there.  Who earned three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.  Who was decorated repeatedly.  And he‘s running against a man who, by all accounts, either avoided service, or simply didn‘t show up for service.  Hold on a second, Joe.  There‘s nothing here—you know, we‘re talking about a guy who actually went to Vietnam, versus a guy who never went.  A guy who volunteered, versus a guy who avoided service.

SCARBOROUGH:  I understand.

MCMAHON:  And we‘re talking about the sketchy details of 35 years ago.  And while someone is being shot at, versus somebody who was in Alabama who can‘t even say what bar he was hanging out at.  Where he lived.  Who he hung out with, or who he might have served with.

SCARBOROUGH:  Steve, I get your point.  Let me do a follow-up point here. 

MCMAHON:  This is unbelievable.

SCARBOROUGH:  I get your point.  My question is, let‘s talk about the politics of it all.  What does John Kerry need to do?  Obviously, this is hurting him with veterans.  A new CBS poll shows this.  Right now—and we all know, right now this is playing against John Kerry.  It could turn against George W. Bush.  How does John Kerry reverse the momentum to actually turn this against George Bush?

MCMAHON:  Well, I think he simply has to make the comparison that I just made.  I volunteered to go to Vietnam.  The president did not.  In fact, he volunteered and did everything he could to do just the opposite.  I served in Vietnam.  The president did not.  I was decorated in Vietnam.  I saved the lives of men on my boat in Vietnam.  The president apparently worked on a Republican Senate campaign during the time he was supposed to be serving his light, easy duty in the National Guard. 

The president has not proven, nor has anyone proven, at any time, that he served his service during the National Guard.  And I would challenge him.  Everybody out here who  wants to talk about John  Kerry and what he may or may not have  done in Vietnam when he was  being fired at, let‘s talk about what George Bush didn‘t  do in Alabama when he was  supposed to be serving in the national guard. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Go ahead, Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  This is about the character and the credibility of a Democratic candidate for president of the United States.  Honorable men, medaled, who served with him.  One who was in the boat with him and said the guy is a liar and a fraud there.  What I do know is that this man came home and slimed the record of the men who served there.  He undercut the war in Vietnam.  He went and met with the communists in Paris.

This guy was engaged in what I think was treasonable conduct in 1970. 

And I don‘t care about Bush, what he says or the moderate Republicans.  These swift boat guys are out and trying to tell the truth, that they deeply believe in their heart.  He does not deserve to be president of the United States.  They got every right to do it, and quite frankly, they‘re showing more guts in this debate than the Bush administration. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Pat Buchanan, Steve McMahon.  Stay right there, we‘ll be right back.


SCARBOROUGH:  Steve McMahon, Pat Buchanan obviously very upset by what‘s been going on in this debate, and John Kerry and these ads.  Tell me, Pat says that John Kerry is not fit to be president.  Respond.

MCMAHON:  Well, I just, you know, I respect Pat but I think he‘s utterly wrong about this.  I mean, if you‘re going to talk about someone‘s military service, or lack thereof, and how it prepares him to be the commander in chief.  Senator Harkin said something the other day which I think was a little perhaps harsh, but it was true.  The president and Dick Cheney are pretty courageous when it‘s other people‘s blood.  When it‘s other people‘s children.  And when other people are being asked to die.  But they weren‘t so courageous when it was their turn.  And I think that‘s something that people ought to remember. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, first of all, Steve, you‘re very on message.  I mean, you‘re doing great tonight.  I‘m going to give you an “A” for being on message. 

MCMAHON:  Joe, let me be clear about something.  I‘m not disparaging the memory or the service of anybody who was in Vietnam.  I wasn‘t there.  But, George Bush‘s name is on the ballot.  He does have a record or lack thereof in this area.  And I think if they‘re going to go after Senator Kerry‘s, it‘s only fair we should point out a few things about his. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s fine.  Pat Buchanan, go ahead. 

BUCHANAN:  It is certainly fair that you should point out that Kerry had five deferments.  Mr. Bush wasn‘t somewhere in Alabama, I don‘t know where he was.  John Kerry has made this a centerpiece of his campaign, and this goes to his character and credibility.  Joe, you‘re doing the right thing in trying to find the truth about what he did in Vietnam. 

But quite frankly, what he did after Vietnam, that second ad, there is no defense of that squalid, lying performance against his buddies that served.  Sliming them when they‘re still over there dying.  That was outrageous, and I find it impossible for me to vote for a guy that did that, and has not apologized for having done it. 

MCMAHON:  Pat, I find it hard to believe you would ever consider it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, Steve McMahon, we appreciate you being with us.  This will be continued Sunday night.  And I want all of you to join us Sunday night on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  We‘re going to be doing that from 8:00 to 9:30 Eastern.  We‘ll see you then.  Have a great weekend.


Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House Inc., eMediaMillWorks, Inc.), ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.


Discussion comments