updated 8/27/2004 1:17:59 PM ET 2004-08-27T17:17:59

Guests: Les Csorba, Terry Holt, Tony Blankley, Michael Meehan, Benjamin Ginsberg

PAT BUCHANAN, GUEST HOST:  The Swift Boat Vets For Truth came out with yet another ad today, this one attacking John Kerry‘s claim he was sent on a secret mission into Cambodia.  Are the swift vet ads damaging Kerry?  New polls suggest that they are. 

Meanwhile, the Federal Election Commission and Department of Justice have been asked to look into links between Bush and the Swift Vets For Truth.  Attorney Ben Ginsberg resigns from the Bush campaign over his work with the anti-Kerry group.  He joins us tonight. 

ANNOUNCER:  From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

BUCHANAN:  Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  I‘m Pat Buchanan, in for Joe Scarborough. 

Our lead story tonight, for the first time this year, President George Bush has taken the lead in the presidential race away from John Kerry.  According to a new poll by “The Los Angeles Times,” President Bush now leads Kerry 49 to 46 percent.  A month ago, Kerry led Bush by two points.  According to the newest “USA Today” poll, it is Bush 50, Kerry 47.  And NBC News‘ latest poll has Bush leading Kerry 47 to 45. 

With me to analyze these numbers, senior adviser to John Kerry, Michael Meehan, and Terry Holt, the national spokesman for Bush-Cheney. 

Michael Meehan, it looks like from the “USA Today” poll the president is opening a lead with a voters that Kerry had closed after the campaign on the issues of terrorism, Iraq, and is he an honest and trustworthy leader.  Have these swift boat ads damaged John Kerry? 

MICHAEL MEEHAN, SENIOR ADVISER, JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN:  No, I don‘t think they have.  I think that some of the smears and lies that have been put on the ads have caused us for a couple of weeks now to defend John Kerry‘s honor. 

I mean, the Bush folks had folks resign from their campaign because they have been working behind the scenes to put this front group out.  I think two and three points—Fox had us up one today in a poll as well.  So you are talking margin of error, tied race, as the Republicans head to into their convention.  That‘s a pretty good place for a challenger to be against an incumbent wartime president. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  A pretty good place.  Let me correct that.  Pretty good place.  No challenger has ever gone into an incumbent‘s convention behind and won the election. 

Now, it looks from some of these polls, for example, California, where Bush is losing 3 percent of Republicans, picking up 15 percent of Democrats, moderate conservatives, that these swift boat ads are shearing off, if you will, the conservative flank of Kerry‘s presidential coalition. 

MEEHAN:  Well, I think what matters at the end of the day is if you get enough electoral votes.  “The Wall Street Journal” had a poll of the 16 battleground states.  The president had a lead in only two of them.  And so we feel very comfortable where we are here in August. 

They also had an enormous advantage.  This August period, we have been essentially dark on television, while they have been able to send an additional $60 million on television. 

TERRY HOLT, BUSH CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN:  That‘s not true.  The Democratic National Convention has been...

MEEHAN:  Our campaign has been essentially dark during this period. 

And it‘s a five-week advantage that they have had.

BUCHANAN:  Terry Holt, how do you read those same polls? 

HOLT:  Well, I think that John Kerry spent four days in July talking about a strong commander in chief, and then over the last four or five weeks, has demonstrated that he still doesn‘t have a clear plan about how he is going to win the war on terror.  He vacillated on Iraq and whether or not he would have fought under the same circumstances as the president. 

He seems mired endlessly in this or that controversy, and in the meantime, the president is the commander in chief.  He is out there leading and proposing...

BUCHANAN:  Let me go directly to this or that controversy. 

The president of the United States said, and I heard him say it again tonight, that John Kerry had an admirable war record and one he ought to be proud of.  And yet he refuses to condemn ads that say John Kerry‘s record in Vietnam was dishonorable, that he lied, that he was a fraud, and that he came home and committed virtual treason. 

Why is the president—I understand the 523, or whatever it is, 527.  Why has the president not condemned the content of those ads, as well as saying he doesn‘t like these kinds of committees? 

HOLT:  Well, I think that what we have tried to do is keep the focus on the bigger problem, which is the 527 issue.  This one isolated ad isn‘t any less scurrilous or more scurrilous than some of the others that have been out there.

MEEHAN:  Oh, yes, it is. 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  We didn‘t have debate about—in one spot, they put a hood over the Statue of Liberty. 

MEEHAN:  Thirteen people came on said John Kerry lied on his military record.

HOLT:  You guys accused President Bush of poisoning pregnant women. 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  My goodness.  If that‘s not a deeply personal attack, I don‘t know what is. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Terry Holt, this does go directly to the question of honor, integrity, credibility, and character.  I mean, these are some—this country is caught up, or a significant slice of it, emotionally in the ads.  All night long, we have been doing them on our shows.  I understand they are leading the networks three straight nights. 

You do seem to see an effect on the polls.  Veterans are turning against Kerry.  Why do you not address the ads?  It looks like you all are benefiting from a mugging you won‘t condemn. 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  Because obviously this group has strong views, and they have the right in this environment...

BUCHANAN:  Are they valid and legitimate views? 

HOLT:  They have done the research.  They are in a debate with the Kerry campaign.  What we know is that John Kerry got medals, that he served his country in Vietnam, and that he was wounded and received medals for those.  We have never questioned that, Pat, not once. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I know, but is it legitimate?

HOLT:  From the president down to his lowly spokesman here. 

BUCHANAN:  Is it legitimate for your campaign to benefit from others who are directly questioning that, without you condemning it?

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  But the same question could be asked about the $63 million

dollars worth of questions and advertisements that

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  All right, Mike, let me ask you that. 

It is true, up until these fellows put together $250,000, with potent ads, I agree, something like $50 million in these MoveOn.org.  These things are all after Bush-Cheney.  You have had Michael Moore with a $100 million movie trashing the president.  And you all have benefited from that as much as they have from these other ads.  Do you condemn those? 

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  No, hold on.  Last week, when they called the president‘s military service into record, John McCain said...

HOLT:  That‘s your one shining example among $63 million worth of ads. 

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  Just last week, when the president‘s National Guard record was called into question, John Kerry shot it down. 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  I don‘t think that‘s true.  Your surrogates continue to attack the president. 

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  John Kerry is not the commander in chief. 

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  Your boss is.  And veterans are attacking veterans. 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  You have quite a problem on your hands, but it is not of our making. 

MEEHAN:  Well, your chief counsel was their chief counsel.  He resigned out of his own judgment yesterday. 

HOLT:  Are your lawyers resigning?  Because they play precisely the same role in the 527s.

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  None of them.

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  You attorney resigned.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Terry Holt, let me follow up on that question. 

We are going to talk to Ben Ginsberg, who is a very bright, capable, able Republican lawyer.  Now, he is the chief counsel of the Bush campaign.  And he has given legal advice to these fellows that come in with these swift boat ads, which are dynamite. 

HOLT:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  Is it credible to you that he would give advice to these guys, tell them how to go about this, when he knows that‘s coming, and not Karl Rove or somebody and say, look, get down in the bunker, you won‘t believe what‘s coming?

HOLT:  But as giving appropriate legal advice. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Both to a campaign and an independent

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  Well, let me address it. 

As an attorney, he is bound by the own ethics of his profession that he can‘t discuss the work of one client with another client.  And let me say, when he notified us of this connection, he also notified us of his intention to resign. 

BUCHANAN:  Why did he not notify you before the ads went on the air? 

HOLT:  Well, I think first of all, nobody foresaw the terrible controversy that was going to cause for the Kerry campaign, because, remember, we are having this conversation today because these groups attacked Kerry. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me follow up. 

HOLT:  Rather than the president. 

BUCHANAN:  You say the terrible controversy it‘s caused for the Kerry campaign.  There‘s no doubt about that. 

HOLT:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  But if the controversy is caused by someone accusing Kerry of conduct that is fraudulent, lying, and dishonorable, when the president himself says it was admirable, isn‘t there some kind of obligation on the part of your campaign to say that‘s beyond bounds? 

HOLT:  Well, again, the president has talked about the Kerry—that Kerry served his nation, that we won‘t question it.  And we aren‘t questioning it.

Isn‘t it getting into questioning it if we were to go and take sides in their controversy?  Remember that Kerry is only attacking the president on this ad because it‘s a tactic to change the subject.  He doesn‘t want to talk about the spots.  It doesn‘t serve him to have a debate with the swift boat guys.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  All right, Michael Meehan, that raises a good point. 

HOLT:  He needs to demonize the president in this process. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me ask you , in terms of strategy and tactics, did your candidate handle this correctly?  We talked about this over—I was on another group three weeks ago.  Some people said he ought to ignore it.  Other people said he ought to address it. 

And then you had the triple amputee, United States senator go down to the ranch, and that brought it all to national attention.  The president—

Mr. Kerry says, bring it on.  Two days later, John Kerry says, tell the president to get these guys off our backs.  Haven‘t you guys extended this whole issue and deepened it yourselves and really moved it onto the front pages and onto the evening news? 

MEEHAN:  John McCain asked George Bush to denounce this ad over three weeks ago.  He has chosen not to.  He has kept this moving. 

Ben Ginsberg bolted from your campaign when he became the judge and

jury of his own conduct.  When people resign in Washington, something has

gone wrong.  Let‘s be clear about that.  And you have had two resignations

from your campaign because of the marrying between the swift boat  

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  You are baldly hypocritical, when your own campaign has lawyers advising every day with America Coming Together, with MoveOn.org, the home of the famous Hitler spot. 

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  Which we denounced. 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  Come on, how do you do this with a straight face? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Let me follow up. 

MEEHAN:  John Kerry has denounced.  You boss

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  ... zero amount of ads. 

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  Zero. 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  You guys are in trouble and you‘re blaming us. 

MEEHAN:  This controversy would be over if your boss

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  All right, but Michael Meehan, that‘s the point.  That‘s the point. 

MEEHAN:  It would be over.

BUCHANAN:  That‘s the point.  They don‘t want it over, do they? 

MEEHAN:  No.  They want to continue the lies and the smears.  They do.

HOLT:  Oh, come on. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, you say they want to continue the lies and the smears.

I happen to believe, and I have read a lot of those affidavits.  And these are men of honor and they put their—they are commanders, officers.  They served with him.  They sign affidavits stating this.  They swear an oath that it‘s the truth.  And, quite frankly, the perceived authenticity of these guys, that this is not a regular ad calling somebody a name, or some of these other things nobody pays attention to. 

And the very fact that Bush won‘t condemn them, doesn‘t that tell you they believe these things are working, they believe these are the things responsible for hurting you with veterans and for driving you down with conservative Republicans—or rather moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats? 

MEEHAN:  Absolutely. 

First, they get Bob Perry to finance them.  Karl Rove‘s best friend. 

He went on Fox yesterday to say, he is my best friend.  No question about

that.  He said it yesterday.  Then you have the veterans

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  You don‘t know that he got him to do it, do you? 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  And he said explicitly that he had nothing to do with it. 

MEEHAN:  He said they were friends.

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  Let me finish my point. 

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  The second point is, Cordier, who is on your committee, who

had to resign from your campaign

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  A volunteer grassroots organizer.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  A POW from Vietnam, by the way. 

MEEHAN:  Who was on your campaign and starred in the ad.  That‘s

another coordination.  And now your lawyer

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  ... was their lawyer and also had to quit your campaign.  Two resignations from two stars of this group.  You guys are coordinating because you want the smears to go on.  George Bush could bring this to an end today, right now. 

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT:  You need to accept the president‘s condemnation of that ad. 

MEEHAN:  He did not.  No, it‘s not. 

(CROSSTALK) 

HOLT:  He said, I condemn that ad and all ads.

BUCHANAN:  Michael Meehan, I want to ask you again, this fellow, Cordier, you bring up, and Galanti, Paul Galanti, each of those guys put in six years in a POW camp.

And they went on the air and they said they are in that camp and they‘re being tortured to say the kind of things John Kerry said for free.  They refused to say them.  Now, whatever you think about Mr. Cordier, it seems to me that, giving a man in his position, given what Kerry claimed for himself and given that Kerry wants to be commander in chief, he has every right to speak what he believes to be the truth.

And why would you think that a POW, served all that time for his country, would sign affidavit that was a flat-out lie? 

MEEHAN:  He can‘t be on the Bush campaign and be in the independent group. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  OK, maybe he shouldn‘t have done it. 

MEEHAN:  He can‘t be on both. 

BUCHANAN:  He sinned against McCain-Feingold, but is he telling the truth?

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  He can vote for whoever he wants and he can say whatever he wants about how he feels.  But what he can‘t do is be on the Bush campaign and in the independent ad at the same time. 

BUCHANAN:  You have been saying these are lies and smears.  Do you think that POW is engaged in lying and smearing John Kerry? 

MEEHAN:  No. 

BUCHANAN:  Who is? 

MEEHAN:  A majority of the guys who were in the ads, Larry Thurlow, says John Kerry was not under fire.  Larry Thurlow‘s own Bronze Star that day says he is under fire. 

The second guy who received a Bronze Star that day on that boat was a man named Lambert.  He received a Bronze Star for being under fire.  Now Larry Thurlow comes back 35 years later and says John Kerry wasn‘t under fire.  Jim Rassmann, who is in the water being shot at, says I‘m under fire. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  All the guys on the boat on the other...

MEEHAN:  That‘s a lie. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  It‘s not a lie. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Look, if it‘s a lie, take them to court. 

MEEHAN:  They have a mountain of Naval records that they were under fire. 

BUCHANAN:  You have got records against the eyewitness testimony of the guys on the other side of the river and the Naval records are written from somebody from the vantage point of the 94 boat, which is John Kerry‘s boat. 

MEEHAN:  No.  No, Lambert is the eyewitness for Thurlow‘s award. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  No, it‘s on Thurlow‘s—I mean, it‘s on Lambert‘s award. 

MEEHAN:  Lambert is the eyewitness for Thurlow‘s award.  And he says he is under fire.  That‘s what he gets the award for.  This is the problem with this, Pat. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  You say these two guys—I say they did not say under oath that they were under fire. 

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  Navy documents say so. 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s a dispute.  It‘s documents.  OK. 

Thank you very much, Michael Meehan.  Terry Holt, thanks for being here.  Coming up, we will show you a brand new swift boat ad and we‘ll talk to attorney Ben Ginsberg who resigned from the Bush campaign over his work with the Swift Boats For Truth. 

Don‘t go away. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BUCHANAN:  Author Les Csorba tells us why trust is the most important issue to Americans and how it‘s affecting this year‘s election. 

You‘re watching SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Our next guest writes that, after September 11, Bush rose to the occasion, what he poignantly called the middle hour of our grief.  The American people looked in that mirror that day and saw a picture of themselves, a grown man burdened with grief at the loss at that moment.  Almost 80 percent of the American people said they could trust the president.”

Les Csorba is our guest.  He‘s the author of “Trust, One Thing That Makes or Breaks a Leader.”  And he‘s a former special assistant to President Bush 41. 

Les Csorba, good to speak with you. 

(CROSSTALK)

LES CSORBA, AUTHOR, “TRUST”:  Thank you for having me. 

BUCHANAN:  Sure. 

I want to ask you, President Bush clearly had the trust.  And I have always felt there was a certain bonding that took place between a young president, who really had not gained the bond with the American people, but it happened down there in Manhattan on top of that pile of rubble. 

CSORBA:  That‘s right. 

BUCHANAN:  I want to ask you, has the WMD issue and the perception that we went to war for something—to attack something the enemy didn‘t have and he had no connection to 9/11 and we weren‘t prepared, has that eroded the bond of trust with the American people? 

CSORBA:  Well, you are absolutely right.  The president built enormous trust after 9/11 through his resolute and steadfast leadership, as well as his compassion and his emotion that he expressed after 9/11.

But I think a trusted leader is worthy of trust for a couple of reasons, Pat.  One, they demonstrate reliability and credibility over a long period of time.  And, secondly, when they make a mistake or make a bad decision, it‘s not willful or malicious deceit.  And, clearly, I think anybody who is intellectually honest and looks at the evidence, both parties understood that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

So, if it‘s a mistake, it‘s an example of an intelligence blunder, not willful deception. 

BUCHANAN:  All right. 

CSORBA:  But it has hurt, and the president must be focused on maintaining and continuing to keep that trust. 

BUCHANAN:  All right, now, I want to ask you about John Kerry.  It seems to me he had done a good job at the convention, heavily focused on his heroic service in Vietnam.

CSORBA:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  Five medals in four months, three Purple Hearts.  And now you have been watching this swift boat issue develop, the allegations that he is a man of dishonor, that he has lied about his record, that he does not deserve the medals and that he betrayed his comrades when they are lying in prisons and things like that.  And the polls are showing Kerry drop. 

Do you believe that the trust factor in Kerry, what you say is indispensable, is being damaged or just stretched? 

CSORBA:  Well, I think his trust is being looked at very seriously. 

He made trust and character a central part of this campaign. 

I think, in politics, you always got to be careful what you ask for.  And when he in that acceptance speech said that I am going to restore trust and integrity to this White House, he was attacking the president‘s character, so trust has been made a campaign issue by this candidate, Senator Kerry.  And I think he has taken a hit. 

I think the American people are looking at who can be trusted to command the war on terror, who can be trusted to providing for our safety, our homeland security, and I think that Senator Kerry is beginning to wear a little thin on the American people. 

BUCHANAN:  Is it because—I mean, it seems to me that Kerry came out of the campaign.  He didn‘t pick up a big bounce, but he has been running ahead of the president, two, three, four points it seems all along.  And now he has fallen behind.  Do you attribute it to the charges which go straight to his character? 

CSORBA:  Absolutely. 

I think any leader, in whatever vocation or walk of life has to be

careful to safeguard the trust that they build.  And I think Senator Kerry

built a certain amount of trust in his convention, particularly as a war

leader or as someone who could be trusted with commanding the war on

terror.  But I think that that has been eroded certainly over the last

week, as

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Let me ask a quick final question. 

CSORBA:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  Once trust, let‘s say in the case of a Bill Clinton, trust in a leader has been destroyed, can it be restored? 

CSORBA:  Very difficult to restore it. 

I think, once it‘s broken, it takes a long time to restore it.  That‘s why the maintenance phase of trust, when you are in office or in a position of leadership, you have got to be very, very careful to maintain it and keep the trust. 

BUCHANAN:  All right, Les Csorba, thank you very much for joining us. 

CSORBA:  Thank you, Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  All right, joining us now is Tony Blankley of “The Washington Times” and Lawrence O‘Donnell, MSNBC‘s senior political analyst. 

Lawrence, good to have back with us. 

Tony, thanks for joining us here. 

Lawrence, let me begin with you. 

Do you attribute this “Los Angeles Times” poll and these other polls you have been hearing tonight, which show the president for the first time moving into very tiny, or at least small lead over John Kerry and Kerry falling in terms of support for him as a president who can handle terror and who is an honest and truthful man, do you attribute that to the swift boat controversy? 

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST:  I don‘t think it‘s clear yet, Pat, that you can attribute that slippage on the internals to swift boat.  It may be swift boat. 

But, look, these polls are completely unchanged, basically.  They are all dead ties within the margin of error.  And I, as an NBC News employee, must use the language of the NBC News poll, which was released today, which you can get on MSNBC.com.  The headline reads, president and Kerry still deadlocked.  And that‘s what this is. 

When you see them go up by two or three points, one goes up, the other goes down, within the margin of error, absolutely nothing has happened.  And the NBC poll analysis is relentless about how amazing it is how steady this is.  And, in fact, on the NBC poll, nothing has changed. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, I am looking at “The L.A. Times” poll, which had Bush two points down before the Democratic Convention. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s all within the margin of error, Pat.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Yes, but most folks think that Kerry had a good convention, and now instead of Bush being two down, he is three ahead.  That‘s a five point turnaround.  That‘s five million votes. 

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s not when you consider the way the margin of error behaves.  It‘s actually no movement at all, because those previous numbers a month ago were variable by a range of six points, in other words, three points in either direction, which means, not to get overly technical, but these numbers we are seeing tonight might have already existed. 

BUCHANAN:  All right, let me bring in the gentleman from Great Falls. 

Much ado about nothing, Tony? 

TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON TIMES”:  I think it‘s a substantial ado about a fair amount. 

I agree with Lawrence that all these polls are within the margin of error, three points plus or minus on each candidate means a six-point swing could be within the margin of error, although, in fact, I think a better way to say it, there‘s a probability that the poll is accurate.  And I think at these margins, at the edge of “The L.A. Times” poll, a five-point swing, it suggests movement. 

Now, look, I think there‘s an easier way to figure out who is in trouble.  And it‘s the candidate who is asking for more debates.  In American politics, the candidate who suddenly says let‘s have lots of debates at least thinks he is in trouble.  And that‘s Kerry today, who has been asking for debates. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.  Now, I tend to agree with you, that his behavior, sending Max Cleland down to the ranch, the confrontations, the bring it on, then having Edwards say, stop it, Mr. President, tell them to stop, these aren‘t the moves of a strong candidacy. 

How much do you think he is being hurt by the swift boat controversy, which I noticed tonight, they are now starting to run as the lead on the national networks? 

BLANKLEY:  Well, we were on the show a week, week and a half ago, Lawrence, you and I.  We were talking about this.  And I said at the time that Kerry going after Bush was not going to help him, that the story is continuing.  I think Kerry has mismanaged this by continuing to talk about it. 

I have a hunch—and I don‘t know anything about what is going on inside of the Kerry camp.  But I‘ve been similarly situated in the past when I was in politics.

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

BLANKLEY:  And my strong hunch is, that he is not taking advice of his strategists.  It‘s personal to him.  When a smart politician—and Kerry is a very smart man—feels he has been hurt personally, he tends to want to keep arguing his point until he has won the day. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  When the smart move is just to kill the story, get out of it.  And he has kept the story going.  And it‘s been Kerry who has been keeping the story going, and I suspect not to his benefit. 

BUCHANAN:  All right, we are going to let Larry O‘Donnell talk about that and what Kerry should have done when we come back. 

Gentlemen, stay right there, because we are going to take a look at the latest swift boat vets‘ ad right after the break. 

And don‘t you folks go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BUCHANAN:  Coming, the latest swift boat ad, and also Bob Dole, what he had to say last night, remarkable. 

First, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC News Desk.

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB DOLE ®, FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  Stop talking about what a great veteran you were.  There are 25 million of us still around, and every one of them and a lot of their families and others that provided a lot of service to America.  And don‘t berate your fellow veterans as you did when you came back in 1971 and testified before the Senate about baby-killers and war crimes and murders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCHANAN:  Welcome back.  I‘m Pat Buchanan, filling in for Joe Scarborough. 

And we are talking with Tony Blankley and Lawrence O‘Donnell about the swift vet attack ads. 

Lawrence O‘Donnell, you just saw our old friend Senator Bob Dole there.  It reminded me of a statement that Jules Witcover wrote about Richard Nixon.  He said he had a unique ability to decapitate a man while leaving the skull on the shoulders.  What did you think of what Bob Dole had to say there? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I watched that show, the whole thing.  It was really remarkable television, including Bob Kerrey‘s appearance.

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  Which was really incredible, I thought, in many ways. 

I think Senator Dole is straying outside of his area of expertise on this, which is the politics of it, in which I think he has made some very, very smart observations.  But when he gets into the stuff that he knows isn‘t true about John Kerry didn‘t bleed, well, we know he bled.  It‘s just a question of how much did he bleed.  Then I think people are tuning him out, and I think he risks appearing out of it when he misstates what everyone out in the audience knows the agreed-upon facts to be. 

BUCHANAN:  All right, let me ask you a follow-up and give you a chance to respond to what Tony was saying.

Do you think Kerry has handled this well, and what would you do if you were John Kerry now to try to shut this down?  Because I think we all got to agree, this is no good for John Kerry, and Republicans are delighted it continues. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, that‘s actually exactly the opposite of what the Kerry campaign believes.  The Kerry campaign believes that the Bush campaign now is ready to shut this down, believing that this is not helpful to them.  They are losing Ben Ginsberg.  They are allowing for the appearance through all this cross-financing of the Bush people, as they are called, being behind this. 

There‘s enough there for Kerry to make the accusation.  He doesn‘t have to make it stick.  He doesn‘t have to prove it in a courtroom.  He just has to be able to throw it around. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  I think Kerry has timed his defense exactly right, and it looks like they are going to keep doing it. 

BUCHANAN:  All right, do you think that people are more concerned about 527 committees and whether there‘s coordination than the facts and substance of these allegations? 

BLANKLEY:  Yes, look, I think we in Washington in politics and journalism, we pay attention to the law.  We care about the jury part of it. 

I suspect most Americans figure that most of the ads that are anti-Bush, Kerry is behind it, and most of the ads that are anti-Kerry, Bush is behind it.  Whether it‘s true or not, that is what most people probably think, being in fact more cynical than Washington politicians on that point.  So I don‘t think it matters whether Kerry proves the point or not.  I think it goes to the substance. 

The problem is, we are talking about 5 or 10 percent of the electorate, not watching this show.  They are not the people who are best informed.  They are the ones who are still undecided.  And they are getting little bits of news.  And what they are seeing every day is swift boats.  They are seeing questions about Kerry‘s integrity and his performance, and it can‘t be anything but damaging. 

BUCHANAN:  All right, let‘s take a look.  Lawrence and Tony, let‘s take a look at the latest.  I understand this ad, frankly, is on the Internet, or it‘s going to go on the Internet, but it has not gone on television yet, but we have got an advance of it.  Let‘s take a look at parts of it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH AD)

STEVE GARDNER, SERVED ON JOHN KERRY‘S SWIFT BOAT:  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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCHANAN:  What do you think of that one? 

BLANKLEY:  Well, Gardner was on the boat with him.  I think he was the man on the boat the longest with Kerry. 

BUCHANAN:  But in the full ad, that‘s exactly what he said:  I was on the boat with Kerry longer than anybody else in Vietnam.  And he says this, although I will say this.  I think the Cambodian thing has been one story that has already been won by the swift vets.  I think far more effective is that—OK.  We are going to let you answer in a second.

But I think the more effective one is the attack by those POWs.  When Kerry came back, you juxtapose his testimony about raping and cutting off ears, against these guys, POWs in Hanoi. 

BLANKLEY:  Yes, it‘s hard to judge which ad is going to be most effective.  There may be several more.  They have raised $2 million in small contributions since this has hit up.  They are going to keep going.  I have interviewed several of the swift boat men and they are going to keep going at this thing.  And I think the money is going to continue to come in. 

By the way, one last thought about this charging Bush with connections, my paper, “The Washington Times,‘ tomorrow morning is going to run a front-page story on the connections of Bob Bauer, the very prominent Democratic lawyer, very similarly situated to Mr. Ginsberg. 

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

BLANKLEY:  This is the story that is going to be a wash by the time it‘s over.  And the Kerry people have had $60 million of ads that they are going to have to have their fingerprints on. 

BUCHANAN:  All right, OK. 

But, OK, go ahead, Larry.  You want to respond to that? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, what “The L.A. Times” poll shows is that the massive overwhelming majority of the people do not believe the swift boat ads at all. 

The Cambodia one, Pat, I think is actually going to be the weakest

one.  You have John O‘Neill on tape in the Oval Office with the president

of the United States telling them he was in Cambodia.  In a certain kind of

way, it couldn‘t get funnier in terms of the way the gang that couldn‘t

shoot straight

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  But, Larry, that was after we invaded Cambodia in April of 1970.  We sent about 100,000 guys in there. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s not what he was talking about.  That‘s not what

O‘Neill was talking about, because O‘Neill has also said publicly on these

shows that, I, John O‘Neill, was never in Cambodia.  So he‘s either lied to

the president or he lied on TV.  That whole thing is just

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  All right, who wins it?  Who wins it if people are suspicious of O‘Neill‘s credibility and they are suspicious of Kerry‘s credibility? 

(CROSSTALK) 

O‘DONNELL:  Look at the polls.  Look at the polls.  Kerry has already won it overwhelmingly.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  We have a poll here, Larry.  I think if we can show it, it is people, what they believe about John Kerry‘s medals.  Maybe we will put it up there.  I do recall the numbers. 

One in five, just about, Larry, who heard these stories and saw these

ads say they do not believe Kerry deserved his medals.  One in five said

they don‘t know and three in five said they do.  Now, I would think coming

out of that convention that everybody, including

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Fifty-eight percent, Kerry deserves the medal.

BUCHANAN:  All right, 58 percent, but he was 100 percent coming out of the convention, including Blankley and Buchanan and everybody else.  Nobody even questioned them.  You don‘t think he‘s lost? 

O‘DONNELL:  You asked who won.  I think 58 percent is winning.  You asked who won.  That‘s pretty easy. 

BLANKLEY:  I think there‘s an awful lot of expressed confidence coming out of the Kerry camp and out of the people that just can‘t rationally exist.  I mean, this is obviously bad news for Kerry.  That is why they have been reacting so aggressively. 

BUCHANAN:  But Larry says that, if it was, it is turning.  He thinks the Bush people want to shut this down. 

BLANKLEY:  I haven‘t seen any indication that

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  Go ahead, Lawrence. 

BUCHANAN:  Go ahead, Larry.

O‘DONNELL:  The other theory is simply that if Kerry does this correctly, what he is doing is two things.  He is talking about—he gets to talk about, I was a hero in Vietnam in a way that actually doesn‘t seem self-serving, because someone has attacked him and said he isn‘t. 

And, No. 2, he gets to attack Bush and the Bush people, as they call them, being behind this thing, and so that entangles President Bush into it.  The Kerry theory is that if that is done correctly, this will actually help him. 

BLANKLEY:  With fairness, the time has long past when Kerry could have talked about Vietnam without seeming self-serving.  He spent the last year talking about it. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY:  The public knew until a month ago two things about Kerry, that he had served in Vietnam and that he was a Democratic senator from Massachusetts.  And so obviously, if he at this point is continuing talking about it, it‘s going to continue to look like the self-serving issue it was for the first year. 

BUCHANAN:  OK, Lawrence, we are going to have to cut it there, my friend.  Thanks for coming on. 

Tony Blankley, thanks for joining us.

Up next, the fellow these fellows have been talking about.  Ben Ginsberg quits the Bush campaign after it‘s revealed he is a legal adviser to, guess who, the swift vets.  The interview with Mr. Ginsberg up next.

Stay tuned. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BUCHANAN:  Former senator, triple amputee and Vietnam vet Max Cleland traveled to Bush‘s backyard yesterday to protest attacks on Kerry‘s war record by Swift Boats For Truth.  And he said George Bush was behind them. 

Earlier today, I spoke to Ben Ginsberg.  He just resigned as general counsel of the Bush campaign after it was reported he is also an adviser to the swift vets. 

I asked Mr. Ginsberg if he ever alerted the Bush campaign to the swift vets planned attack. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BENJAMIN GINSBERG, FORMER BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY:  I couldn‘t do it as a matter of client confidentiality.  I couldn‘t do it because of the federal election law rules on coordination. 

The truth of the matter is that this is a group, if you have talked to any of the 250 members of it, are Vietnam veterans.  They are not involved in the political process, but they do have a point of view, a burning point of view that they wish to enter into the political debate. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me ask you something, did you help them prepare those affidavits? 

GINSBERG:  The affidavits concerning the veracity of the ads? 

BUCHANAN:  Yes. 

GINSBERG:  My law firm did, yes. 

BUCHANAN:  All right, now, in those affidavits, these individuals swear and put their oath and their honor behind charges that John Kerry basically is a liar and fraud, and a lot of his medals he did not deserve, a lot of what he said about that war is not true.

And you mean to tell me that you can both go through, see these affidavits, realize that this is what these people are doing and what‘s going to happen, and then you are general counsel of the campaign and you don‘t tell them it‘s coming? 

GINSBERG:  That‘s exactly right.  The law wouldn‘t let me do it.  Legal ethics wouldn‘t let me do it.  And I didn‘t do it.  And you can ask this question any number of ways you want to, and that‘s the truth. 

BUCHANAN:  But why would you not have a conflict of interests? 

GINSBERG:  Because it‘s not—lawyers represent multiple clients all the time.  Why would it be a conflict of interests? 

BUCHANAN:  You represent multiple clients in a single campaign, and you say you did not coordinate between them? 

GINSBERG:  Pat, I represented the president of the United States.  I did my duties by the president.  I was honored to represent dedicated veterans who had a point of view that they wanted to interject, no matter how politically unpopular it was.  They don‘t ask me to help with messaging.  They don‘t ask me to help with strategy.  They ask me to help with legal compliance. 

Frankly, I think the First Amendment is broad enough so that all views ought to be part of the political debate.  And I will absolutely help anybody comply with the laws that govern this.  It‘s a complicated area.  And, frankly, if I don‘t agree with one of those groups, I would send them across the street to my Democratic colleagues, so they could be part of the debate.  That‘s what it‘s supposed to be about, Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  OK.  That‘s what it‘s about.  You say, if I don‘t agree with one of those groups.

You are suggesting that you agree with the swift boat vets who are calling Kerry a liar and a fraud and a dishonorable man.  At the same time, you are working for a president who says Kerry‘s service was honorable and he ought to be proud of it.  Now, all right, you didn‘t coordinate.

Can I ask you, Ben Ginsberg, who do you agree with about the character of John Kerry and his performance?  Do you think the swift vets are telling the truth, or do you think the president, who says he had noble service, is misguided? 

GINSBERG:  Pat, what the president of the United States said that I absolutely agree with is that people who served in our military and fought in our wars did so honorably, whether it‘s National Guard duty or fighting in combat. 

I was not in Vietnam with John Kerry.  But the members of the swift boat groups were.  They have an account of what happened in Vietnam 35 years ago that is different from Mr. Kerry‘s.  What would you prefer that they do, sit there muzzled because it doesn‘t meet a certain political correctness factor? 

BUCHANAN:  Look, I admire them.  I admire these guys.  I have read this book a number of times.  I have read these affidavits.  I think they are some of the most honest guys in it.  I think they‘re authentic. 

But let me tell you, Ben Ginsberg, you know as well as I do, they are accusing John Kerry of being dishonorable in how he dealt with records and what he said about how he served and what he did when he came home.  They are attacking his record as a soldier and a sailor in Vietnam, as well as what he did when he came home. 

Do you think—you seem to be a party, then, to this attack on John

Kerry.  Are you

(CROSSTALK)

GINSBERG:  Pat, what would you do?  Somebody who has a strong point of view, as, in fact, I believed in—when I had the honor of representing you, you had some pretty strong views that were contrary to the mainstream.  Should somebody have made the same arguments to you that you are now making to me about the swift boat vets? 

BUCHANAN:  No, I—listen, Ben, let me say this.  As I say, I agree with the swift boat vets.  They not only have a right to do it.  I have read it.  I think it is tremendously credible.  More honor to them.  I admire them. 

I think some of the Bush campaign, frankly, are getting the benefit without standing up and supporting these guys and saying, even though we didn‘t coordinate it, they are honorable guys and their story ought to be heard.  Their charges ought to be answered.  The Bush folks seem to be getting the benefit of a political beating administered to Kerry by the swift boats. 

GINSBERG:  Whoa.  Wait a minute.  Wait a minute, Pat.  This ad had $500,000 behind it. 

President Bush has been the recipient of $63 million in negative attack ads from Kerry-supported 527 groups.  Where in the world were these questions when the $63 million was being dropped on President Bush, including charges by Terry McAuliffe that he was AWOL, including the notions that his policies were out there poisoning women and children?  Where were the proportionality from the media?  Why weren‘t you guys asking these questions then? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, I know Mr. Soros and all that and the media were asking that question. 

GINSBERG:  Oh, not like this, Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  No, they are not.  You know why?  Because this is the most effective ad I have seen in this presidential year, far and away, these ads, because they are guys who happen to be—they look—quite frankly, they are not actors.  They are real people who served. 

(CROSSTALK)

GINSBERG:  That‘s absolutely right.

But isn‘t it fascinating that the scrutiny that has been put on this ad is so much greater than what was put on the Democratic groups?  Why weren‘t the questions you were asking me in such a pointed fashion about coordination asked about my Democratic colleagues in the lawyer ranks who are doing the same thing, which, by the way, is perfectly appropriate?  And where was the scrutiny on Harold Ickes? 

BUCHANAN:  Since you are asking me, let me answer it.  Let me—since you are asking me, I will answer it. 

We all know that the big media would like to see George Bush defeated here.  Secondly, anybody that has an instinct for politics knows that these ads can do the job on John Kerry.  I don‘t care if it‘s $250,000 or $500,000.  That‘s why Joe Scarborough, Chris Matthews, Pat Buchanan, everybody here has been dealing with both sides of this issue.  These are enormously potent ads.

But I don‘t disagree with your point that the other side has outspent the president 25-1. 

One final question.  Just, as your opinion

(CROSSTALK)

GINSBERG:  But I wish your withering scrutiny and that of your colleagues had been visited upon the Democrats when they did 126 times more ads than the swift boat veterans have. 

BUCHANAN:  Maybe the reason is they are not having any effect. 

Let me ask you, what do you think, quite frankly, of the ads themselves, as someone who has been in politics and as someone who has taken a look at their effect?  What do you think of these ads?  And if you think they are a good honorable thing, why don‘t at least some Republicans besides Bob Dole stand up and say these guys have a right to be heard, just as you are saying? 

GINSBERG:  Well, I can‘t tell you that. 

What I think about the ads, especially the one that is running now that features prisoners of war in Vietnam, two gentlemen who were prisoners for over six years, talking about the devastating effects of John Kerry‘s words upon them, both when they were in prison and in Vietnam and when they returned home and were ostracized as veterans, I think is enormously, enormously damaging to John Kerry and his desire to lead this country. 

BUCHANAN:  Ben Ginsberg, thanks very much for joining us and giving us the time. 

GINSBERG:  Thank you, Pat. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BUCHANAN:  We will be back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BUCHANAN:  Tomorrow night, comedian and Air America host Al Franken enters SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY to talk to Joe about his plans to protest at the Republican National Convention.  That‘s tomorrow night. 

More SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BUCHANAN:  Hey, if you missed Joe tonight, not to worry.  Next week, you will be seeing a lot of him on MSNBC‘s coverage of the Republican National Convention.  From 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Eastern time, Joe goes solo with the biggest newsmakers of the day.  He will be talking to Senator John McCain, Liz Cheney, Andy Card, Dan Bartlett, and others. 

Then, from 6:00 to midnight, Joe joins Chris Matthews, me, and an all-star panel to take you through prime time at the convention.  And back by popular demand, “AFTER HOURS” with Joe Scarborough and Ron Reagan  They will be live in the middle of New York City giving you more unconventional coverage from midnight to 2:00 a.m.  Don‘t be the only one to miss out on the fun. 

Good night. 

END   

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.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,