updated 8/29/2004 11:49:23 PM ET 2004-08-30T03:49:23

Guests: Thomas Lipscomb, Van Odell, Robert Reich

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight‘s top headline, it looks like the swift vet ads may be hurting John Kerry.  The “Real Deal”?  It‘s time the senator calls in reinforcements. 

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

Polls show John Kerry losing ground in key battleground states.  Is the swift vets‘ ad campaign to blame?  We‘re going to be asking our all-star panel. 

And then a man who says he was John Kerry‘s superior on the night the candidate earned his first Purple Heart, and he says Kerry‘s version of events just isn‘t true.  NBC‘s Lisa Myers will be bringing us his story. 

Plus, a former POW steps down from the Bush campaign after he appears in a swift vet ad.  Colonel Ken Cordier joins us tonight in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. 

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

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, welcome to the show. 

It‘s time for a congressional memo from a former congressman to a future commander in chief, possibly.  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Real Deal.” 

Now, polls are showing that the swift boat ads are hurting John Kerry‘s campaign.  The most recent “L.A. Times” poll shows that for the first time this year, George W. Bush leads, and he leads by three points.  An NBC poll is showing George Bush ahead by two points after John Kerry‘s convention.  Battleground states, where John Kerry needs to pick up most of these battleground states are all going in George Bush‘s direction, that also according to an “L.A. Times” poll. 

So John Kerry needs to ask himself an important question.  WWBD?  What would Bubba do?  That Bubba is, of course, Bill Clinton.  Bill Clinton in 1992 set up a war room.  He talked about it on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”  And Clinton was absolutely masterful in 1992.  And said it last night on “The Daily Show” that every time he was attacked, he took that as an opportunity to go after his opponents and fight them back.  And as Bill Clinton said, when you‘re punched, you punch back harder.  He did it in 1992.  And that‘s why he was elected president of the United States. 

Now, John Kerry, let‘s face it, his campaign team has responded possibly flat-footed.  Now, the spin cycle was saying over the past 24 hours in media outlets today that the Kerry campaign wanted this story to continue.  Don‘t believe it at all.  These latest polls show this could be hurting John Kerry extraordinarily badly. 

Now, let me say this.  John Kerry and John Kennedy have many similarities.  They‘re both senators from Massachusetts.  They were both war heroes.  They both had a great story to tell about what they did overseas.  But there‘s one big difference.  John Kennedy didn‘t let his Harvard Yard buddies run his campaign.  That task was left to a man who was tough as nails, Ambassador Joe Kennedy. 

Joe Kennedy beat up all of his opponents.  And you know what?  Bill Clinton also—you know, just like in 1992, Bill Clinton beat up whoever got in his way, Joe Kennedy beat up whomever and whatever got in John Kennedy‘s way, and he did what it took to win.  If you don‘t believe me, then ask Sam Giancana. 

But John Kerry‘s letting a lot of these Harvard Yard buddies run his campaign.  With all due respect to the university that I want both of my boys to attend, I‘m not sure that Harvard grads know what really plays in Peoria as much as guys that graduate from Eureka College or Southwestern Texas or Ole Miss.  But I can tell you this.  The Bushes in 1988 laughed at the Boston based campaign team that ran Michael Dukakis‘ failed campaign. 

Southern state schoolboys like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove have always salivated at the sight of Ivy League advisers running these Massachusetts senators‘ campaigns, and governors‘ campaigns, of course.  Now, sure, poppy and his family are as elitist as hell, but there‘s enough Texas in them to figure out what to do to win. 

So here‘s my advice to Senator Kerry, and I present it respectfully.  Pick up the phone.  Call information for Cajun country and ask—I can‘t believe I‘m saying this—ask James Carville to run your campaign.  Now, I can‘t stand the guy‘s style.  I can‘t stand his politics.  But you don‘t need another Boston blue-blood on your team.  You need a mean-spirited Southerner that saved Bill Clinton in New Hampshire in 1992 and impeachment battles in 1998.  Carville knew in ‘98 the only way to survive Ken Starr‘s attacks was to destroy Ken Starr‘s reputation. 

It was ugly and it sickened me to my stomach, but this is not about being sweet.  This is not about being polite.  This is about being elected president of the United States.  And right now, you need to hire somebody who can pick up the scent of blood from the enemy camp and tear the roof off the sucker.  And, sir, I respectfully submit that that man is James Carville.  And that‘s tonight‘s “Real Deal.” 

Now, I‘m joined by MSNBC political analysts Pat Buchanan and Lawrence O‘Donnell and pollster Frank Luntz. 

Frank, let me begin with you.

President Bush has taken the lead in the horse race for the first time this year.  According to a new poll by “The Los Angeles Times,” George Bush now leads John Kerry 49-46.  A month ago, before John Kerry‘s campaign—convention—he led Bush by two points. 

I also have Robert Reich, former Clinton secretary and the author of “Reason” here. 

But let me ask you this, Frank Luntz.  What is accounting for this swing towards George Bush, and how bad is it for John Kerry that he‘s actually lost ground since his own convention? 

FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER:  Well, Joe, it is never healthy to criticize or disagree with the host of a program, but I have got to do it this time.  You know that I agree with you on almost everything you conclude.

But in this case, it‘s not the campaign.  The problem with John Kerry right now and why he‘s dropped some and why George W. Bush has gone up is the actual words coming out of John Kerry‘s mouth back in 1971.  You can argue over its veracity.  You can argue whether it‘s relevant for the current campaign.  But the words that he used back in ‘71 and the words that the voters are hearing, it‘s not campaign strategy.  It‘s simply destructive to John Kerry and he can‘t take it back. 

And the more that he focuses on it, and the more that he tries to condemn George Bush for funding the advertising actually the less effective he becomes.  You have got to put up not just the visuals that you‘ve got right now, but you have got to play his words.  And the one that stands out more strongly than anything else is that the gentleman who says, I was tortured and I wouldn‘t say what John Kerry said for free. 

These vets feel betrayed. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, they certainly do.

Lawrence O‘Donnell, though, I remember, 1992, Bill Clinton goes into New Hampshire.  He‘s got a double label attached to him, adulterer and draft dodger.  Of course, he was lying about the Gennifer Flowers affair, we found out six years later.  But James Carville went on the attack, got that behind him.  And do you remember, do you remember the letter to the head of the ROTC, where Bill Clinton said that he was ashamed to be in the ROTC? 

Now, that—that—was just as offensive to vets in 1992 as this is to vets in 2004.  But with the help of James Carville, with the help of Stephanopoulos, with the help of an aggressive, mean, tough campaign team, they turned things around.  Am I wrong on this one or is John Kerry playing a little too nice? 

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST:  I do have some

disagreements, Joe, but I have to say, as someone from Boston who went to

Harvard, I guess I really don‘t have any standing on the show.  I don‘t

think I should

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You don‘t. 

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  ... anything after that introduction.

So everyone listening should discount everything I have to say, given

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Lawrence, let me ask you that, because you‘re qualified to talk on this point.  You know what?  I‘m from the Redneck Riviera.  I would not hire myself to figure out how to win in the suburbs of Philadelphia or in the swing states in Missouri or in West Hollywood or on the Upper West Side or in New England. 

Don‘t you think there‘s a blind spot for a lot of these Boston advisers on what—because they‘ve already won their state.  They have got to win Missouri. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, not with Mary Beth Cahill.  She did not go to Harvard, Joe.  She went to a Catholic college, which was then for girls only, as they used to say. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And she worked for Ted—she‘s works for Ted Kennedy.

O‘DONNELL:  Right.  But she has worked her way up. 

She‘s a real, and in many ways more like a kind of classic Boston Irish pol, someone with her feet on the ground.  She really understands what‘s going on out there.  In fact, off the top of my head, I can‘t think of anybody, any of these Harvard types who are at the top level of the Kerry campaign.  The only Ivy Leaguer is John Kerry. 

But, Joe, I think that the effects of these polls, at this stage, are being exaggerated.  First of all, they‘re deadlocked in a tie.  These are statistical ties.  They‘re not changed.  When those polls were coming out with two and three points ahead, I said the same thing . He‘s not ahead.  He‘s in a dead-straight tie with the president. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  What concerns me, though, Lawrence, is this is after his

·         it would concern me if I were on his campaign.  It was after the convention.  Let‘s say George Bush gets a three-, four or five-point bounce in his convention, which he should, historically.  Then all of a sudden this five-point swing makes a big difference. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, five points is the entire election, Joe.  According to the “L.A. Times” poll that we‘re talking about, there are only five points undecided right now.  So that seems as though it‘s impossible for him to get a five-point bounce coming out of the campaign, because that would mean every single undecided voter in the “L.A. Times” poll suddenly decides to go with Bush. 

They‘ve had four years to make that decision.  They haven‘t made it.  The overwhelming majority of those undecided voters in that poll believe that the country‘s going in the wrong direction.  They also believe that going to Iraq was a mistake.  So they don‘t hold opinions that make it easy for them to switch to Bush just on the basis of a convention. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And yet, though, they aren‘t sold on John Kerry yet even after his convention. 

Lawrence, I need to go to Pat Buchanan, but I‘m going to ask you a question I want to answer at the end of this segment.  Do you think you can get my kids into Harvard? 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, I‘ll admit it, I‘m a hypocrite.  But I want you to tell me.  I‘m not just talking about James Carville.  I‘m not just talking about Paul Begala.  I‘m talking—I mean, come on, Pat.  You have been on the inside of Republican campaigns.  And when you see these elitists—and Mary Beth Cahill not an elitist.  I‘m not saying she‘s an elitist at all.

I‘m just saying, though, you need to get somebody in there that smells blood, like James Carville, like Paul Begala, like Lee Atwater, like Karl Rove.  I couldn‘t do their jobs, but I‘ll tell you what.  If I were running for president, I‘d want somebody like them on my side fighting. 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think the war room—with due respect, I think the Nixon campaign of ‘72 was as good as I‘ve ever seen, and the war room was the best one I‘ve ever seen since in 1992. 

I was in New Hampshire with Clinton.  And, frankly, Joe, what happened up there, he was about at 36 percent.  He was moving away with this election.  And that double draft thing and Gennifer Flowers hit.  He plummeted.  His support was cut in half.  But he came back fighting and ran second and of course Tsongas couldn‘t go South.

What he got—what was done well for him is, it happened in New Hampshire.  He got it behind him.  This has come after the convention.  It goes right to the principal asset of Kerry, which is, I am a bemedaled war hero.  Worse than that, it goes to the issues of, is this man truthful?  Can you trust him?  Is the man a liar and a fraud? 

And the character issue is critical for Americans.  George Bush almost had the election wrapped up, and he plummeted several points simply on a drunk driving count two years ago. 

Last point, I think Frank Luntz is right.  The most devastating of these ads is those ads with two POWs, guys, both of them six years in those prisons.  And they said, we refused under torture to say what John Kerry said, lying about our troops in Vietnam.  When our guys are in Iraq and you have got these ads showing John Kerry trashing soldiers still in combat, it is tough even for Carville, even for the best team to overcome. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what?  We‘re going to keep talking about this.  And we‘re going to talk about “L.A. Times” battleground states poll that shows John Kerry also slipping in extraordinarily important states.  We‘ll do that in one minute when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.  So stick around. 

Robert Reich, we‘re coming to you.  I know you‘re a fighter, buddy.  I know you‘re going to tell me they need to put on the brass knuckles and start swinging.

Stick around.  SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY is going to be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re going to be taking a look at what the United States Navy is saying about discrepancies in John Kerry‘s war record with reporter Tom Lipscomb, when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, we‘re back with our all-star panel.

Let me go right now to Robert Reich. 

Mr. Secretary, what does the John Kerry campaign need to do to turn this thing around?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY:  Joe, I completely disagree with your premise. 

(CROSSTALK)

REICH:  You are assuming that this is a neck-and-neck race that John Kerry is losing.  As a matter of fact, Larry O‘Donnell is completely right.  For the last month, in terms of the margin of error on these polls, there has been an almost exact equality in terms of George Bush and John Kerry. 

There are very, very few undecideds.  This is not like 1992.  This is not like 1996.  It is not like anything we‘ve actually seen in recent American history this early in a campaign cycle.  And I‘ll tell you, I just got back from the Midwest, from battleground states.  I‘ve been stumping for John Kerry for most of this week.

The issue here is not so much the numbers on the polls.  The issue is turnout.  The question is who is going to be able to motivate the most voters to get out on Election Day.  And I can tell you, from reporting directly from West Virginia and also from Wisconsin, I haven‘t seen Democrats this revved up, this united, this determined in any election in my lifetime. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, that‘s a great point about turnout.  I‘ll give you a good example of why that‘s true.  I‘m in Northwest Florida, Pensacola, Florida.  We haven‘t seen a presidential ad in this area probably since 1968.  We vote Republican in presidential elections down here. 

Tonight, before I came over, all—all—of the advertisements in between the breaks were John Kerry ads, George W. Bush ads.  And it‘s all about turnout.  You know, the Democrats don‘t care if they lose 60-40 here, as long as they don‘t lose 61-39.  And it is.  They‘re all playing to the base.  They‘re all trying to rev up their people.  They‘re all trying to bring them out to the polls. 

REICH:  But, see, that‘s what‘s happening, Joe. 

I think the national press is missing the story.  You look at these polls.  You‘re missing the big story.  And that is Democrats are more united than they‘ve ever been.  What George W. Bush has done, he has a bad rap.  He is called a divider, not a uniter.  He has united the Democrats.  And that‘s going to be his undoing. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘ll see.  I will tell you what, though.  I promise you, any campaign, any presidential campaign is nervous after their convention when they lose three, four, five percentage points.  They don‘t it going in that direction.  Even if it‘s still within the margin error, you don‘t want to go from being three points up to being three points down.

(CROSSTALK)

REICH:  Joe, you‘re absolutely right.

Joe, can I just say one more thing quickly?

SCARBOROUGH:  Sure.

REICH:  And that is that George W. Bush needs to be a little bit concerned.  At this point before the election, his father had a favorability rating of 51 percent.  Now, on all the polls I‘ve seen, George W. Bush‘s favorability rating is actually below 50 percent.  That‘s dangerous for a sitting president.

SCARBOROUGH:  It certainly is.  There is a poll I saw out, a Gallup poll that had him at 51 percent. 

But, Robert and the rest of you—Mr. Secretary, excuse me—let no one take away from this that I‘m saying John Kerry‘s bleeding badly and that George W. Bush is over the hill.  He is not.  I mean, this is going to be a tight race to the very end.  But I don‘t like—if I‘m a Democrat, I don‘t like the dynamics of this campaign right now. 

Now, this controversy is changing from the swift vets vs. John Kerry right now to the United States Navy vs. John Kerry in one small sense.

Our next guest broke a story in today‘s “Chicago Sun-Times.”  And he writes this: “An official Defense Department document summarizing Kerry‘s military career posted on JohnKerry.com includes a Silver Start with combat V.  But according to a U.S. Navy spokesman, Kerry‘s record in incorrect.”  The Navy has never issued that sort of award to anyone for a Silver Star.

Tom Lipscomb joins us and explains to us what this means and what it may mean for John Kerry.

Tell me, Tom, more about this story. 

THOMAS LIPSCOMB, “CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”:  Well, what‘s interesting is, John Kerry has told us that we should pay less attention to the swift vets‘ various claims and to pay more attention to Naval records.  So we did. 

We went to his Web site, the campaign Web site, JohnKerry.com.  And we looked at the DD2-14, which is a summary of a military service career, Joe.  It tells everything you did while you were on active duty and afterwards in the military.  And we found this Silver Star with a combat V.  We called the department of the Navy, talked to a spokesperson.  They said the United States Navy has never issued a combat V with a Silver Star.

And that‘s very serious business.  You may remember

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m sorry.  Go ahead.  You‘re going to talk about Admiral Boorda, of course.

LIPSCOMB:  That‘s correct.

SCARBOROUGH:  This is a guy that actually killed himself after it was revealed in “Newsweek” by a guy that we actually have on our show, that comes on our show a good bit, who wrote a story saying that Boorda lied on his resume about winning certain awards. 

LIPSCOMB:  That‘s correct.  And Boorda explained the suicide letter to his seaman that he killed himself because he was so depressed at being challenged in his honor for having a V on a Bronze Star, not a Silver Star.

Well, the Silver Star is the third highest award the U.S. Navy gives.  It is for valor and it is never grant with a V.  So this is the equivalent of giving yourself a higher-level award than even the Navy grants. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, is this just a technical mistake?  Is this something that was on the Web site a while back or is this recent? 

LIPSCOMB:  This was on an hour ago.  I just looked at it.

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s still on even after you have put your article in the paper?  It‘s still up there? 

LIPSCOMB:  That‘s right.  Still up there after I broke the story this morning.  And I‘ve tried to reach the Kerry campaign.  I‘ve tried to reach a couple of their—Mark—Meehan and a couple of other spokespeople to ask them.  It could be a clerical error.  It could be many things, but it does require explaining. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thanks so much.  Tom Lipscomb, this is a great reporting job on your part.  We‘re going to post this on our Web site, a link to your article, as well as a link to JohnKerry.com.  Everybody can look at your story, then go and see what‘s on Kerry‘s Web site.  Thanks a lot.  I greatly appreciate it. 

LIPSCOMB:  Thank you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now let me go back to Frank Luntz. 

Now, Frank, I want to show you a couple polls.  According to “The L.A.  Times,” there are three battleground states right now that are swinging a little bit towards George Bush.  Back in June, John Kerry and George Bush were tied in Wisconsin.  Kerry led by a point in Ohio.  The president led in Missouri by six points.  their new poll shows, in Ohio, the president‘s holding a 49-44 edge over Kerry.  In Wisconsin, the president now leads 48-44.  And the race is tightening in Missouri, where Bush now leads by two points. 

Tell me, Frank Luntz.  You‘re a professional pollster.  If your candidate actually loses ground after his convention, after his coming-out party, what‘s that mean to you?  Much ado about nothing because it‘s in the margin of error?  Or is this a big deal?

LUNTZ:  Well, those numbers are very different than what they were a month ago, six weeks ago. 

And I want to give you two statistics.  No. 1, Missouri is the most indicative state in the country. Since 1940, Missouri‘s only voted incorrectly, voter for the loser in the presidential race once.  Where Missouri goes, America goes. 

And I know your viewers have heard this many time before.  A Republican cannot win without winning Ohio.  The Gallup poll had Ohio with Kerry up by six.  Now you see “The L.A. Times” poll having Bush up by five.  That‘s a significant shift.  Ohio‘s a very tough state, higher unemployment than the national average, tougher economic conditions.  It‘s a focal point of both campaigns.  They both show up in the same city almost on the same day.  Where Ohio goes is where America goes.  And this is even before the Republicans have had their convention. 

Look, the Bush campaign isn‘t perfect here, but right now it‘s got to be feeling really good that it is at least even, if not a couple points ahead in some of these very important states, and their convention hasn‘t even started yet. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, let‘s look at the dynamics of this campaign.  We‘re continuing to be in the middle of a fierce fight in Iraq, a war that‘s growing increasingly unpopular by the day.  You look at the economy.  You know what?  I got bad news for everybody out there.  The economy is slowing back down.  It really is. 

And the numbers are going to get worse and worse between now and the election.  You also look at the fact John Kerry again just had his coming-out party.  Despite all of these things that are thrown into the mix in the campaign, John Kerry is not taking hold.  Now, you have been up close and personal with many presidents.  What‘s going on here? 

BUCHANAN:  What‘s going on is these swift boat ads.  We‘ve had three week, not simply the ads running.  We‘ve done it every night, Joe.  Some nights, every single show we‘ve had has segments on it or the entire thing is devoted to it. 

And the beast is being fed daily.  Robert Novak had a story today in “The Sun-Times,” as well Lipscomb‘s, which said that there was an officer, a superior officer, in the boat with John Kerry when he went out on that first trip December 1968, that they thought they saw something on the beach.  They opened up.  The guns jammed.  So John Kerry fires a grenade, and it splashes back, and one little sliver is in his arm.

His medical doctor says, just put a band-aid on it.  His officer, Hibbard, says you don‘t get a Purple Heart for that.  The guy who was in the boat with him shocked him.  He says you don‘t get a Purple Heart for that.  There was no fire there.  Three months later, Kerry gets a Purple Heart.  How did he get it?  You could have this story all weekend.  And this thing is continuing right into the Republican National Convention. 

Key point Frank made is, look, Kerry had a good convention, in my judgment.  He was up.  He is now behind.  Bush is going into his convention.  It looks like Dukakis vs. Bush I, where Dukakis came out ahead, but, on Labor Day, George Bush Sr. was ahead by eight points.  He won by eight points. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Lawrence O‘Donnell, the first night we brought this up, I had you on this show.  I asked you, is this legitimate?  You said, yes, this is the sort of thing that cable news was made for. 

I‘m going to ask you that question 10, 11, 12 days later.  Is it still legitimate to be following this story, to be having reporters from Chicago coming on, talking about Robert Novak, talking about these things posted on his Web site?  Still legitimate or are we into the sphere of overkill? 

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s a more legitimate story now, because legitimate journalistic standards have been brought to it. 

For example, we know that the guy who Pat just mentioned as being on that boat through Lisa Myers‘ own report tonight cannot prove he was on that boat.  And the two other people who can prove that they were on the boat say that he wasn‘t.  And what‘s good about that is not that it solves anything.  It just gives you exactly what the fact base is, what the provable fact base is and what the allegations are. 

And so that‘s now becoming very, very clear.  And at the early stages of the story, all you heard were accusations, and you didn‘t know how to counter them.  You didn‘t know what the context was. 

And so I think the story has now gotten more and more clear as time goes on.  And I would dispute the notion that we have any polling proof that it has actually hurt John Kerry.  He‘s still in a tie.  And I think everything you‘ve been saying, Joe, about Kerry, if you substitute the word Bush, for example, if you say why hasn‘t Bush been able to pick up voters, why hasn‘t Bush been able to close, he‘s had four years to get a majority of the vote.  He‘s had four years to get himself to 51 percent in the polls. 

More people in these polls say that President Bush does not deserve to be reelected than those who say he does.  The numbers for the president are horrifying if your job is to try to get him reelected.  The numbers for Kerry do not indicate that he‘s absolutely going to win at this point, but the numbers for the president are much more negative when you recognize what an incumbent president‘s numbers are supposed to look like. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Gentlemen, stay with me.  We‘ll be right back in a minute. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  An NBC explosive investigative report goes deeper into the swift boat controversy.  Plus, we‘re going to have generals here talking about what John Kerry did and didn‘t do in Vietnam.  That‘s coming up in a second. 

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

(NEWS BREAK)

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

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, buddy, I‘ll tell you what.  I saw the bicyclists in midtown New York tying up traffic.  That‘s a really smart way to get people to vote for your candidate.  Don‘t think so.  Need to go back to the drawing board with that one. 

Robert Reich, you‘ve been out there in flyover space, in that geographic region that people call SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  At least on this program, we call it that.  Tell me, what‘s the issue they‘re talking about?  It‘s probably not the swift boat ads.  What is the key issue that you believe is going to elect John Kerry president of the United States in November? 

REICH:  Joe, it‘s the economy.  It‘s jobs.  It‘s wages.  It‘s health care.  These are the kitchen-table issues that Americans are talking about.  When I was out in Wisconsin, that‘s all anybody wanted to talk about, despite all of the time you and other television cable and right-wing radio is giving to the so-called swift boat controversy. 

And I‘ll tell you, this is the issue, the economy, why people are so worried and anxious about their jobs.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  “The New York Times” is writing about it.  “The Post” is writing about it.  This isn‘t a right-wing conspiracy. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Go ahead.  Just stick to the facts. 

REICH:  This is going to drive the actual vote.  This is going to drive people to get out and vote because they are so concerned about their jobs.  And John Kerry has answers with record to health care and jobs.  And George W. Bush doesn‘t.  It‘s as simple as that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Robert, every time you come on, you hurt my feelings. 

Do you think I‘m a right-winger? 

REICH:  I don‘t.  I think you‘re a Republican and you ought to be proud of it, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Proud of being a Republican, but I‘m not a right-winger. 

You always try to make me out to be a right-winger.

(CROSSTALK)

REICH:  I didn‘t even use the term right-winger, and you‘re so defensive, you used the term. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You actually did.  We‘ll send you the transcript. 

Hey, Robert, also, if you have got any contacts at Harvard, I‘ve got two boys and a young baby girl that goes around wearing Harvard shirts.  I‘m going to need help getting them in there.

REICH:  I‘d advise against it, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  Very good.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Lawrence, thanks for being with us.

Pat Buchanan, thanks for filling in with me last night. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, I really don‘t know what was with that tie and shirt, but it worked well in the ratings.  You beat everybody on CNN.  But I‘ll tell you what.  It was giving me a headache at home. 

BUCHANAN:  Ask Robert Reich if he thinks I‘m a right-winger. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, he doesn‘t know what—nobody knows what you are, Pat.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

REICH:  Pat, you are beyond the right wing.  You are so far right wing, you‘re almost left wing. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s what people used to say about me.  Thanks a lot. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  You, too.

Now, joining me—as questions swirl around John Kerry‘s service in Vietnam, one of John Kerry‘s superiors came forward to challenge John Kerry‘s account of his first Purple Heart. 

And joining me now is NBC News senior investigative reporter Lisa Myers for a special report. 

Lisa, what you got? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, NBC CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  Joe, after a month of charges and countercharges, the bulk of the evidence overall so far favors Kerry.  In fact, critics have not produced any documentary proof to back up their main charges.  But lingering questions remain about Kerry‘s first Purple Heart.  And now an admiral who claims to have been with Kerry on the night in question is challenging him, adding to the tangle of conflicting memories. 

(voice-over):  December 2, 1968, one of Kerry‘s first river missions in Vietnam, a night operation in a small skimmer.  This is how Kerry describes what happened that night, for which he was awarded his first Purple Heart. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The medical records show that I had shrapnel removed from my arm.  We were in combat.  We were in a very, very, probably one of the most frightening, if you ask anybody who was with me, the two guys that were with me, it was probably the most frightening night that they had that they were in Vietnam. 

MYERS:  Now Retired Admiral William Schachte claims that he was Kerry‘s superior that night and that Kerry‘s account is not true. 

WILLIAM SCHACHTE, VIETNAM VETERAN:  I was in command of those missions and I was in the boat that night. 

MYERS:  In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Schachte says he and Kerry and an enlisted man were in the boat that night when he thought he saw movement on the shore and opened fire. 

SCHACHTE:  My gun jammed after the first burst.  And, as I was trying to clear my weapon, John‘s gun apparently jammed, too.  I heard the old familiar thunk, pow.  And I looked and John had fired M-79 grenade launcher.  And there was silence.  And that‘s when I realized that he had nicked himself. 

MYERS:  Schachte claims Kerry accidentally hurt himself when he fired the grenade launcher too close to the boat and shrapnel came back and hit his arm. 

(on camera):  You have absolutely no doubt that he injured himself accidentally?

SCHACHTE:  There was no other fire.  There were no muzzle flashes. 

There was nothing coming at us from the beach. 

MYERS:  And there was no enemy fire involved?

SCHACHTE:  None. 

MYERS:  Period? 

SCHACHTE:  Yes. 

MYERS:  You‘re absolutely certain?

SCHACHTE:  Yes. 

MYERS:  Thirty-six years later?

SCHACHTE:  Hey, listen, when somebody is shooting at you, you know it. 

MYERS:  But you are in a sense saying Senator Kerry is lying and did not deserve his first Purple Heart. 

SCHACHTE:  I‘m saying that he did not deserve the first Purple Heart from what I saw.  You can characterize it any way you want. 

MYERS:  But when interviewed briefly last year, Schachte did not make such a charge.  And he has no documents to back up his claim to have been with Kerry that night. 

(voice-over):  The skipper of another boat that night, Mike Voss, tells NBC News, “I‘m pretty certain Schachte was there in the skimmer.”  But Voss won‘t take sides on what actually happened, saying: “I don‘t know what went on the in the skimmer.  I‘m trying to stay neutral.”

Two other officers, both Kerry critics, support Schachte‘s account, saying he gave the same account immediately after the mission.  But not everyone involved shares Schachte‘s memory of what happened. 

BILL ZALADONIS, VIETNAM VETERAN:  Well, he claims that, but he‘s wrong. 

MYERS:  Bill Zaladonis and another enlisted man are equally adamant that Kerry is telling the truth.  They say they were in that boat with Kerry that night.  And Schachte was not. 

ZALADONIS:  I don‘t remember every incident or everything that happened, but do I remember who was on the boat and I remember it very plainly, very plainly. 

MYERS:  Zaladonis says he‘s not sure exactly how Kerry was wounded or if there was enemy fire, but remembers Kerry opening fire on Vietnamese on the shore. 

ZALADONIS:  From what I remember, he was firing an M-16 and it either jammed or he ran out of ammo and he bent over to pick up another one and then he got hurt as he was bent over, as far as I can remember. 

MYERS:  Still, key questions remain about Kerry‘s account.  If there was combat, why no after-action report, as exists for other Purple Hearts?   Schachte says it‘s because he didn‘t file such a report because there was no enemy action. 

SCHACHTE:  The division commander said fine.  Understand.  No after— action report required. 

MYERS:  But Kerry blames the lack of a report on Navy record-keeping. 

Another question, why was this Purple Heart awarded three months later?  Grant Hibbard, then Kerry‘s commanding officer and now a Kerry critic, says he initially rejected recommending Kerry for a Purple Heart. 

A Kerry spokesman tells NBC, he does not recall that.  But in April, Kerry told “USA Today,” he did recall someone raising a question about the award and suggests he may have asked for the award after learning Purple Hearts were automatic and not at the commander‘s discretion.  But  Schachte‘s timing and motives also can be questioned. 

MYERS (on camera):  It‘s been 35 years.  Why speak out now in the heat of a presidential campaign? 

SCHACHTE:  Well, the timing is something that‘s driven by the publication of “Tour of Duty.” 

MYERS (voice-over):  Schachte‘s says he was shocked when he read an excerpt of the authorized biography, including Kerry‘s version of his first Purple Heart.  But the Kerry campaign charges this is all about politics, noting Schachte has endorsed and twice contributed to President Bush. 

Senior Kerry adviser Michael Meehan. 

MICHAEL MEEHAN, SENIOR ADVISER, JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN:  Mr. Schachte has now come forward after years of remaining silent with no evidence, no documents, no proof that he was there, just a claim that he was there, just a new allegation in the middle of a presidential campaign. 

SCHACHTE:  It is difficult to get beyond those accusations that we‘re somehow puppets for this campaign.  That really strikes at the heart of your own personal honor. 

MYERS (on camera):  So you‘re not doing this to help President Bush? 

SCHACHTE:  For lord‘s sake, no.  Would I invite what‘s going to happen?  I mean, no, absolutely not. 

MYERS (on camera):  While challenging Kerry‘s truthfulness, Schachte acknowledges that Kerry showed courage in Vietnam, noting that it took courage just to volunteer for that mission that night—back to you, Joe. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right Lisa Myers, thanks so much.  Great work, as always. 

Coming up next, I‘m going to be talking to General McCaffrey and another swift boat vet detractor of John Kerry‘s.  That‘s coming up right after this short break.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, facts continue to come out, but what‘s the truth about John Kerry‘s military record?  And what‘s the truth about the Swift Vets For Truth campaign? 

We‘ve got retired General Barry McCaffrey and Van Odell.  He‘s a swift boat veteran who served in same flotilla as John Kerry. 

General, let me start with you.

Here‘s what I love about you, OK?  I don‘t know who you‘re going to vote for.  I really don‘t care.  I know I agreed with you early on in the war when you said we needed to go into Iraq.  I know I agreed with you when you said the administration had it all wrong on troop levels.  I know I agree with you on a lot of things.  Sometimes I disagree with you, but usually you‘re a straight shooter and it‘s not partisan. 

Now, let me tell you this.  I‘ll try to make this question too long or intro too long.  But I have a hard time attacking John Kerry.  I have a hard time attacking these swift boat vets, because they both have had bullets fired at them.  And for punks like me that have never served in the military, I don‘t think it‘s my part or any other journalist punk‘s part to go questioning these guys‘ heroism.  You‘ve been shot at, so you tell me, what‘s your take on this controversy? 

RET. GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, who knows. 

I think there‘s two things we ought to take into account.  One is the serious media people who have looked at the issue.  And as I watch it evolve, particularly “The Washington Post” investigative reporting and others, I think what we ought to do is go with the contemporary Navy records that indicate, by and large, that Senator Kerry was a terrific young combat officer.  The young sailors who served with him in combat have stood with him all these years. 

So, my judgment, just like the terrible attacks on George H.W. Bush from his World War II record, from Senator McCain, from Senator Max Cleland, I think we ought to knock this stuff off, going after people‘s past military performance and stick with the current debates.  That‘s sort of where I come out, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Van Odell, you‘re a part of this group, the swift boat group; 260 of you are coming out now saying John Kerry exaggerated his efforts in the war, very angry about what happened when he came back in 1971, testified, calling a lot of you guys war criminals, for the most part. 

Why should we not believe the Navy documents that were produced back in the late 1960s that seem to back up John Kerry in calling him a war hero?  What‘s wrong with those documents?  Why are they untrustworthy? 

VAN ODELL, VIETNAM VETERAN:  Well, let me speak to the one document on March 13.  That document was written by John Kerry.  And if you look at it, you can read and you can see the biggest thing that happened that day was the three boat was mined and everyone on the three boat was wounded horribly.  We had to take care of the three boat and get it out. 

But if you read the...

SCARBOROUGH:  Van, I hate to interrupt you.  We have got to just—we‘re kind of in the weeds here.  March 13, 1969, the day that the three boat was blown up by a mine.  There were four other boats there. 

ODELL:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Three of those boat captains say John Kerry was lying.  I think there‘s a guy named Dave (sic) Droz who was also there.  He died in combat.  His wife came out today saying that her husband had great respect for John Kerry.  And, of course, the only other captain, John Kerry.  So it‘s basically three against two. 

But go ahead.  Continue your story about March 13, 1969.  This is the Silver Star, right? 

ODELL:  No, this is the Bronze Star. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Bronze Star.  OK.  Keep going.

ODELL:  And it‘s more like seven against two, because there‘s lots of enlisted men that are saying the same thing. 

But what I want to say about the record is that John Kerry‘s fingerprints are all over it.  He testified in 1971 in front of Representative Simonton (ph) that he was the one that filled out a lot of these reports.  And if you‘ll read that report that was on the 13th of March, the 94 boat is made the center of attention, even though the three boat was the one that was mined. 

That—if you have those documents, that‘s not truthful in that way, and you beget more documents and more citations from it, they‘re not going to be truthful anyway.  So that‘s why I‘m saying that one.

SCARBOROUGH:  Your boat was the one that was blown up? 

ODELL:  No, sir.  I was directly behind the boat that was blown up. 

The boat that was blown up was Dick Pees‘ PCF-3. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Dick Pees, that‘s right.  This on the three boat.

(CROSSTALK)            

ODELL:  Right.  I was on the 23 boat, which was 15 yards behind it. 

And I saw it lift up into the air. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  Any bullets firing at you that day?  That seems to be the biggest contention here. 

ODELL:  Well, it‘s one of the three contentions.  No.

I was the gunner‘s mate.  I was on the highest point of the swift boat.  It was my job to knock down any fire.  We had—just on that side of the river, we had nine .50-caliber machine guns and M-60s.  They all fired at once about 20 or 30 seconds and there wasn‘t any rounds coming back in at us.  And we could tell that.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  Why does Jim Rassmann, the guy that John Kerry rescued that day, claim that there was fire coming at him, bullets shooting in the water? 

ODELL:  Well, you know, I believe Jim more than I believe John Kerry by a long shot.  But let me tell you why I think that happened. 

Jim—and there‘s four different ways that he fell off the boat, according to Kerry.  But the one that he says is that when the boat took off, he flipped off in the water.  He‘s in full combat gear.  He‘s in the middle of these waves being churned up by four boats moving around.  He‘s got us firing over the top of his head in both directions for about 30 or 40 seconds.  I think he just heard us going. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  I‘ve heard that.  And that‘s plausible also. 

General McCaffrey, let me bring you back in here.  A lot of people are not uncomfortable talking about what John Kerry did in Vietnam, not so uncomfortable about what he did in 1971.  What do you make of John Kerry coming back in ‘71 accusing our soldiers of cutting ears off and doing a lot of horrible things that obviously are war crimes?  Is that a real issue? 

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, I think so. 

I think it angered a lot of veterans.  My gut instinct is, a lot of Vietnam vets, who remember it from that era, they‘re angry.  A lot of us came back angry at the government that got us into the war at the way we were managed.  But, at the same time, I think most of these kids—you know, my company will have a reunion here on Veterans Day.  There will be over 100 of them there.  Most of them were wounded in combat with B Company, 2nd and 7th.  And they darn sure didn‘t commit any atrocities. 

So they‘re proud their service.  I think that angry denunciation by Kerry was unfortunate.  It was based on bad facts.  He shouldn‘t have said it.  He should walk away from it.  And that‘s coloring a lot of this dialogue, I think. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think you‘re exactly right, General, as always.  It was the Winter Soldier‘s report.  It was wrong.  He should apologize. 

We‘ll be right back in a second.

Thanks for being with us, guys.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, and don‘t forget to tune into MSNBC‘s coverage of the Republican National Convention.  That‘s going to be starting up next week—a special two-hour SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, special time, 2:00 to 4:00 Eastern.  I‘m going to be talking to newsmakers like Senator John McCain, Liz Cheney, Andy Card, Dan Bartlett and others.

And back by popular demand, “AFTER HOURS” from midnight to 2:00 a.m.  live from New York City with my co-host and main man, Ron Reagan.  We‘ll see you then.

Peace out, baby.  Have a good weekend.

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

,