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The Race to the White House

Bush Lawyer Also Advises Anti-Kerry Veterans

Benjamin Ginsberg, who played a role in the Florida recount, says his ties to the campaign and the Swift boat group are allowed by election law.

August 25, 2004|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

WASHINGTON — A top lawyer for President Bush's reelection campaign disclosed Tuesday that he had been providing legal advice to a veterans group that was challenging Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry's account of his Vietnam War service.

Benjamin Ginsberg's acknowledgment marks the second time in recent days that a person associated with the Bush-Cheney campaign has been linked to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which Kerry accuses of being a front for the Republican incumbent's reelection effort.

Ginsberg, a prominent attorney who assisted the president during the 2000 vote recount in Florida, advises the Bush campaign as chief outside counsel. He has a law office in Washington, but also maintains a phone number at the Bush reelection headquarters in Virginia.

The Bush campaign and the veterans group deny any coordination.

The group "came to me and said, 'We have a point of view we want to get into the 1st Amendment debate right now. There's a new law. It's very complicated. We want to comply with the law. Will you keep us in the bounds of the law?' " Ginsberg said. "I said yes, absolutely, as I would do for anyone."

Ginsberg said he never told the Bush campaign what he discussed with the group or vice versa, and didn't advise the group on advertising strategy. "They have legal questions, and when they have legal questions, I answer them," he said. Ginsberg said he had not decided whether to charge the group a fee for his work.

Kerry campaign officials filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission last week accusing the Bush campaign and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth of illegally coordinating the group's ads, which alleged that Kerry had lied about his Vietnam War service. The group's accounts have been contradicted by Navy records and veterans who served on Kerry's boat.

"It's another piece of the mounting evidence of the ties between the Bush campaign and this group," Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton said of Ginsberg's admission. "The longer President Bush waits to specifically condemn this smear, the more it looks like his campaign is behind it."

Retired Air Force Col. Ken Cordier, a member of the Bush campaign's veterans steering committee, resigned Saturday after it was revealed that he appeared in the Swift boat television ad.

Tuesday night, Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt maintained that there was no cooperation with the Swift boat group but declined to comment further on Ginsberg.

Ginsberg represented the Bush campaign in 2000 and became a prominent figure during the Florida recount. In the current presidential campaign, his law firm has been paid $256,635 for his services, according to Dwight I. Morris & Associates, which tracks campaign finance reports.

Ginsberg also served as counsel to the Republican National Committee in its unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to overturn the nation's campaign finance law, which banned the national party committees from collecting the unlimited donations known as soft money from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals and imposed stricter rules on coordination among parties, candidates and interest groups.

Ginsberg contends that by offering legal advice to the Bush campaign and the Swift Boat Veterans, he has done nothing different from other election lawyers in Washington, including attorneys for Kerry and the Democratic National Committee who have also advised soft-money groups. Representing campaigns, parties and outside groups simultaneously is permitted under the law and by the FEC, he said.

"The truth is there is only a handful of lawyers who live and breathe this law. And so because the coordination rules do not include legal services among the prohibited coordinated activities, we provide legal service," Ginsberg said.

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