Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Bush Campaign's Top Outside Lawyer Resigns

NY Times
August 25, 2004
Bush Campaign's Top Outside Lawyer Resigns

The Bush campaign's top outside lawyer, who said on Tuesday that he had given legal advice to the group of veterans attacking Senator John Kerry's Vietnam War record, today said he was resigning from the campaign because his activities were becoming a "distraction" to Mr. Bush' re-election efforts.

The lawyer, Benjamin L. Ginsberg, said that the group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, called him last month to ask for his help and that he agreed. The group has criticized Mr. Kerry's war record and his and antiwar activism in a book, television commercials and appearances on cable news programs.

"I cannot begin to express my sadness that my legal representations have become a distraction from the critical issues at hand in this election," Mr. Ginsberg said in a letter distributed today by the Bush-Cheney campaign. "I feel I cannot let that continue, so I have decided to resign as National Counsel to your campaign to ensure that the giving of legal advice to decorated military veterans, which was entirely within the boundaries of the law, doesn't distract from the real issues upon which you and the country should be focusing."

Mr. Ginsberg, the chief outside counsel to the Bush-Cheney re-election effort, agreed to an interview Tuesday after several telephone calls to him and the campaign's asking that he explain his role. He said that he was helping the group comply with campaign finance rules and that his work was entirely separate from his work for the president. President Bush has called for an end to advertising by all groups like that of the Swift boat veterans, called 527's for the section of the tax code that created them.

Mr. Ginsberg said in the interview that he had yet to work out payment details with the group and that he might consider doing the work pro bono.

The Bush campaign had nothing else to say on the matter today, but on Tuesday, Scott Stanzel, a Bush spokesman, said, "There has been no coordination at any time between Bush-Cheney '04 and any 527."

Mr. Bush's campaign aides have repeatedly said they have no connection to the swift boat group, almost all of whose challenges to Mr. Kerry and his war record have been contradicted by official war records and even some of its members' own past statements.

Mr. Ginsberg, a prominent elections lawyer, was a senior lawyer for the Bush organization in the Florida recount after the 2000 election and was once general counsel to the Republican National Committee. He said he had no involvement in the message or strategy of the Swift boat group and said he had no reason to believe that Mr. Bush knew of his involvement.

"The truth is there are very few lawyers who work in this area," Mr. Ginsberg said. "It's sort of natural that people do come to the few of us for the work. What happened was a month or so ago some decorated Vietnam vets came to me and said: `We have an important point of view to enter into the debate. There's a new law that's complicated, and we want help complying with the law.' "

He added, "I have given them some legal compliance advice."

Mr. Ginsberg said his role was no different from that of Robert Bauer, a lawyer the Kerry campaign shares with America Coming Together, a liberal group that is organizing a huge multimillion-dollar get-out-the-vote drive that is far more ambitious than the Swift boat group's activities.

Mr. Kerry has gone on the offensive over the group's activities, saying it is "a front" for Mr. Bush's campaign and repeatedly calling on the president to repudiate an advertisement from the group attacking his record. Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is also a decorated war veteran, has also called on Mr. Bush to repudiate the spots.

The 527 groups are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money as long as they do not coordinate their activities with federal campaigns or political parties. Campaign finance rules do not prohibit lawyers from working for both outside groups and campaigns because they are not considered strategists.

Mr. Bush has declined to take on the group directly but repeated this week that he believed that all outside groups should stop advertising.

Mr. Ginsberg had been at the forefront of pressing the legal case against Democratic 527's, which have spent more than $60 million on advertisements against Mr. Bush.

In complaints against the groups, Republican lawyers have noted that Harold M. Ickes, who has helped raise money for and organize America Coming Together and the Media Fund, both 527 groups, is also on the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee.

The chairman of the Democratic convention, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, has been an adviser to another 527 group, the New Democrat Network. And Jim Jordan, a spokesman for the Media Fund, was Mr. Kerry's campaign manager until he resigned in November.

Mr. Ginsberg said he decided to help Republican groups after the Federal Election Commission declined to imposed strict rules on the 527 groups in May.

"At that point," he said, "I was more than happy to help all Republican groups comply with the law so that there wasn't unilateral disarmament."

An occasional collaborator with Mr. Ginsberg, Chris LaCivita, is also working for the group, advising on media strategy. Mr. LaCivita was political director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2002 and now works for the DCI Group, a Washington political strategy firm whose partners include Charles Francis, a longtime friend of President Bush from Texas and Tom Synhorst, an adviser to the Bush campaign in 2000, who was an architect of the campaign's effort in the Iowa caucuses.

Mr. LaCivita said yesterday that he worked as a private contractor for DCI and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and that there was no coordination between the firm and the group.

"Obviously, I don't work for the Bush campaign," he said.

Mr. LaCivita described his role as providing advice on the news media and placing advertisements. Asked to describe how close his involvement was or how Mr. Ginsberg was involved, Mr. LaCivita referred calls to a spokesman for Swift Boat Veterans, which declined to comment.

Mr. LaCivita and Mr. Ginsberg have also been involved with Progress for America, a group that calls itself the leading organization pushing a conservative agenda. Mr. Ginsberg did not say how frequently he consulted with the group.

This is the second time in recent days that an individual associated with Mr. Bush's campaign has acknowledged working with Swift Boat Veterans. On Sunday, the campaign confirmed an accusation first made by Mr. Kerry's campaign that Kenneth Cordier, a retired colonel who appears in the second of two commercials by the group, had been a member of the Bush campaign's veterans' advisory committee. The campaign said that it had not known that Mr. Cordier, a volunteer, was going to be in the spot and that he had resigned as a result of it.

Mr. Kerry's campaign filed a complaint last week with the Federal Election Commission about collaboration between Mr. Bush's campaign and the Swift Boat Veterans, activities that would violate the laws for the 527's.

Swift Boat Veterans portrays itself as an organic group opposed to Mr. Kerry. Yesterday, the chairman of the Federal Election Commission defended the group's right to advertise. But it has gradually acknowledged ties to people close to the Republican Party and Mr. Bush's campaign.

"It's another piece of evidence of the ties between the Bush campaign and this group," Chad Clanton, a spokesman for Mr. Kerry, said. Asked about his campaign's use of shared lawyers, Mr. Clanton said, "If the Bush campaign truly disapproved of this smear, their top lawyer wouldn't be involved."

On Monday, the veterans' group acknowledged that a longtime Republican operative, Susan Arceneaux, was working for it and had taken out the post office box listed as the group's address. The group described Ms. Arceneaux's role, also, as "compliance."

Records also list Ms. Arceneaux as treasurer of the Majority Leader's Fund, a political action committee affiliated with the former House majority leader, Dick Armey of Texas, which like the Swift Boat Veterans received significant financing from Bob Perry, a Texan who has long supported Mr. Bush.

Mr. Perry has given $200,000 to Swift Boat Veterans. He is listed as co-host on an invitation to a fund-raiser next week at the Tavern on the Green in Manhattan. The invitation list includes President Bush's chief political strategist, Karl Rove, The Dallas Morning News reported yesterday. Mr. Rove has acknowledged through a spokesman to being friends with Mr. Perry.