Different decade, same dirty tricks

By Geraldine Sealey
Published August 5, 2004 4:03PM (EDT)

With a little bit of help from the Drudge Report, and an ad buy that got their nasty claims in the newspapers, the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are getting more than their share of publicity today. And they'll likely get even more in some quarters (like, say, Fox News) as the group's leader, Nixon-anointed Kerry detractor Houston attorney John O'Neill, publishes his book "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," coming soon from the conservative publishing house Regnery Publishing.

Hopefully the media will do their job in exposing O'Neill's longtime ties to the GOP and the fact that, as they admit, none of the men who appear in the ads that will run in some markets in Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin today, actually served on Kerry's boat. So how did Larry Thurlow, a vet who appears in the Kerry-bashing ad know, as he claims, "When the chips were down, you could not count on John Kerry?" Does he know this better than Jim Rassman, who when the chips were down, counted on Kerry to save his life? Or how about James Wasser, a radar man on one of Kerry's swift boats, who says that if Kerry called his band of brothers for one last mission and said they were going to hell, "he'd have a full crew."

The facts of Kerry's service don't really matter to O'Neill, anyway. Attacking Kerry has been O'Neill's role since Nixon tapped him for the job in 1971, as Joe Conason reported in Salon in May, and his latest anti-Kerry effort is now funded and organized by Republicans:

"Behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are veteran corporate media consultant and Texas Republican activist Merrie Spaeth, who is listed as the group's media contact; eternal Kerry antagonist and Houston attorney John E. O'Neill, law partner of Spaeth's late husband, Tex Lezar; and retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffman, a cigar-chomping former Vietnam commander once described as 'the classic body-count guy' who 'wanted hooches destroyed and people killed.'"

"Spaeth told Salon that O'Neill first approached her last winter to discuss his 'concerns about Sen. Kerry.' O'Neill has been assailing Kerry since 1971, when the former Navy officer was selected for the role by Charles Colson, Richard Nixon's dirty-tricks aide."

Media Matters has more on O'Neill's GOP ties, dating back to Nixon:

"During the CNN interview [with O'Neill], [Wolf] Blitzer reported that former President Richard Nixon had urged O'Neill to publicly counter Kerry on The Dick Cavett Show, but there is more to the story. O'Neill was a creation of the Nixon administration, as Joe Klein detailed in the January 5 issue of The New Yorker. Former Nixon special counsel Chuck Colson told Klein that Kerry was an 'articulate' and 'credible leader' of those veterans calling for an end to the Vietnam War and therefore 'an immediate target of the Nixon Administration.' As such, the Nixon administration found it necessary to 'create a counterfoil' to Kerry. Colson recounted, 'We found a vet named John O'Neill and formed a group called Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace. We had O'Neill meet the President, and we did everything we could do to boost his group.' Articles from the April 21 Houston Chronicle and the June 17, 2003, Boston Globe confirm close ties between O'Neill and the Nixon administration."

"Beyond his role in the Nixon administration's strategy to undermine Kerry in the 1970s, O'Neill is also connected to Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist (a Nixon appointee) and to former President George H.W. Bush, according to Houston Chronicle articles from March 31 and April 21. In the late 1970s, O'Neill clerked for Rehnquist; in 1990, according to an October 7, 1991, report by Texas Lawyer, the former President Bush considered O'Neill for a federal judgeship vacancy."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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