Sinking fast

The holes in retired Rear Adm. William Schachte's claims that he is nonpartisan would sink the Lusitania. Isn't it time the Swift Boat Veterans removed the "Truth" from their name?

Published September 10, 2004 11:36PM (EDT)

Every embittered critic stepping forward to attack John Kerry under the auspices of "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" is a nonpartisan, independent patriot, motivated solely by a passion for honesty and integrity -- or so they all tell us. William Schachte, the retired rear admiral who launched a media blitz against Kerry on the eve of the Republican Convention, was no exception, telling every reporter who would listen that his decision to assault his former shipmate was strictly a matter of "personal honor."

Yet while most of the veterans and operatives who have sought to denigrate Kerry's Vietnam service are in fact Republican partisans, Schachte may be the most tainted witness of all. Although his current employment went unmentioned in press accounts, the former Navy officer now works at Blank Rome LLC, a leading Republican law and lobbying firm.

Schachte's colleagues at Blank Rome include not only top Bush-Cheney donors, several former Bush administration officials, a cochairman of the 2000 Republican Convention and a cochairman of the 2004 Republican Convention, but also the former director of the Republican National Committee's "opposition research" department.

The retired admiral renewed the Vietnam controversy on Aug. 27 when he told journalists that Kerry's first Purple Heart was the unearned result of a self-inflicted scratch during a nighttime mission that received no enemy fire. Contradicting the word of two veterans of that December 1968 mission -- both of whom said Schachte wasn't there -- Schachte charged that Kerry had misfired a grenade launcher and suffered a minor scratch. (Schachte's account also conflicted with the Swift Boat Veterans' own Web site, which was quickly altered to match his tale.)

Determining whether Schachte or the other witnesses are correct about an incident that occurred more than 35 years ago is difficult. Judging his candor about his current motivations and connections may be a simpler matter.

In his Aug. 27 exclusive interview with Lisa Myers of NBC News, Schachte carefully portrayed himself as an independent voter who had even voted for Bill Clinton. He acknowledged donating a couple of thousand dollars to George W. Bush but indignantly denied any contact with the president's campaign.

"I don't know that I know anybody in his campaign," Schachte told Myers.

His protestation of innocence suggests that Schachte knows nobody of consequence at Blank Rome, the powerhouse law and lobbying firm where he is presently "of counsel." Hard to believe, surely, but perhaps no one has ever introduced him to David Girard-di Carlo, the firm's well-known chairman, who maintains offices in both Philadelphia and Washington. That would be especially odd because both Girard-di Carlo and Schachte are registered lobbyists for FastShip, Inc., which recently received $40 million in federal funds from the White House and Congress to build a container terminal in Philadelphia. Girard-di Carlo also chairs the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign in Pennsylvania and serves as vice-chairman of the finance committee of the Republican Governors Association, which reflects his long and close association with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former Pennsylvania governor.

Perhaps Schachte has never met David Norcross, the defense lobbyist who oversaw all the preparations for the GOP Convention in New York, and whose long political résumé includes stints as the party chairman in New Jersey and counsel to the Republican National Committee. (It would be strange if Schachte doesn't know Norcross, since they're both involved in defense lobbying for the same firm.)

Perhaps Schachte hasn't been introduced to Mark Holman or Carl M. Buchholz, two Blank Rome partners who have matched chairman Girard-di Carlo as "Pioneers," meaning that they raised at least $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Both Holman and Buchholz briefly worked for Ridge at the Department of Homeland Security, the same agency these great patriots now lobby on behalf of clients seeking contracts there. And Buchholz, who served as a "special assistant to the President" during his tenure at DHS, has also signed up as a legal counsel to the Bush-Cheney reelection effort.

Perhaps Schachte has yet to become acquainted with Barbara Comstock -- his most notoriously partisan colleague -- who left her job as an assistant to Attorney General John Ashcroft last year to join Blank Rome's Washington office. A few years ago, the Washington Post immortalized Comstock with a profile headlined "One-Woman Wrecking Crew Targets Democratic Leaders." That was back in 2001, when Comstock was still running opposition research for the Republican National Committee. Prior to that, she worked as an investigator for Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., the excitable Clinton opponent known for firing his gun at a watermelon to emphasize his suspicions about the Vince Foster case. While usually calm in demeanor, she was responsible for promoting various over-hyped "scandals" of the Clinton era -- and more recently for the "Gore file" used by conservatives to tarnish the vice president as a liar and exaggerator during the 2000 campaign.

Perhaps Schachte has no idea how greatly Blank Rome has prospered under the patronage of the Bush administration and its corporate supplicants. Its Washington office has grown from 25 attorneys to more than 70 during the past few years (in part by absorbing another firm where Schachte formerly worked). He may not realize that Blank Rome gives more money to Republican politicians than any other law firm in the country, and also holds the record as the second largest political donor of them all.

And finally, perhaps nobody at Blank Rome invited poor Bill Schachte to the lavish celebration the firm hosted for more than 500 guests on the second night of the Republican Convention at the legendary Chrysler Building in midtown Manhattan. If Schachte wasn't there to raise a glass of champagne, however, no doubt his partners toasted his "nonpartisan" and "patriotic" smear of John Kerry.

By Joe Conason

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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