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August 16, 2004
Novak Questions Kerry Credibility On War Record

Robert Novak writes about the Kerry counterattack on the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in his Chicago Sun-Times column today, focusing on the contributions of Lanny Davis. Davis, as you may recall, served as one of Bill Clinton's legal team during the impeachment, and made a name for himself with his cool demeanor and analytical approach. Davis abandoned both when he met John O'Neill twice to debate O'Neill on SBVT allegations that Kerry lied about his service record:

The campaign accepted, and he jumped in -- too early. Bill Clinton's calm advocate became a shouter for Kerry who accused critics of being liars. Davis was not ready last Monday when the Kerry campaign placed him on Fox's ''Hannity and Colmes'' program. He had not yet read O'Neill's book, and mixed up an attack on one target, Louis Letson, a former Navy doctor who is quoted in the book as saying the wound was trivial and probably self-inflicted from a ricocheting grenade shell.

On that program, Davis bought into the statement that Kerry was treated by ''another doctor, J.C. Carreon.'' ''This Letson guy never signed a single sheet of paper,'' Davis said. Actually, the now deceased Carreon was a medic who, according to Letson, bandaged Kerry's wound and regularly signed routine medical reports such as Kerry's. I contacted Letson, a retired family doctor, at his home in Scottsboro, Ala. He told me he remembered taking care of Kerry's wound, which was ''only a scratch,'' and also recalled the enlisted men, with some amusement, describing Kerry as promising he would ''come out of the war as the next JFK.''

Davis doesn't make many mistakes, but that was a doozy. The first rule for any lawyer is always: Don't ask questions for which you don't already know the answer. Instead, he got caught up in the Kerry campaign's strategy of hysterical ad hominem attacks on over 200 decorated servicemen rather than answering the charges with factual rebuttals. Davis didn't make that mistake for very long, as Novak reports:

By the time Davis appeared on CNN's ''Crossfire'' on Thursday, he had read the book and changed his emphasis. Davis was appearing for the first time on television next to O'Neill. He hammered home the point that nobody who ever had been in the same boat with Kerry has criticized his war service. O'Neill reiterated his contention in the book that Lt. William Schachte (later a rear admiral) was aboard the small whaler as Kerry's training officer and ''witnessed Kerry, with an M-79 [grenade launcher], fire and wound himself.'' Davis interrupted, shouting, ''That was a false statement.''

Davis, unfortunately, did not read the book well enough. Stephen Gardner served with Kerry for two months in his first Swift boat assignment, and Gardner has been anything but complimentary about Kerry's service. Gardner has been very outspoken in his insistence that Kerry has lied about both his record and his leadership as an officer in Viet Nam, and that he lied about his record even during his tenure on the Swift boats.

As far as Schachte goes, I know that the Swiftvets have been very careful not to put out any statements that cannot be backed up with independent means of verification. I suspect that O'Neill may be playing chicken with Davis, although Novak did contact the other two men on the whaler, who both insist that the three of them were alone on the skimmer.

Novak's column is a rational and sane attempt at a mainstream media analysis of the credibility of both sides. Unfortunately for Davis, he comes off the worst of the lot.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 16, 2004 6:13 AM

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Tracked on August 16, 2004 6:54 AM

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