WASHINGTON – The White House wants John Kerry to name names.
Bush administration officials on Monday continued to press Kerry to say exactly what international leaders have told the presumed Democratic presidential nominee privately that they back his candidacy to oust President Bush.
And the White House (search) said that if Kerry can't publicly identify anyone, perhaps the Massachusetts senator made the whole thing up.
Kerry said at a fund-raiser last week in Florida that he's heard from some world leaders who quietly back his candidacy and who hope he defeats Bush in November.
"Either he is straightforward and states who they are, or the only conclusion one can draw is that he is making it up to attack the president," White House spokesman Scott McClellan (search) said Monday.
Three times, McClellan repeated the charge that Kerry was "making it up." And he sought to turn Kerry's assertion to the White House's advantage by using it to raise questions about Kerry's credibility.
Said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., in a conference call arranged by the Bush-Cheney campaign: "He clearly has an obligation to, you know, you put up or you shut up. You don't make up reckless charges and then say, well, it's really secret, I can't tell you."
Questioned about the White House criticism, Kerry told reporters Monday, "They're trying to change the subject from jobs, health care, the environment and social security. They don't have a campaign so they're trying to divert it."
"With so many serious questions facing this nation, it is unfortunate that this White House is resorting to engaging in campaign tactics," said Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter (search). "This is part of a pattern of the failure of this White House to distinguish between politics and governing."
The Kerry campaign also responded with a top-10 list of Bush assertions that it said "proved false." They ranged from Bush's claim in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had obtained nuclear material from Niger, to the administration's prediction that last year's tax cuts would create 1 million jobs.
Kerry Questioned on the Road
While on the campaign trail Sunday, Kerry got questioned by someone at a town hall meeting in Bethlehem, Pa., about his relationship with foreign leaders and the comments he made about him ousting Bush.
Cedric Brown implied in his question that Kerry was "meeting with foreign leaders to overthrow Bush" and then said to Kerry: "You lied to us."
"I haven't met with foreign leaders for any overthrow purpose," Kerry responded. "I never said that. What I said was, that I have heard from people who are leaders elsewhere in the world, who don't appreciate the Bush administration approach and would love to see a change in the leadership of the United States."
At times, the crowd booed the man and shouted for him to sit down. Kerry responded by keeping the crowd calm and continuing the exchange, asking Brown about his party affiliation and whether he voted for Bush.
Kerry said it's no secret that he believes the Bush administration has run a reckless and arrogant foreign policy. He's challenged Bush to a series of monthly debates and said America deserves more than an election season of political bickering.
Cheney, Powell Challenge Kerry's Point
At a fund-raiser in Phoenix on Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney noted Cedric Brown's question and Kerry's response to the man: "That's none of your business."
"But it is our business when a candidate for president claims the political endorsement of foreign leaders," Cheney said at the fund-raiser for Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., on Monday. "At the very least, we have a right to know what he is saying to them that makes them so supportive of his candidacy."
McClellan put a sharper point on a response offered a day earlier by Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), who on "Fox News Sunday" also had called on Kerry to name his foreign supporters, but had stopped short of accusing Kerry of manufacturing the claim.
"I don't know what foreign leaders Senator Kerry is talking about," Powell told Fox News' Chris Wallace. "It's an easy charge, an easy assertion to make. But if he feels it is that important an assertion to make, he ought to list some names. If he can't list names, then perhaps he should find something else to talk about."
New Approach for White House?
McClellan took issue with Kerry's suggestions that the Bush administration held up for political purposes announcement of an agreement with Libya to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction; and that the administration had rebuffed offers from Russia and France to avert the Iraq war.
"This is not the first time he has refused to back up his assertions," McClellan said.
McClellan's remarks came a day after Spanish voters ousted the conservative party that had strongly backed Bush on the Iraq war.
Asked whether the Spanish election results gave credence to Kerry's claim that some foreign leaders want to see Bush booted from the White House, McClellan chuckled.
"I think that if Senator Kerry is going to say he has support from foreign leaders then he needs to be straightforward with the American people and say who it is that he has spoken with and who it is that supports him," McClellan said.
McClellan's pointed reaction illustrated his changing role at the White House. For months, the press secretary has deflected almost all political questions to Bush's re-election campaign, part of an effort to portray the White House as above the campaign fray. But administration officials say McClellan is becoming a more forceful voice in the exchanges with the Kerry camp.
The shift did not go unnoticed at Kerry campaign headquarters.
"If the president wants his White House press secretary to be the press secretary for the re-election campaign, he ought to get him off the taxpayers' payroll and stop using the White House for political purposes," said Cutter, Kerry spokeswoman.
"This is part of a pattern of the failure of this White House to distinguish between politics and governing."
Fox News' Kelly Wright and The Associated Press contributed to this report.