This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes", May 4, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Thanks for being with us. Our top story tonight, presidential candidate John Kerry, he's been talking about his military service to prove he's worthy of the White House. But a lot of Vietnam veterans, they're not impressed.
One former service member has been at odds with the senator since 1971, when they debated each other over the Vietnam War on the "Dick Cavett Show." (search)
Well, today John O'Neill and a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search), spoke out publicly against John Kerry for president, saying he is not fit to be America's commander in chief.
And Mr. O'Neill, he now joins us from Washington.
Mr. O'Neill, you say he's unfit for office. Why do you say that?
JOHN O'NEILL, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH: Yes, thank you very much, Mr. Hannity. It wasn't simply me. We presented a letter today that was signed by every former commanding officer of John Kerry in Vietnam.
It was signed by 17 of the 23 officers that served with him during his very short career there. And signed by over, at this point, over 200 of the swift boat people that served in the little unit with him.
HANNITY: Did you say every commander that he had in Vietnam?
O'NEILL: Yes. Except for Admiral Zimwolt, who died, who is shown in his advertisements giving him the award. His son signed for Admiral Zimwolt, condemning John Kerry for his conduct.
The reason we think he's unfit, in short, is first he lied then and now by claiming that there were war crimes being committed systematically in our unit and others.
And second, he's wildly exaggerated his actual experience in Vietnam (search).
HANNITY: Well, let's talk about the first part of it. And you even said in your piece of the "Wall Street Journal," that you accused him of lying then. You urged him to come forward with affidavits to back up his claim that atrocities were committed. Now he himself has even admitted he violated the Geneva Convention, and he did accuse his fellow soldiers of heinous crimes against humanity. And you're saying he was lying.
O'NEILL: Exactly right. He actually published a book that he won't allow to be reprinted.
HANNITY: I just got a copy of it, by the way. I have a copy.
O'NEILL: He's trying desperately to stop people from seeing this book, which is -- he published in 1972 called "The New Soldier." That was a complete lie. I was in our unit.
We lost any number of people who actually died because we restrained fire and because we went in with loudspeakers instead of guns.
HANNITY: Let me ask you this. I think this is an important point, John. Because he keeps traveling with a band of brothers. Just about every commercial now that comes out, he keeps bringing up the Vietnam War.
We have the medals controversy: were they ribbons; were they medals; were they his; were they somebody else's?
But you're saying that the vast majority of people that served with him, in spite of what we keep hearing about this band of brothers group, you're saying the vast majority that served with him, that all of his commanders are all now joining you in speaking out against him?
O'NEILL: Yes, sir. This letter was circulated for the first time on Tuesday. Over 194 swift boat people have already signed it. Almost everybody that -- there is a famous picture of him with 18 officers at Antoi. Out of that picture, something like 13 have signed it, and an additional four not in the picture.
Of the people that have responded to the letter, 200-and-some signed it and 19 have rejected it.
COLMES: Mr. O'Neill, it's Alan Colmes. Good to have you on the show.
Did you serve alongside John Kerry in Vietnam?
O'NEILL: I actually took his boat over, but about two months after he left. Many people...
COLMES: You didn't serve with him?
O'NEILL: No. There were probably, maybe 100 people who served directly with him that have signed this letter.
COLMES: One of them is Grant Hubbard. Is that right?
O'NEILL: Grant Hubbard was a commander who commanded him briefly for three weeks.
COLMES: Right. And here is what Grant Hubbard, who's now part of your group, here's what he had to say back then about John Kerry. And he signed -- let's put it up on the screen. A report on Kerry, he said on initiative, one of the top few. Cooperation, one of the top few. Personal behavior, one of the top few.
Why would he say that then and now be supporting you now?
O'NEILL: First of all, Grant Hubbard is supporting us, as indicated that John Kerry would be totally unfit to be commander in chief.
Grant -- John Kerry was under Grant Hubbard's command for a period of less than three weeks. What Grant Hubbard has learned that is that a Purple Heart (search) that he turned John Kerry down on, because he believed John Kerry worded it himself, subsequently got awarded in a manner that he can't believe.
COLMES: You know, quite frankly, I find it despicable that here is a man who has three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and Bronze Star, and to demean his service and try to nitpick at whether he deserved a Purple Heart I really find quite disturbing.
Let me show you the report of George Elliott, who also graded John Kerry in Vietnam. Here's what was said. Here's what he said. "In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action, Lieutenant Junior Grade Kerry was unsurpassed. LTJG Kerry emerges as the acknowledged leader in his peer group. His bearing and appearance are above reproach."
That's a report of officer fitness from 1969 by George Elliott, who also graded Kerry. How do you account for that? Do you want to claim that everybody now is saying what you're saying? It's clearly not true.
O'NEILL: Well, it is true. One thing John Kerry won't do is sign this simple form release that would allow the Department of Defense to actually release his military records.
As -- As Captain Elliott explained today, not only did he supervise John Kerry there, but in 1996, he stood up for John Kerry against a claim of war crimes being made in the Senate race.
The difference is that John Kerry, once again, renewed all of his claims of war crimes on the Democratic primaries. They were a knowing lie.
COLMES: You haven't explained how the very people who you claim are supporting you now had these superlative things to say about John Kerry back in the day when he was serving in Vietnam.
I don't understand the discrepancy. Maybe you could explain it.
O'NEILL: Sure. They were hardly superlative. If you look at John Kerry rated -- can I finish?
O'NEILL: If you looked at John Kerry rated as a member of a group, you'll find that virtually everybody in the group got the same ones.
Commander Hubbard, related generally, graded John Kerry as not observed. So you take that two or three items and ignored the not observed item on there.
COLMES: Everything did he observe he was superlative or gave him a good grade on those things he was observed upon.
O'NEILL: Yes, and mostly it was not observed. What Commander Hubbard didn't know is John Kerry in some fashion had actually secured behind his back a Purple Heart that he had denied for a self-inflicted wound.
HANNITY: John, appreciate you being with us. Thank you for being onboard. And we'll be hearing more from you in the days to come.
COLMES: For the Kerry campaign's take on the Vietnam veterans who are working overtime to keep the senator away from the White House, we turn to retired Army General Claudia Kennedy, who's a foreign policy advisor for the Kerry campaign.
General, thank you for being with us
I am appalled by this attack by John Kerry. I don't care to attack anybody's military service, Republican or Democrat. And that includes President Bush. I don't want to have that fight.
But the fact that they're going after him and minimizing how he won a Purple Heart, I find just despicable. Your take?
LT. GEN. CLAUDIA KENNEDY, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I agree. I think it's unconscionable that these kinds of things are being said.
I think we ought to look at John O'Neill's record. This is a man who was brought into the White House during Nixon's time to do the dirty tricks at that time against John Kerry then.
KENNEDY: And I think he's just kept up the same theme all of these years. You'd think he would have better things to do and he'd get to the truth at some point.
COLMES: I think it's OK if you want to oppose John Kerry, if you have a different political point of view. But let's then talk about the issues and not minimize his military service.
We also know John O'Neil's spokesperson, Mary Spake, is a Republican activist who worked for the Reagan White House. And there are a number of Republican ties, even though they claim to be independent. They ought to be forthright about who they are and what they represent and what their true agenda is.
KENNEDY: Exactly right.
COLMES: What should John Kerry be doing and saying to counter this? And did he bring any of it upon himself by leading with his service in Vietnam?
KENNEDY: See, I think that there is nothing that John Kerry needs to do about this. He is a courageous man. He is a hero who served in combat, you know, in a war that George Bush did not -- where he did not want to be sent overseas. Where Cheney refused to serve, where Karl Rove did not serve.
They didn't want to fight the war then, yet they want to get into this big political discussion now. And I think it's just amazing that they don't have a little bit more discretion about the comparison that could be made between our combat hero in John Kerry and our people who bugged out on us when our country was at war some years ago.
COLMES: I'm surprised -- I would love it if the president came forward and said, "Look, I don't want to argue on this ground. I want to argue on the issues."
I don't care to attack the president about his service in the National Guard, which is respectable service. To make this an issue, if you really want to go head to head about who did what during Vietnam, can't be a winning issue for the Republicans.
KENNEDY: Well, it certainly can't be, in view of the fact that President Bush likes to think of himself as a war president. But right now at a critical point in what is going on in Iraq, he's somewhere in the Midwest riding around in a bus.
Now, what's that about? Let's talk about some accountability, and the commander in chief ought to be back here dealing with this extremely egregious action that's going on in Iraq right now.
COLMES: Well, the real debate in my view, and I think you just pointed out, is is what's happening now correct? Are we taking the right actions in Iraq? What should we be doing now? How did we get into this quagmire? And you know, what should the next step be?
That should be debate, and I think that's what the American people probably care about.
KENNEDY: I think it is, too. I mean, I think that if we don't like almost 800 Americans now killed in this war that's gone on now a year, they certainly are not going to like it a year from now if this administration doesn't come up with a reasonable plan that deals with the Iraqis in a humane and just way.
HANNITY: Welcome to the program. Sean Hannity here.
Obviously, you're a big Kerry supporter. Was it so despicable when Terry and John Kerry attacked the president's Guard service? Or are you just a partisan to John Kerry? Was that despicable?
KENNEDY: You know, I think it's very important to take a look at what the real contributions were. And John Kerry was a courageous combat...
HANNITY: I didn't ask you that. They attacked the president's Guard service. You used the term despicable when they go after Kerry's record. Was it despicable for McAuliffe and Kerry to attack the Guard service of the president?
KENNEDY: Well, I guess that -- I think Terry McAuliffe has done a great job for America.
HANNITY: So it's OK if he does it, but it's not OK if the Republicans do it? Is that what you're saying?
KENNEDY: Well, I think that you need to tell the truth. You know, Sean, it's so...
HANNITY: I love the truth.
KENNEDY: ... important to tell the truth.
HANNITY: I believe in truth.
KENNEDY: I believe that Terry McAuliffe tells the truth and I don't think John O'Neill does.
HANNITY: OK. And...
KENNEDY: I think that John O'Neill...
HANNITY: It's not just that. You're focusing on him a little too much.
KENNEDY: ... is actually saying things he happens to know are not true.
HANNITY: But every commander, as he points out, that served above Kerry, he's pointing out, signed on to what Mr. O'Neill is doing. You seem to ignore that fact. Why would every commander...
KENNEDY: Well, what is it about that that we believe? Why would you believe such a thing?
HANNITY: Because they have the -- because we have the signatures here of these people that were his commander.
KENNEDY: Yes. And you know, they were very much in favor of Kerry at the time when he was actually serving in combat. And for years later, Hibbard was in support of him in 1996. And it's now, really after when John O'Neill comes on the scene, as a dirty tricks master that we've got...
HANNITY: For other people -- I know you want to trash him, including something of his commanders that are raising these questions. You say you care about the truth.
Let me ask you a question about the truth.
If in fact a person that served in this country and now is running for president, if in fact, he was dishonest in terms of his war record, would that cause you not to vote for such a person?
KENNEDY: I will vote for John Kerry, because I know...
HANNITY: I didn't ask you that.
KENNEDY: ... he tells the truth.
HANNITY: If somebody is dishonest on their war record, would that disqualify them to be president, in your view?
KENNEDY: Well, I don't really know what you're talking about.
HANNITY: Well, let me tell you what I'm talking about. There are questions -- there are questions about whether or not he was truthful in one of his wounds he claims that he got in Vietnam.
KENNEDY: Yes, the Republicans...
HANNITY: Hang on a second. Now I know, Byron ... writes for National View Online, interviewed the doctor who treated him.
And the doctor who treated him has a very interesting story that conflicts with John Kerry's story, basically saying it was a superficial wound in every way imaginable and, "the story that John Kerry told was different from what his crewmen had to say about it that night."
Should that be investigated? Wait a minute.
KENNEDY: OK, Sean. Are you already -- for an answer?
HANNITY: Should that charge by the doctor who treated him be investigated?
KENNEDY: Well, we don't know that it's the doctor that treated him.
HANNITY: Yes, we do.
KENNEDY: There's a different name on the record from the one you're reading about.
HANNITY: Well, I'm saying should it be investigated?
Bring it on, Sean. Bring on an investigation. I would like to see that.
HANNITY: Would that bother you -- would that bother you if a number of people had a story that was different from his, and it appeared that he -- perhaps, because if you've got three Purple Hearts, you get out of service. He got out of the service in four months.
If somebody would orchestrate something like that, is that an issue in the campaign? Should it be an issue? KENNEDY: In a smear campaign like this I would expect this discrepancy.
HANNITY: How about the truth campaign?
KENNEDY: I would love to see some truth here.
HANNITY: OK. Well, that's fair enough.
COLMES: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, General Kennedy, for being with us.
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