CRAWFORD, Texas – Former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland (search) said he tried to get a letter to President Bush asking him to specifically denounce independent campaign ads against John Kerry but no one at the president's ranch would accept the letter.
Cleland, a Democratic triple amputee who served in the Vietnam War, arrived in nearby Waco in the early afternoon with Jim Rassmann, (search) the man who says he was pulled out of a river in Vietnam by Kerry, who ultimately saved his life.
Read Cleland's letter to Bush (pdf).
"These scurrilous attacks on John Kerry's credibility and war, his courage, his valor, are false and George Bush is behind it," Cleland told members of the press after trying to deliver the letter. "That's why I tried to deliver a letter to the president's home and hand it to either him or one of his aides but that was unsuccessful and I'm sorry it was."
Rassmann said the ads by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search) should not be lumped together with other 527 groups running political ads because it is simply untruthful.
"All he [Bush] needs to do is make one statement, that this has been fabricated … and so far, he's refused," Rassmann said.
The two delivered the letter around 1 p.m. EDT. It was signed by nine Democratic U.S. senators who are also war veterans urging Bush to condemn the Swift boat ads (search) that have recently dogged John Kerry's (search) presidential campaign.
"As veterans of the armed services, we ask that you recognize this blatant attempt at character assassination and publicly condemn it," the letter to Bush says.
Jerry Patterson, the Texas state land commissioner and a U.S. Marine who served in 1972-73, greeted the duo and handed back to Cleland and Rassmann a letter for Kerry signed by Reps. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., who spent 21 years in the Navy and Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who spent 28 years in the Air Force. Others who signed the letter are Robert O'Malley and James Fleming, who both received Medals of Honor for their service in the Marine Corps during Vietnam, retired Lt. Col. Richard Castle and Lt. Gen. Dave Palmer, a former superintendent at West Point. Officials said the two men were to be invited into the staff compound at the president's ranch and offered a discussion with Palmer and Patterson.
Patterson claims that Cleland refused to give him the Democrats' letter to Bush.
The letter from the president's supporters says Kerry cannot claim to be a war hero while also claiming that he and his crewmates committed atrocities against the Vietnamese people. They also caution him against trying to silence his critics.
"You can't have it both ways. You can't build your convention and much of your campaign around your service in Vietnam, and then try to say that only those veterans who agree with you have a right to speak up. There is no double standard for our right to free speech. We all earned it."
Cleland told reporters after visiting the president's ranch that the swift boat issue is causing veterans to relive Vietnam all over again.
"That is not what we ought to be doing in America. We can do better than that ... we can't let these attacks continue," Cleland said.
Cleland said "the slime machine got cranked up" when Sen. John McCain was running for president in 2000 and the Bush campaign took aim at his war record. Cleland said the Bush team also targeted him by questioning his patriotism and eventually caused him to lose his Senate re-election bid in 2002, and now the Bush camp is going after Kerry's service.
"We're asking George Bush today to put up or shut up," Cleland said.
The senators signing the letter to Bush included Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Ernest "Fritz" Hollings of South Carolina, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Tom Carper of Delaware, Bill Nelson of Florida and Jon Corzine and Frank Lautenberg, both of New Jersey.
The political uproar that sent Cleland and Rassmann to Texas stems from television ads by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an unregulated 527 group. The group has been airing ads disputing some of Kerry's heroism claims regarding the Vietnam War. Kerry has accused the group of being a front for Bush's re-election effort.
Some politicos said small moves can be made to quell the storm raging over the swift boat ads.
"It's pure theater," Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., told FOX News on Wednesday of the letter being delivered by Cleland. "If someone makes an allegation about you, you answer with facts." But, Foley continued, Kerry has not done so, instead attacking others and not answering the questions posed in the swift boat ads.
"If he would just answer the questions raised by the swift boat characters, he would set to rest whatever the issue is," Foley added.
Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a Republican, said Kerry likely wants certain aspects of the whole issue simply to go away.
"What he wants to go away probably is the unfair accusation, suggestion, that he's not a war hero … he was a genuine war hero," Keating told FOX News. But, he added, "My veteran friends are very offended" by statements Kerry made after serving in Vietnam, implying that many veterans of that war were war criminals and committed various atrocities during their tours of duty.