WASHINGTON – A lawyer who advised the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search) resigned Wednesday from President Bush's re-election campaign.
Benjamin Ginsberg (search) disclosed Tuesday that he had been providing legal advice for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an unregulated independent political action, or "527," group that has been airing ads disputing some of John Kerry's (search) claims of heroism in the Vietnam War.
Kerry has accused the group of being a front for Bush's re-election effort.
The Bush campaign and the veterans' group have both said there is no coordination between them. Legal experts from both sides of the aisle agree that there is nothing wrong with a lawyer serving in both roles at once.
But on Wednesday, Ginsberg wrote Bush stating that while his actions were completely legal and no different than what Democratic lawyers have done for anti-Bush organizations, the imbroglio is taking too much focus away from substantial campaign issues.
"The choice in this election between your principled, decisive leadership and John Kerry's record of vacillation on the most important issues facing this nation deserves the undivided attention of our nation," Ginsberg wrote. "I am proud to have given legal advice to American military veterans and others who wish to add their views to the political debate.
"Unfortunately, this campaign has seen a stunning double standard emerge between the media's focus on the activities of 527s aligned with John Kerry and those opposed to him," Ginsberg continued.
Bush campaign Chairman Marc Racicot (search) released a statement calling Ginsberg a "friend, public servant and statesman" and saying, "For the past five years, he provided the president with first-rate campaign legal advice."
The Kerry camp seized on the resignation as one more sign, it alleges, that the White House is behind the Swift Boat ads.
"The sudden resignation of Bush's top lawyer doesn't end the extensive web of connections between George Bush and the group trying to smear John Kerry's military record," Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill (search) said in a statement. "In fact, it only confirms the extent of those connections."
On Saturday, retired Col. Kenneth Cordier, who served as a volunteer on the Bush-Cheney campaign's veterans steering committee, left the campaign after appearing in a Swift Boat Veterans ad.
Bush-Cheney re-election campaign spokesman Terry Holt stressed to FOX News that Ginsberg's move was purely to refocus attention on real issues and not a result of inappropriate activities.
"Ben clearly didn't want to be a distraction to the campaign," Holt said, noting that several legal advisers to Kerry's campaign also advise groups such as the anti-Bush political action group MoveOn.org and the Democratic National Committee.
"The coordination issue for the Democrats is pretty thorny, and I can't imagine the double standard that we face in this campaign because of this dust-up that Kerry's got himself into," Holt said.
Joe Sandler advises the DNC and MoveOn.org, and says there's nothing wrong with serving in both roles at once. The Kerry campaign also acknowledged Wednesday that Bob Bauer, a lawyer advising the campaign on voting rights, is part of the same team that advises America Coming Together, a Democratic 527.
"I think this is a case of selective outrage ... the premise is flawed that there was coordination" directly between the White House and Swift boat veterans, former White House aide Jim Bayless told FOX News.
"For the Kerry people to be almost rabid in their focus on this peripheral, pseudo-issue," he continued, "is, I guess, consistent with their proclivity to blur and distort and persuade a public that doesn't have the time to get into all the details."
When asked by FOX News whether Sandler or Bauer should step down as Ginsberg did, Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter responded: "There's nothing to step down from — they are not our attorneys ... but that's not what this is about."
"The issue is," Cutter said, "the White House has been saying it has nothing to do with it. Now we know that's not true."
Steve Murphy, a former campaign manager for Rep. Dick Gephardt, said "absolutely not" when asked if Sandler and Bauer should cut ties altogether from Kerry.
"The Kerry campaign's hypocrisy today embodies the worst of American politics," Bush-Cheney campaign Manager Ken Mehlman said in a statement. "The differences between President Bush's campaign of ideas — and commitment to keeping the campaign debate focused on ideas — and the Kerry campaign's unflinching commitment to the politics of personal destruction are disappointing but not surprising."
Kerry and his campaign have consistently been asked why they don't come out and publicly condemn all 527 groups instead of just the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and a clear-cut answer has not yet been given.
Instead, criticism is focused on Bush and why he won't call for the Swift Boat Veterans, specifically, to pull their ads from the airwaves.
Cleland Heads to Crawford
Meanwhile Wednesday, former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland (search) went to the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, to deliver a letter to Bush, urging him to condemn the Swift Boat ads.
Cleland, a Democratic triple amputee from the Vietnam War (search), arrived in the Lone Star State with Jim Rassmann (search), the man who says he was pulled out of a river in Vietnam by Kerry, who ultimately saved his life. The letter is signed by nine U.S. senators who are also war veterans.
"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.
Some politicos said small moves could be made to quell the storm raging over the Swift Boat ads.
"If someone makes an allegation about you, you answer with facts," Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., told FOX News on Wednesday. "If he [Kerry] would just answer the questions raised by the Swift Boat characters, he would set to rest whatever the issue is."
Steve McMahon, a media consultant to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's presidential campaign, said the Swift Boat controversy could actually work in Kerry's favor.
"I think the longer this plays out, it's going to begin to backlash on President Bush," McMahon told FOX News. Kerry is "running against a guy who did everything he could to avoid service ... I think that contrast is going to become clear in the weeks ahead."
The letter comes as MoveOn.org launched 15 new ads taking aim at President Bush, telling voters, "don't get mad, get even." They feature celebrities like Matt Damon, Kevin Bacon, Martin Sheen and Rob Reiner.
Meanwhile, another 527 group, the Republican-leaning Progress for America Voter Fund (search), has raised $35 million to counter Democratic ads, and on Wednesday was launching commercials in Iowa and Wisconsin that attack Kerry's ad on national security, The New York Times reported.
On Tuesday, despite Bush's call to stop airing television ads blasting Kerry's war record, a spokesman for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth said Tuesday it would continue its controversial campaign.
"We're not going to stop. We'd be doing this if John Kerry was a Republican," Van Odell, a Vietnam veteran and one of the leaders of the group, told "FOX and Friends."
"I don't know how freedom of speech could be bad for the system," Odell said. "We paid for that through our blood and service in Vietnam."
FOX News' Steve Centanni and Major Garrett contributed to this report.