Attorney Benjamin Ginsberg on Swift Resignation

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," August 25, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Close adviser to the Bush campaign resigns over the Swift Boat controversy. With us now is that man, attorney Benjamin Ginsberg (search). Well, I guess this has been a lively day for you, hasn't it, counselor?


O'REILLY: Why did you quit?

GINSBERG: Well, I quit because the political discourse, if you will, around the work that I legitimately, properly and legally did for two entities was, I feared, drowning out the president's ability to articulate his forward-looking agenda. And as a lawyer, that's not serving your client. And so I thought I had to resign.

O'REILLY: All right. Why don't you tell the folks? Did you get contacted by the Swift Boat Vets for Truth? Did they contact you?

GINSBERG: They did. Some decorated military veterans came to me. They said we have a point of view we want to interject in the First Amendment debate. There's a complicated new law. We want to be sure to comply with that law. We'd like you to help us comply with that law.

O'REILLY: All right, when they came to you...

GINSBERG: I said absolutely.

O'REILLY: ...did they tell you what they were going to do — they were going to question Kerry's war record?

GINSBERG: They said that they had all served in Vietnam and wanted to set the record straight.

O'REILLY: But they didn't tell you specifically we're going to go after his medal claims or anything like that?

GINSBERG: They mentioned that they had a variety of subjects that they wanted to run their communications about.

O'REILLY: But again, specifically, did they tell you it was going to get this nasty?

GINSBERG: Well, I don't think that they necessarily thought it was going to get this nasty.

O'REILLY: Well, they had to, though.

GINSBERG: Well, you know...

O'REILLY: Questioning somebody's honesty and...

GINSBERG: The veterans that I met with were people who have very strong feelings about John Kerry as an individual and his ability to serve.

O'REILLY: All right.

GINSBERG: They weren't politically sophisticated. They did feel their point of view very intently.

O'REILLY: So they needed your advice to get into the campaign finance laws and what they could and couldn't say on television, right? Is that what it is?

GINSBERG: Correct.

O'REILLY: All right. So you said, OK, I'll do it. Did there ever come a time when you become uneasy with the kind of attacks, the kind of material that they were putting out?

GINSBERG: Well, frankly, that's not my role as a lawyer. My role as a lawyer is to be sure they're complying with the law and that's what I did. And we have a strong robust First Amendment in this country, or at least we're supposed to.

O'REILLY: All right, so like a criminal lawyer...

GINSBERG: And I'm really happy to do that.

O'REILLY: Like a criminal lawyer, you divorced yourself from the emotional part of the proceedings and stayed in the letter of the law? Is that what you're telling me?

GINSBERG: Look, Bill, there were decorated military veterans with a strong point of view who wanted to get that view out. And I would help them do that. And frankly, if I didn't agree with their point of view, I would have sent them across the street to my Democratic colleagues who are doing precisely the same thing for their 527s and for the Kerry campaign.

O'REILLY: Did Karl Rove enter into any of these discussions? Did anybody in the White House know what you were doing?

GINSBERG: Absolutely not. Look as a lawyer, you have duties of confidentiality to your clients. I did not tell one client about the activities of the other client. In addition, the coordination rules of the new campaign finance law make it problematic to share that information.

O'REILLY: All right, so nobody in the White House, because you were advising the White House at the time, knew about the Swift Boat stuff before it came out?

GINSBERG: Nobody in the White House or the campaign. But my client is the campaign, not the White House.

O'REILLY: Right, but nobody working for President Bush (search) or the president himself, as far as you know, knew about the Swift Boat stuff or forwarded it up?

GINSBERG: That's right. My representation was of that group. I'm a lawyer and...

O'REILLY: And you didn't tell them?


O'REILLY: Even though you were advising, you didn't tell him?


O'REILLY: Tell the Bush White House, “Hey, this is coming down the pike? You didn't give him a heads up?”

GINSBERG: No, absolutely not.


GINSBERG: That's what the coordination rules are about.

O'REILLY: OK. Now do you think you've done anything wrong?

GINSBERG: No, absolutely not.

O'REILLY: Why did you resign then? Just because it was a distraction?

GINSBERG: Because it is absolutely — the most crucial thing is that the president of the United States be able to articulate his forward-looking agenda. And as a lawyer, I regrettably and sadly, because I've had no greater honor in my legal career than representing this president and the people who serve him, I was getting in the way of that absolutely important thing that the president has to say.

O'REILLY: Did they ask you to resign?

GINSBERG: No, I offered it.

O'REILLY: When the president came out of Crawford and said John Kerry (search) should be proud of his Vietnam service and before that said that Kerry's service was noble, did you agree with that?

GINSBERG: Yes, I did agree with his service being noble. Yes.

O'REILLY: So you basically think that Senator Kerry performed admirably in Vietnam?

GINSBERG: Well, that's different from his service being noble.

O'REILLY: How is it different?

GINSBERG: Well, that's not really for me to judge. What I know is that I had a client who was there in Vietnam with Senator Kerry...

O'REILLY: No, but I'm trying to get...

GINSBERG: ...who put forward — who...

O'REILLY: I got that, but what's the difference between noble and admirable? I don't understand that difference. You're a lawyer. Tell me.

GINSBERG: Well, what you said was his service completely...

O'REILLY: Not completely.

GINSBERG: ...portrayed accurately, I thought. And my point is simply that there is a disagreement...

O'REILLY: All right, let me...

GINSBERG: ...over the facts.


GINSBERG: And that disagreement — these gentlemen wanted to get out.

O'REILLY: Fine. And I believe you, what you're telling me here. And lawyers do this all the time. They represent people and things.

GINSBERG: It's why we're so loved.

O'REILLY: Yes, but I want to ask you flat out do you respect Senator Kerry's service in Vietnam, sir?

GINSBERG: Absolutely. I respect anyone who served in the military, period.

O'REILLY: All right. Think Kerry's an honest man?

GINSBERG: I don't know that. I think that the tactics that they've taken towards the Swift Boat Vets and frankly towards my role in this controversy is far from honorable and far from honest.

O'REILLY: All right, counselor, you're a standup guy for coming on here and answering the questions. A lot of people in your position wouldn't have done it. You did it and I really appreciate it.

GINSBERG: Thank you.

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