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Kerry Team Lines Up Vietnam Witnesses

On Friday, a company called First Run Features is slated to debut a documentary about Kerry and his Swift boat crewmates, "Brothers in Arms," in a New York theater. Director Paul Alexander, who calls it "a very sympathetic portrait," said that no one was interested when he finished it last Christmas but that the recent controversy has given it a boost. He said the film will be sold as a DVD and could reach theaters around the country.

In the conference call, Baker said he thought that former senator Robert J. Dole's critical comments Sunday about Kerry's medals were inappropriate and that Dole had no "business" judging the injuries for which Kerry received three Purple Hearts. "John Kerry is lucky to be alive today," Baker said. "The fourth Purple Heart could have been an AK-47 through his heart."

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McCann said that he tried to stay out of politics but that when he saw that the Swift boat group had identified him on its Web site as being "neutral" on Kerry without asking him, he was furious. Kerry's commendation record "has stood for 35 years and suddenly you've got people coming forward saying, 'Well, I've had second thoughts about this,' " McCann said. "That is dishonoring not only John Kerry, it is dishonoring all veterans."

In anticipation of the airing of the group's ad attacking Kerry's antiwar efforts, the Kerry campaign has launched a new ad, calling the Swift boat commercials "smears and lies" and accusing the Bush operation of using the same tactic it used against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2000 GOP primaries.

In response, the Bush campaign yesterday sent letters to 27 television stations in 11 cities in the battleground states of Ohio, Wisconsin and West Virginia that called the Kerry campaign ad "false and libelous" for its contention that Bush was illegally coordinating with the Swift boat group. The letter did not ask the stations to ban the ad.

Rick Lipps, general manager of WNWO-TV, the NBC affiliate in Toledo, said TV stations were caught in the crossfire between the campaigns. Although he had not seen the Bush campaign's complaint as of late yesterday, Lipps said his station "tries to do its homework" by asking all political advertisers to verify advertising claims. "There isn't much way to take it further than that," he said.

The president's comments yesterday were similar to those he made on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Aug. 12, when King asked him if he would denounce the anti-Kerry ad. "Well, I haven't seen the ad, but what I do condemn is these unregulated soft-money expenditures by very wealthy people," Bush said.

Privately, Bush aides said they felt under no pressure to change their position on the Swift boat ads because the controversy seems to be hurting Kerry more than Bush. But they are irritated that the media have been taking seriously the Kerry complaint to the Federal Election Commission. The complaint, filed yesterday, accuses the Bush campaign of breaking election law by coordinating the ads with the independent group. The Bush aides are determined not to give Kerry an opening by criticizing Swift Boat Veterans for Truth directly.

Questioned after Bush's remarks, White House press secretary Scott McClellan repeatedly declined to criticize the content of the Swift boat ads. "Senator Kerry wants to have it both ways," by selectively calling on Bush to condemn one group's ads, McClellan said. "Senator Kerry can help put an end to all of this by joining us in calling for a stop to all of these ads."

Dole yesterday went back on CNN, where he had made his critical remarks the previous day, to say that he had received a call from Kerry. "I said, 'John, I didn't mean to offend you,' " Dole said. "But I said, 'You know, when you continue to attack George Bush . . . you know, George Bush is my guy.' . . . The final words were 'John, I wish you good luck up to a point.' "

Milbank reported from Crawford, Tex. Staff writers Paul Farhi and Howard Kurtz in Washington contributed to this report.

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