CRAWFORD, Tex., Aug 25 -- The Bush campaign's chief outside counsel resigned Wednesday morning after acknowledging on Tuesday that he also was providing legal advice to the veterans group working to discredit Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's war record.
In a resignation letter sent to President Bush, Benjamin L. Ginsberg said there was nothing wrong with doing work for both the campaign and for the outside group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, known technically as a 527 organization.
Ginsberg's resignation followed the Bush campaign's dismissal Saturday of a volunteer on its veterans steering committee who appeared in a Swift boat veterans ad. The campaign said retired Col. Kenneth Cordier had not previously disclosed his participation with the Swift boat group.
Ginsberg's dual role became known Tuesday evening in an Associated Press story. It was seized upon by the Kerry campaign as evidence the president's campaign is orchestrating a "smear" by the private group.
In his letter this morning, Ginsberg said: "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."
"I cannot begin to express my sadness," he wrote, "that my legal representations have become a distraction from the critical issues at hand in this election. I feel I cannot let that continue, so I have decided to resign as National Counsel to your campaign to ensure that the giving of legal advice to decorated military veterans, which was entirely within the boundaries of the law, doesn't distract from the real issues upon which you and the country should be focusing."
Mary Beth Cahill, the Kerry campaign manager, used Ginsberg's resignation to renew Kerry's request for Bush to renounce the ads by the Swift boat veterans.
"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," she said in a statement. "In fact, it only confirms the extent of those connections. Now we know why George Bush refuses to specifically condemn these false ads. People deeply involved in his own campaign are behind them, from paying for them, to appearing in them, to providing legal advice, to coordinating a negative strategy to divert the public away from issues like jobs, health care and the mess in Iraq, the real concerns of the American people. It's time for George Bush to take responsibility himself and condemn these false attacks."
In his letter, Ginsberg said he had no regrets about his dual role.
"I am proud to have given legal advice to American military veterans and others who wish to add their views to the political debate," he wrote. "It was done so in a manner that is fully appropriate and legal and, in fact, is quite similar to the relationships between my counterparts at the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and the Kerry campaign and Democrat 527s such as Moveon.org, the Media Fund and Americans Coming Together."
The Kerry campaign 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. But aides to Kerry pointed out that top Bush officials have denied any connection whatsoever between the Swift Boats group and the campaign.
Other election lawyers agreed that the fact that Ginsberg, who also was active in Bush's 2000 campaign, has been giving legal advice to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth does not violate campaign finance law prohibiting collusion between campaigns and independent groups.
But Ginsberg's dual roles complicate the Bush campaign's effort to rebut as "frivolous" Kerry's complaint that it is behind the Swift boat ads.
Asked about the Ginsberg matter Tuesday night, Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said: "There has been no coordination at any time between Bush-Cheney '04 and any 527 organization."