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Whitehouse Notebook: Dana Milbank

A Swift Shift in Stories

By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, August 31, 2004; Page A19

This is a story about Swift boats and FastShip.

Four days ago, retired naval Rear Adm. William L. Schachte Jr. seconded accusations made by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth seeking to discredit Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry's record in Vietnam. But since then, Democrats have discovered that Schachte is also a long-standing supporter of President Bush and a lobbyist whose client FastShip Inc. recently won a $40 million grant from the federal government.

Vanessa, left, and Alexandra Kerry speak to a booing crowd at the MTV Video Music Awards in Miami. (Marc Serota -- Reuters)

_____White House Notebook_____
Do You Hear What I Hear? (The Washington Post, Aug 24, 2004)
Reprising a War With Words (The Washington Post, Aug 17, 2004)
Keeping the Power (The Washington Post, Jul 27, 2004)
The Kerry Campaign's One-Word Weapon (The Washington Post, Jul 20, 2004)
Leaked Salary List Shows Bush's Highest-Paid Staff Is Mostly Male (The Washington Post, Jul 13, 2004)
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On Aug. 27, Schachte issued a statement saying that after he "avoided talking to media" for months, he was reluctantly stepping forward to challenge Kerry's award of one of his Purple Hearts on Dec. 2, 1968. "Kerry had himself in charge of the operation, and I was not mentioned at all," he said. "He also claimed that he was wounded by hostile fire. None of this is accurate. I know, because I was not only in the boat, but I was in command of the mission."

Kerry has said Schachte was not on the boat that night, adding another mystery to the disputed events of 36 years ago. But other events are not in dispute. According to a March 18 legal filing by Schachte's firm, Blank Rome, Schachte was one of the lobbyists working for FastShip on issues such as the effort to win funding for a new marine cargo terminal. On Feb. 2, Philadelphia-based FastShip announced that it would receive $40 million in federal funding for the project.

In addition, David Norcross, Schachte's colleague in the Washington office of Blank Rome, is chairman of this week's Republican convention in New York. Records also show that Schachte gave $1,000 to Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns.

The Kerry campaign alleges foul play. "It's amazing what a $40 million government contract can do for your memory," Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said, noting that Schachte did not challenge Kerry's Purple Heart while describing the incident in an interview last year. Schachte is listed as "of counsel" on Blank Rome's Web site, but a receptionist at the firm said he is retired, and messages left for him and a firm spokesman were not returned.

At least they didn't sing and dance.

The daughters of both President Bush and John F. Kerry were unexpectedly greeted with boos along with the expected cheers Sunday night at the MTV Video Music Awards in Miami. But the Bush daughters, Barbara and Jenna, got the better of the exchange because their remarks had been videotaped in advance, and MTV turned down the audience noise while broadcasting their remarks. Alexandra and Vanessa Kerry were not so lucky. Startled and angered by the boos, the Kerry daughters "scowlingly delivered their please-vote talking points," according to the Village Voice. The Kerrys were less provocatively dressed, the magazine reported (it used a naughty word to describe the Bush twins' appearance), but all the women were jeered, "apparently because they weren't LL Cool J."

Freud would undoubtedly have much to say about recent pronouncements coming from the White House.

A White House transcript of Bush's remarks at a rally in Perrysburg, Ohio, on Sunday shows the president giving a strange excuse for his tardiness. "I'm sorry we were running a little late, there was a slight weapons condition," the White House transcript says. Those in attendance believe Bush said "weather condition," but it is possible that Bush still has Saddam Hussein's elusive WMDs on his mind.

Then there was Vice President Cheney's speech in Pennsylvania on Aug. 25, when he appeared to confuse Kerry with the other Massachusetts senator, arch-liberal Edward M. Kennedy. "I listened to what Senator Kennedy had to -- excuse me, I get them confused sometimes," Cheney said to laughter, "I listened to what Senator Kerry had to say in Boston . . ."

But the Web site Spinsanity.com notes that Cheney made the very same "mistake" on Aug. 14 in Nevada while discussing votes on intelligence. "Not even Senator Kerry -- excuse me -- not even Senator Kennedy would vote for it. Sometimes I get them confused." Spinsanity wondered if Cheney is "intentionally confusing the names of two people to blur the distinctions between them."

Unfriendly skies continue for the White House press corps. After learning two weeks ago that the company flying the media charter, Primaris Airlines, is a two-month-old outfit with one plane and some dubious history, reporters were given a new thrill taking off from Andrews Air Force Base yesterday morning. Edwin Chen of the Los Angeles Times described a "gut-wrenching evasive maneuver -- a hard right, followed by a quick dip, then a sharp ascent." The pilot said the excitement, all within moments of takeoff, was ordered by air-traffic control. Either that or the co-pilot was tickling him.

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