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Transcript: Kerry on NBC's 'Meet the Press'

KERRY: Yes, and I said so. But I also said that she was a principal architect, implementer and defender of a policy that has made the United States of America less secure in the world.

And that was a fight that was central to my campaign. It is central to what I think is one of the major issues that faces our country. And I think it's important to have accountability.

I paid her a great tribute for her journey of life. I mean, I think she's a remarkable person. And I think she's obviously accomplished a great deal.

But I wasn't voting on whether she was just qualified. I was voting on the judgments that she brought to the table. I was voting on the answers that she gave us in committee. And I was voting on the vision that she offered to the country. And I found all three, frankly, faulty.

RUSSERT: You cast yourself as a potential commander in chief during the campaign, particularly at the convention: "I'm John Kerry reporting for duty."

What effect do you believe this book, "Unfit for Command," and the Swift Boat Veterans had on your candidacy?

KERRY: Well, that's for others to judge, Tim. I don't know.

I mean, obviously I could have and should have responded faster and more forcefully, I think, to that. But lies and smears were proven in the front pages of the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal. My crew, others, all spoke to those lies and will continue to.

But, you know, there's a new communication structure in America. And I think we could have done a better job of addressing it, obviously.

But that wasn't -- you know, what decided this race in the end was really 9/11. And, you know, I am not going to worry about the past. I'm going to go forward to the future.

RUSSERT: See if you could clear up one issue that I think has been left over from the campaign, and that is Steve Gardner, who was a foregunner on your PCF-44 boat, cut a commercial for the Swift Boat Veterans and made a very specific charge.

Let me just show that, and you can come back and talk about it a little bit.


STEVE GARDNER, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH: John Kerry claims that he spent Christmas in 1968 in Cambodia, and that is categorically a lie. Not in December, not in January, we were never in Cambodia on a secret mission ever.


RUSSERT: Now, the New York Daily News editorial wrote an editorial, and it said this:

"As for Kerry, he might ask why the Swifties' attacks have been effective. The answer is his propensity to exaggerate. It's looking more likely that he exaggerated, if not worse, when he claimed through the years that he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve '68. He said the memory was seared into him, but it's now clear Kerry was elsewhere, at least at that time. He has yet to explain. Until he does, the Swifties will have a powerful weapon in their arsenal."

And they refer, Senator, to a speech on the floor in which you said that you were there, that the president of the United States was saying you were not there, that there were troops in Cambodia. You have the memory seared in you. In a letter to the Boston Herald, you remember spending Christmas Eve '68 five miles across the Cambodian border. You told The Washington Post you have a lucky hat given to you by a CIA guy "as we went in for a special mission to Cambodia."

Were you in Cambodia Christmas Eve, 1968?

KERRY: We were right on the border, Tim.

What I explained to people -- and I've told this any number of times -- did I go into Cambodia on a mission? Yes, I did go into Cambodia on a mission. Was it on that night? No, it was not on that night. But we were right on the Cambodian border that night. We were ambushed there, as a matter of fact.

And that is a matter of record. And we went into the -- you know, it's part of the Navy records. It's been documented by the other guys who were on my boat.

And Steve Gardner, frankly, doesn't know where we were. It wasn't his job, and, you know, he wasn't involved in that.

But we did go five miles into Cambodia. It was on another day. I jumbled the two together, but we were five miles into Cambodia. We went up on a mission with CIA agents -- I believe they were CIA agents -- CIA special-ops guys. I even have some photographs of it, and I can document it. And it has been documented.

RUSSERT: You'll release those photographs?

KERRY: I think they were shown. I gave them to the campaign, but...

RUSSERT: And you have a hat that a CIA agent gave you?

KERRY: I still have the hat that he gave me, and I hope the guy would come out of the woodwork and say, "I'm the guy who went up with John Kerry. We delivered weapons to the Khmer Rouge on the coastline of Cambodia. We went out of Ha Tien, which is right in Vietnam. We went north up into the border." And I have some photographs of that. And that's what we did.

So, you know, the two were jumbled together, but we were on the Cambodian border on Christmas Eve, absolutely.

RUSSERT: Nixon was president-elect, not president, at that particular time. He wasn't sworn in until...

KERRY: In 1968, he wasn't sworn in yet.

RUSSERT: But he was president-elect, not president.

KERRY: That's correct.

RUSSERT: Many people who've been criticizing you have said, Senator, if you would just do one thing and that is sign Form 180, which would allow historians and journalists complete access to all your military records.

Thus far, you have gotten the records, released them through your campaign. They say you should not be the filter. Sign Form 180 and let historians...

KERRY: I'd be happy to put the records out. We put all the records out that I had been sent by the military. Then, at the last moment, they sent some more stuff, which had some things that weren't even relevant to the record.

So when we get -- I'm going to sit down with them and make sure that they are clear and I am clear as to what is in the record and what isn't in the record, and we'll put it out. I have no problem with that.

RUSSERT: Would you sign Form 180?

KERRY: But everything, Tim...

RUSSERT: Would you sign Form 180?

KERRY: Yes, I will. But everything that we put in it, Tim -- everything we put in -- I mean, everything that was out was a full documentation of all of the medical records, all of the fitness reports.

And I'd call on those who have challenged me, let's see their records. I want to see the records of each of those people who have put up a challenge, because some of them have some serious questions in them...

RUSSERT: So they should sign Form 180s for themselves as well?

KERRY: You bet it.

RUSSERT: Jerome Corsi, the co-author of this book, says he's moving to Massachusetts and will run against you for U.S. Senate in 2008.


KERRY: Well, that's terrific. I'm not thinking about 2008 right now, but he can do whatever he wants.

RUSSERT: Will you run for re-election in the Senate in 2008?

KERRY: Tim, I'm not thinking about 2008 right now. I'm really focused on what we're doing now. I'm excited about what I'm doing now. There are any number of potential things that I may wind up doing, and I'm going to keep all my options open.

RUSSERT: Including running for president?

KERRY: I'll keep all my options open.

RUSSERT: Could you run for the Senate and the presidency in 2008?

KERRY: I haven't even thought about it, honestly.

RUSSERT: Our affiliate, Channel 7 in Boston, WHDH, and Suffolk University took a poll asking Massachusetts voters, "Should Kerry run for president in 2008?" Yes, 33; no, 59.

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