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Inside Politics

Bush urges Kerry to condemn attack ads

President denounces ads in general

President Bush tells reporters Monday that Sen. John Kerry served admirably in Vietnam.
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President Bush condemns attack ads funded by 527 groups.

Some of the swift boat vets' claims have been discredited, but their ads are having an impact.

CNN's Joe Johns on why Bush has good reason to dislike 527 groups.
• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry

CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush on Monday called for the so-called 527 groups to stop airing political ads, but he did not directly condemn commercials by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that have attacked Sen. John Kerry's war record.

Speaking to reporters at his Texas ranch, Bush said he has repeatedly condemned 527 ads. These groups are named for the federal provision that makes such organizations tax exempt and allows them to accept unlimited donations.

One reporter cited the swift boat ads and asked, "When you say that you want to stop all --" "All of them," Bush responded. "That means that ad, every other ad. Absolutely. I don't think we ought to have 527s."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Bush's use of the words "that ad" did not indicate a repositioning on the issue. He said Bush was repeating his previous calls for an end to 527 ads.

The president also reissued his call for Kerry to echo his statement about such ads.

"I hope my opponent joins me in condemning these activities of the 527 -- I think they're bad for the system," Bush said.

While Bush has called on Kerry to criticize the harsh campaign ads of 527s in general, the Democratic nominee has not done so. He did recently, however, criticize one ad that charged Bush used family connections to get into the Texas National Guard and then failed to fulfill his obligations.

In late March, when the Bush campaign accused some 527s of coordinating with the Kerry campaign, the Democratic camp denied the charge.

Kerry repeatedly has urged Bush to denounce the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks, saying they are lies.

The Kerry campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the veterans group of illegally coordinating with the president's campaign -- a charge Bush officials called false and "libelous."

The group has run two ads attacking Kerry. The latest accuses him of betraying fellow veterans upon his return from war. The first accused him of lying to get medals in Vietnam.

Asked whether he agrees with that allegation, Bush said, "I think Sen. Kerry served admirably. He ought to be -- he ought to be proud of his record.

"But the question is: Who best to lead the country in the war on terror? Who can handle the responsibilities of the commander in chief?"

Asked whether the group's attacks should be considered unpatriotic, Bush responded, "I think we ought to be debating who [is] best to be leading this country in the war against terror. That's what I'll continue to try to convince the American people of, is that I'm the right person to continue to lead the country in the war against terror."

Bush said "unregulated soft money" of 527 groups "is wrong for the process."

The president said he "thought we'd gotten rid of that" when he signed the McCain-Feingold legislation instituting campaign finance reform.

The Swift Boat group has aired ads in the likely November battleground states of Ohio, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is independent of the Bush campaign but is heavily funded by Republican contributors from the president's home state of Texas, according to federal records. (Full story)

Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards, said Sunday that Bush was facing "a moment of truth" regarding the group's ads.

Minutes after Bush spoke Monday, Edwards responded, "The moment of truth came and went, and the president still couldn't bring himself to do the right thing.

"We need a president with the strength and integrity to say when something is wrong. Instead of hiding behind a front group, he needs to take responsibility and demand that the ad come off the air. It's funded by his supporters and casts one of Bush's own campaign officials" -- an apparent reference to a volunteer adviser for the Bush campaign who resigned after appearing in the ad.

"President Bush, it's time to do the right thing," Edwards said.

A volunteer adviser on veterans issues quit the Bush campaign Saturday after he appeared in the group's latest ad blasting Kerry's involvement in the antiwar movement. The Bush campaign said it did not know retired Air Force Col. Ken Cordier had taken part in the ad. (Full story)

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth founder Roy Hoffman issued a statement Monday afternoon saying his organization will not curb its attacks.

"It would make no difference if John Kerry were a Republican, Democrat or an Independent, Swift Boat Veterans would still be speaking the truth concerning John Kerry's military service record in Vietnam, his actions after returning home and his lack of qualifications to be the next commander in chief," the statement said, adding that the group "remains dedicated to its mission."

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