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Inside Politics

Kerry adviser denies role in CBS report on Bush

Lockhart: White House trying to avoid questions on president

Kerry campaign adviser Joe Lockhart
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CNN's Jeanne Meserve on CBS' position on the documents.

CNN's John King on Bush's comments about his Guard service.
Joe Lockhart
Mary Mapes

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Kerry campaign adviser Joe Lockhart said Tuesday the Bush White House wants to keep the controversy over suspect documents used by CBS News alive as a way to avoid answering tough questions about President Bush's record.

Lockhart, who confirms talking to Bill Burkett, the man who gave suspect documents to CBS, said the Kerry campaign had nothing to do with the documents or the report on "60 Minutes."

On CNN's "American Morning," Lockhart said, "I can say two things -- this campaign had nothing to do with these documents, nothing to do with this story, and, two, you have to question the motives of the people who are asking these questions. The White House is raising questions about this because they don't want to answer questions."

CBS News said Monday it cannot vouch for the authenticity of documents that added to doubt about Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service, and anchor Dan Rather apologized for the report on the air.

Burkett, the man who provided the documents to CBS, denied forging the documents but admitted he lied to CBS about who provided them.

When CBS producer Mary Mapes said she had called Lockhart, White House communications director Dan Bartlett called the network's statement and Mapes' disclosure "stunning and deeply troubling," accusing the Kerry campaign of coordinating with CBS.

"The fact that CBS News would coordinate with the most senior levels of Sen. Kerry's campaign ... raises serious questions," Bartlett said.

"It's time for the Kerry campaign to come clean about their involvement in this growing scandal and for Sen. Kerry to immediately hold accountable anyone in his campaign that was involved."

But Lockhart said there was no coordination. He said he talked to Burkett after getting a call from a Mapes, who said Burkett had been a help on a National Guard story she was working on and wanted to speak to someone in the Kerry campaign.

"I didn't know who the guy was. I talked to him on the phone for three or four minutes," Lockhart said. "That's the beginning and the end of the story."

Lockhart, former press secretary for President Clinton, said Burkett had "some strong feelings" that the Kerry campaign had not responded forcefully enough to the attacks by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group.

Lockhart said he discussed neither the National Guard nor the documents with Burkett.

Asked what he had learned about Bush's National Guard service, Lockhart said, "Not a single detail. [Burkett] didn't tell me anything; I didn't ask him anything."

Lockhart denied, as he has before, that the Kerry campaign was involved in any way with the CBS story.

He said that while he talks with Kerry often, he had not discussed the CBS controversy with the Democratic contender and had no intention of doing so.

Instead, he said, it is the Bush White House that is attempting to keep the controversy from ending.

"This is about a White House that is desperately spinning. I looked this morning at the White House Web page and found out that Scott McClellan, the man who says we ought to have answers to these questions, has held two White House briefings in the last two months. Now that is a White House that doesn't want to answer questions.

"Listen, I went through some pretty tough times as White House press secretary ... and I stood up there every day and answered the questions because I think that the public has a right to know what is going on with the president, what's going on around the world. ...

"These guys don't want to answer questions about the National Guard story. They even don't want to answer questions about what's going on in Iraq, what's going on in the economy, and I think it's time for them to step up and stop posing questions and start answering them because that's what the public wants."

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