James Sanders, a former police officer turned investigative reporter, co-writes this report with Jack Cashill. Sanders is the author of “The Downing of TWA Flight 800″ and “Altered Evidence,” among other books.
In the last few weeks several political insiders have forgotten themselves and referred to TWA Flight 800, the airliner, which exploded in July of 1996 just east of New York City, as a terrorist incident. But only one has done it twice.
That person is Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. Appearing on “Larry King Live” on Sept. 11 of this year, Kerry suggested that TWA Flight 800 was brought down by a terrorist act.
The second admission took place on Sept. 24 on “Hardball” with Chris Matthews. On this occasion, Kerry casually recited a number of terrorist attacks against the United States, among them TWA “Flight 800.” Like Larry King before him, Chris Matthews either did not catch the remark or chose to let it pass.
We have been asked a number of times whether these remarks by Kerry and others were purposeful, perhaps a signal that the time was right to come clean on the all-but-indisputable shootdown of TWA 800 and the undeniable cover-up that followed.
Our temptation has been to say “no.” These admissions seemed more or less innocent and accidental, the first time anyhow. But not the second. In Kerry’s case, one of his aides had to have caught his initial reference to TWA 800. If a mistake, it seems highly unlikely that it could have happened again. But it did.
There is more evidence to consider. On Sept. 20, one mainstream newspaper released the story of how the so-called Gore Commission failed conspicuously to address airline safety. The paper claimed that this failure “represents the clearest recent public example of the success that airlines have long had in defeating calls for more oversight.”
The paper traced that failure to a series of campaign donations from the airlines to the Democratic National Committee in 1996 in the wake of the crash of TWA Flight 800, donations likely solicited by Al Gore himself. That newspaper just happened to be John Kerry’s hometown Boston Globe.
This was a damning revelation, certainly to Al Gore. The Boston Globe was the only medium to the left of the Washington Times to have released this information, and the Times did so at least a year before the attack on the WTC and the Pentagon. We contemplated re-introducing this story line as early as Sept. 12 but chose not to. Our thinking was that this was not an appropriate moment for partisanship. The Boston Globe obviously thought otherwise.
Kerry and the Globe are cracking open a Pandora’s box that is deeper and darker than most Americans can imagine. As we have reported elsewhere, the complete story is much more chilling. Yes, Clinton and Gore did abandon airport security planning for sake of campaign cash. But worse, they concealed the real cause of the crash, in no small part to justify that abandonment.
In fact, on the same day in September of 1996 that Al Gore sent the airline’s lobbyist a letter signaling his intent to roll over, the National Transportation Safety Board reversed its spin and all but ruled out a bomb or missile strike. Arguably, had the NTSB openly and honestly pursued the real cause of that first New York incident, it might have prevented the second one five years later.
Of course, it is possible that Sen. Kerry merely misspoke about a terrorist attack against TWA 800 on two occasions, and it is possible too that The Globe’s entrance into the fray was merely coincidental. But given the brutal realities of Democratic presidential politics it seems likely that these revelations were calculated and perhaps even coordinated.
John Kerry is the most visible and perhaps viable contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. He raised more than $2 million in hard dollars in the first six months of 2001, presumably for a 2002 Senate campaign in which he will face no serious opposition.
Says Roll Call, a D.C. insider publication, “[Kerry's] aggressive fundraising pace is being viewed by many Democratic insiders as a first step toward a presidential campaign.” Federal election law allows Kerry to convert his remaining Senate campaign dollars to a presidential campaign committee after the 2002 cycle.
Although still a little coy about his ambitions, Kerry has been courting key Democrats all across the nation and may have appeared on more TV talk shows than Alan Dershowitz and Dick Morris combined.
As of this moment, despite all the talk of Hillary, Kerry’s major opponent for the nomination will be Al Gore. Despite laying low for the six months or so after inauguration, Gore has begun to resurface. He organized a political action committee, set up a training school for young party operatives, contacted fund-raising allies and generally let it be known that he would help congressional candidates with their 2002 races.
In the seething Democratic mythology, Al Gore is the rightful president, a man cheated out of his destiny. As Richard Nixon’s case history attests, and Bill Clinton’s for that matter, the media love the idea of comebacks. The momentum is there for a genuine Gore resurgence.
John Kerry knows that. He knows too that Gore plays internecine hardball. He beat up on 2000 primary opponent Bill Bradley worse than he did on George Bush. No surprise. It was Gore, after all, who introduced the Willie Horton gambit against another Massachusetts candidate, Michael Dukakis, in the 1988 Democratic primaries.
But John Kerry seems to have his sights on Al Gore’s Achilles heel. After the events of Sept. 11, the story of how Al Gore helped subvert the investigation into TWA 800 and undermine airport security is a career-killer.
Gore was supposed to come public once again this September with a critique of Bush’s domestic agenda. He has not. The events of Sept. 11 have caused him to reconsider. Kerry’s “slips” may make that reconsideration permanent. Just by hinting that he knows the story, Kerry may be able to put Gore out of the race even before he gets in. Maybe even Hillary too.
This is why we believe John Kerry has been talking about TWA 800 – and may not have to talk about it any more.