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John Kerry is caught in a lie. And it is an obvious lie, and it is hurting him.

Kerry and his allies have made credibility a central issue in the presidential campaign, repeatedly accusing George W. Bush of lying in order to push the country into war. Of course, the president did no such thing, and no serious analyst argues that the WMD data was fabricated by the Bush team because every Western intelligence service believed that Saddam possessed stockpiles of WMD.

So too did Bill Clinton, and so did John Kerry. The effort to shred the president’s credibility on the “yellowcake” paragraph in the 2003 State of the Union address is simple propaganda, and not very effective propaganda at that, especially when the very real and now dismantled WMD programs of Libya are added to the mix.

But Kerry put the credibility ball in play, and now the issue is coming back to haunt him. Last week, Kerry unequivocally asserted that he had “met” with foreign leaders and that they had told him they were hoping for his triumph in the fall. As recorded by the pool reporters traveling with him, here’s what Kerry said at a fund-raiser in Florida last week:

I’ve met foreign leaders who can’t go out and say this publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, “You’ve got to win; you’ve got to beat this guy. We need a new policy.” Things like that.

CNN quickly discovered that Kerry hadn’t met with any foreign leaders since declaring for the presidency, but elite media seem prepared to issue Kerry yet another pass (after the ones he got for proclaiming his desire to be the country’s “second black president,” and the one bestowed after branding Bush as “crooked” and “lying.”)

But Joe Citizen stood up at a forum at which Kerry appeared this weekend and demanded answers as to whom Kerry had met with. Kerry doubled down on his lie, first by snarling that it wasn’t any of the questioner’s business, and then by denying he said he’d met with any leaders. This last bit was the clear attempt to maneuver away from the lie Kerry told last week, and lawyers recognized it immediately as a damaging admission that the first proclamation was a lie.

George Stephanopoulos summarized the threat to Kerry on “This Week”: “This could be a problem for Kerry … When you go through the records, it turns out he hasn’t traveled abroad since 2002, and he’s only been in the same city as a leader of a foreign government once in the past year and he’s had to equivocate what he’s meant on that.” Equivocate? He’s lying about it.

Secretary of State Powell raised the stakes on Fox News Sunday: “But if [Kerry] thinks it is that important an assertion to make, he ought to list some names.” And the White House added to the challenge today. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said today Kerry was “making it up,” with reference to Kerry’s Harvey the Rabbit leaders: “Either he is straightforward and states who they are,” McClellan said, “or the only conclusion one can draw is that his is making it up to attack the president.”

Kerry and his team have made credibility an issue in the campaign, but now they are exposed as liars, and on a major issue of whether there are foreign leaders confiding in Kerry that they hope Kerry wins in November. Joe Citizen, who was booed down by Kerry loyalists and interrogated by Kerry about his voting record in 2000 in response to a completely appropriate question about an on-the-record statement Kerry made, acted where the elite media wouldn’t. Joe Citizen’s name is Cedric Brown, a signmaker from Pennsylvania, and he’s not going to let the media lie down for Kerry. Good for Cedric.

One of John Kerry’s dodges with regard to his lie about meeting with foreign leaders is that he can’t betray confidences. A humble suggestion: Select two respected journalists, one from the center-left and one from the center-right – say, Safire and Friedman of the New York Times op-ed stable – and disclose to them the names of the leaders involved on the condition that they will confirm the conversations took place without disclosing the names of the specific leaders. Both would be free to write generally about the seriousness of the Foreign Leaders for Kerry movement, but not to name names.

Sound familiar? It is a variation of the “modified, limited hangout” proposed by Nixon during Watergate’s unfolding. One example of the modified limited hang-out: Nixon’s proposal to allow then-Sen. John Stennis to listen to the White House tapes when the public and the courts were clamoring for their release. The Stennis offer came too late to satisfy the demand for full disclosure, but Kerry still has time to get ahead of that curve if he comes up with any sort of transparency on his claim.

The trouble is that Kerry flat-out lied. If he had back-up, he’d find a way to get it out there, as with a Safire-Friedman gambit. But he doesn’t have back-up. He’s Al Gore without the charisma; Nixon without the charm.

Kerry’s stonewalling on this lie might be the first big blogosphere-meets-the-2004 campaign story. Instapundit is leading the charge to keep Kerry accountable with posts here and here. Perhaps others will follow in demanding of Kerry the same sort of accountability as was demanded of Trent Lott when that unfortunate senator put his foot in his mouth in late 2002.

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