Color me frustrated. We had an earlier post on the Sen. Kerry - Admiral Schachte controversy regarding Kerry's first Purple Heart, and the three men in a boat mystery. However, a key potential source of illumination has faded, and we are running out of places to look for evidence.
Therefore, I repeat my earlier suggestion - some reporter ought to look at John Kerry's War Notes, to see what, if anything he recorded at the time about what he described to Tim Russert as "one of the most frightening" nights he spent in Vietnam. Strangely, Douglas Brinkley's "Tour of Duty" account of that evening is based on a 2003 interview with Kerry. The WaPo wants to see these notes, and Douglas Brinkley has dropped his objections.
Michael Kranish of the Boston Globe has joined the fray. Since his original story on this incident is credited by Douglas Brinkley as providing the baseline account, we had high hopes that Mr. Kranish would check his notes, replay some old interview tapes, and shine some light on this.
No luck. In April 2003, Kranish reported this about Admiral (then Lt.) Schachte:
"It was not a very serious wound at all," recalled William Schachte, who oversaw the mission and went on to become a rear admiral.
"Oversaw the mission" - meaning what - did he oversee it from the main Swift boat, or from the skimmer?
From his latest story, we get a bit more:
The Schachte comment is likely to gain notice both because of the high rank that Schachte ultimately achieved and because Schachte had provided a much less specific account of the Dec. 2, 1968, incident in an interview with the Globe last year. During that interview, Schachte did not challenge Kerry's Purple Heart.
Kerry told the Globe last year that Schachte was on the larger swift boat that dropped off the Boston Whaler, also known as a ''skimmer."
Questions raised by Hibbard about Kerry's first Purple Heart were first reported in ''John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography," written by reporters for the Globe earlier this year. Schachte declined to be interviewed for the book. But in an April 2003 Globe interview, Schachte described the action as a ''firefight" and said of Kerry: ''He got hit." Schachte described it as ''not a very serious wound at all."
In May 2003, when the Globe asked Kerry about the incident, Kerry said Schachte conceived the mission but stayed behind on the larger swift boat, which had towed the skimmer.
''He wasn't with me on the skimmer," Kerry said. ''I went in on the skimmer, not him."
A potential key witness is Michael Voss, who skippered a swift boat that towed a Boston Whaler to a drop-off point at the time of the incident. But he said yesterday that he didn't remember whether Schachte went on the skimmer.
''I am not certain who was on a skimmer on a certain night 36 years ago," said Voss, a Massachusetts resident .
William Zaladonis and Patrick Runyon, the two enlisted men who have said they were with Kerry that night, said in interviews this week that they stood by their statements that Schachte was not with them. ''The only thing I can come up with is he is confused and went on another skimmer operation," said Runyon.
Bother. Kranish did not focus on that detail for his April 2003 story (understandably), got some specific details from Kerry in May 2003 (the April story does not say how many men were on the skimmer), did not check back with an evidently unenthusiastic Schachte, and here we are. Kerry told Brinkley in Jan 2003 as well as Kranish in May 2003 that he was on the skimmer with two enlisted men, so we see some consistency there.
Relatedly, Dana Milbank of the WaPo, in "A Swift Shift in Stories", paints Schachte as a corrupt liar. Since John McCain is not the only Navy guy who takes his honor seriously, this line of attack might lure Schachte back into the fray:
According to a March 18 legal filing by Schachte's firm, Blank Rome, Schachte was one of the lobbyists working for FastShip on issues such as the effort to win funding for a new marine cargo terminal. On Feb. 2, Philadelphia-based FastShip announced that it would receive $40 million in federal funding for the project.
Pardon my idiocy - the contract was awarded in February 2004; the first Swift Veterans press conference was May 2004. Was this just brilliant planning ahead, or does Schachte routinely jeopardize his future lobbying activities (which I expect will be curtailed by a Kerry Administration and vigilant Democratic Congressional oversight) in exchange for jobs already done, and paychecks already cashed? And speaking of paychecks, do lobbyists normally receive success fees, or would Schachte's fee have been based on hours worked (a common lawyerly custom).
My guess is that it varies. However, it is possible that Schachte received a flat fee for work already done - why would he then go on national television and lie to help this client?
In addition, David Norcross, Schachte's colleague in the Washington office of Blank Rome, is chairman of this week's Republican convention in New York.
OK, who want to help the Admiral and find some prominent Dems on the Blank Rome roster? [Here is a modest start, suggesting a bipartisanship at Blank Rome that we applaud. In fact, if they are deliberately bipartisan, does that undermine the "corrupt liar" theory? Or do they lie for both sides...]
Records also show that Schachte gave $1,000 to Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns.