Cleland to Bush: 'Put Up or Shut Up'

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:30 PM EDT

( - Former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland tried, but failed to personally deliver a letter to President George Bush at his Crawford, Texas ranch Wednesday, asking Bush to denounce TV ads run by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that criticizes Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's military record.

At a news conference following the incident, Cleland called on Bush to "put up or shut up" and denounce the ads.

"These scurrilous attacks on John Kerry's credibility in war, his courage, his valor are false, and George Bush is behind it. That's why I tried to deliver a letter at the president's home, hand it to either him or one of his aides, but that was unsuccessful," said Cleland.

"And I'm sorry it was, because the letter is signed by some nine distinguished members of the United States Senate, all of whom have worn a uniform," he said.

The former senator called Bush's honor into question by accusing him of attacking "a fellow veteran who has distinguished himself" in combat, "regardless of the political combat involved." Cleland called it "disgraceful."

"For those of us in the Vietnam era, we're having to go through Vietnam again," Cleland said. "We're having to go through the divisive aspect of politics ... That is not what we ought to be doing in America."

"Republicans like Sen. John McCain, who have been the subject of scurrilous attacks like this before, say this is dishonest and dishonorable," he added.

Cleland said the president has criticized the military records of three Vietnam veterans in four years.

"[Bush] went after John McCain when [Bush] got behind [in the 2000 Republican presidential race], when McCain won the New Hampshire primary and came south to South Carolina. The slime machine got cranked up. The smear campaign started and McCain actually went on television and asked the president to stop it. He did not," Cleland said.

"And then when the president came after me in Georgia in 2002, [Nebraska Sen.] Chuck Hagel asked them to stop putting me up there with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and they did not," he said.

"And now, nine members of the Senate and millions of Americans around the country are asking George Bush to make one phone call to his friends here in Texas and say 'stop this insanity," Cleland added.

The former senator concluded by accusing Bush of "trying to cover up the fact that we have a mess in Iraq, which he created." Cleland added, "He's trying to cover up for the terrible presidency that he's given this country."

See Earlier Story:
Publicity Stunt? Kerry Keeps Controversy in Spotlight (Aug. 25, 2004)

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