By SAM HANANEL
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 28, 2007; 11:38 AM
WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Wednesday withdrew the ambassadorial nomination of businessman Sam Fox after Democrats denounced Fox for giving money to a controversial conservative group that undermined Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.
Kerry, D-Mass., had criticized Fox because of a $50,000 contribution that Fox made in 2004 to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Many Democrats blame the group for sinking Kerry's presidential hopes that year after it aired a series of controversial ads that impugned Kerry's military record in the Vietnam War.
The White House announced the withdrawal in a press release distributed less than an hour before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gathered to vote on his nomination to be ambassador to Belgium. On Tuesday, Kerry's Vietnam crew mates had sent a letter urging committee members to oppose Fox's nomination. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press.
"In our judgment, those who finance smears and lies of combat veterans don't deserve to represent America on the world stage," said the letter signed by James Rassman and 10 other Vietnam Swift Boat veterans who served with Kerry.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said Tuesday he opposes the nomination because Fox "refused to apologize for his behavior" during his confirmation hearing last month.
"U.S. Ambassadors need to be both responsible and credible, and Mr. Fox's support for an organization known to have spread falsehoods illustrates neither," said Dodd, who is seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Fox, 77, of St. Louis, is national chairman of the Jewish Republican Coalition and has donated well over $1 million to Republican candidates and causes since the 1990s, according to Federal Election Commission records. He was deemed a "ranger" by Bush's campaign for helping to raise at least $200,000.
Kerry grilled Fox about the Swift Boat contribution during the Feb. 27 hearing, asking him why he gave money to a group that was "smearing and spreading lies" and had been condemned by members of both political parties.
Fox replied that he considers Kerry a hero. But he refused to call the contribution a mistake.
"When I'm asked, I just generally give," Fox told Kerry.
Fox has not backed down in a series of written responses to Kerry since the hearing.
"Senator Kerry and other members of the committee still have questions for Mr. Fox, and it's fair to say the concerns raised during the February 27 hearing haven't vanished," Kerry spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.
Complicating matters is the presence of three Democratic presidential hopefuls on the committee _ the chairman, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.; and Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Dodd.
At the end of the hearing last month, Obama told Fox he found his testimony "somewhat unsatisfying."
"I would have preferred you saying, you know, 'In retrospect looking back, contributing to the Swift Boat campaign was a mistake and I wish I hadn't done it,'" Obama told Fox.
Fox has garnered the public support of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., both of whom testified for him.