There are some things that you just don't want to read about or watch on a full stomach -- this is one of those.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on Tuesday to consider the nomination of Sam Fox, a wealthy St. Louis businessman, to be the new U.S. Ambassador to Belgium. While it is not unusual for big political donors to be rewarded with ambassadorships -- and Fox is a huge donor to all things Republican -- what made everyone take note of this guy is that Fox gave a whopping $50,000 to help fund the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth smear campaign against John Kerry in 2004.
And in being questioned by the Senate panel yesterday, Fox had to face one of the senior members of that committee in... Senator John Kerry.
What followed was riveting theater, with Kerry coldly staring down a clearly-nervous Fox and Bush's nominee withstanding a barrage of questions from Kerry that the Massachusetts Senator nicely referred to as questions of Fox's "judgment" while many of us would have just flat-out called him a scumbag.
It all started out nicely, with glowing introductions, including one nauseating passage from Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) who said that "professionally and morally, Sam is eminently qualified to hold the post for which he's been nominated."
But it gets far worse than just hearing someone rave about the high morals of a guy who gave 50 grand to the Swift Boat Liars.
Kerry got his turn to question Fox and started out politely enough, praising Fox's up-by-the-bootstraps life story and his generosity with non-political charities, while also asking him about American foreign policy vis-à-vis the European community.
The tone then changed sharply when Kerry switched gears and, indicating he had concerns about Fox's judgment, said "I assume that you believe the truth in public life is important."
"Yes, sir," answered Fox.
"And might I ask you what your opinion is with respect to the state of American politics, as regards the politics of personal destruction?" said Kerry.
This started a lengthy monologue from Fox in which Bush's nominee railed against how campaigns are funded in the United States, saving most of his bile for 527 groups, saying " I'm against 527s, I've always been against 527s. I think, again, they're mean and destructive, I think they've hurt a lot of good, decent people."
I'm sure some people in the hearing room must have been stifling laughs hearing something like that coming from a man who was a major contributor to the scummiest 527 group ever, but the worst was to come in the next few sentences.
"Senator Kerry, I very much respect your dedicated service to this country," said Fox. "I know that you were not drafted -- you volunteered. You went to Vietnam. You were wounded. Highly decorated. Senator, you're a hero. And there isn't anybody or anything that's going to take that away from you. But yet 527s tried to."
Here's the exchange that followed:
Kerry: I certainly appreciate the comments you just made, Mr. Fox, and I'm not looking for anyone to call me a hero. I think that most heroes died, and do die, and those of us who are lucky enough to get out of there are lucky.
But notwithstanding the comments you made, you did see fit to contribute a very significant amount of money in October to a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, correct?
Kerry: Why would you do that given what you just said about how bad they are?
Fox: Well, Senator, I have to put it in the proper context and bear with me. Marilyn and I have lived the American dream -- there's no question about it. My father came here with the clothes on his back and the Fox family and the Woodman family have truly lived the American dream that's been very, very good to us.
I heard someone mention here that we gave to 250 charities. I also went back and had my staff count in '05 and '06, we've made more than 1,000 contributions. More than 100 of those were political, 900 and some odd were charitable and to institutions of learning and so forth. A great deal of those had to do with basic human needs. I think it was Senator Danforth who mentioned every time he got a letter that had Harbour Group on it, he shuddered because it was going to cost him money. Marilyn and I both raise a lot of money from a lot of people.
The point I'm making is this: We ask a lot of people for money and people ask us for money. And very fortunately, we've been blessed with being successful financially and when we're asked, we generally give -- particularly if we know who gave it.
Kerry: So, well, who asked you to give to the SBVT?
Fox: I can't tell you specifically who did because, you know, I don't remember. As a matter of fact, if I...
Kerry: You have no recollection of why you gave away $50,000?
Fox: I gave away $50,000 because I was asked to.
Kerry: But you have no recollection of who asked you to give away $50,000?
Fox: No, sir. I've given away sums much larger than that to a lot of other places and I can't tell you specifically who asked me, no.
Kerry: Well, you don't think that's it's important as a citizen, who doesn't like 527s to know where your money is going and how it's going to be spent?
Fox: Well, I think with most contributors and if you go to the other side of the political campaigns and we give to individual candidates, we don't know how they're going to use that money and what...
Kerry: Well at least it's accountable to an individual candidate for whom people have to vote or not vote. 527s as you said are mean, ugly and not accountable.
Fox: I agree with that. I absolutely agree with that.
As Kerry pressed Fox to explain why he would give $50,000 to a 527 group when he claims to despise them so much -- and that he now knows spewed lies at Kerry that were quickly discredited -- the Swift Boat Sugar Daddy repeated a theme he used several times in his testimony, which is essentially that he did it to level the playing field with the attacks coming from liberal 527 groups.
In other words, he all but said Kerry was simply collateral damage in a political fight.
Kerry: Why would you give $50,000 to a group you have no sense of accountability for?
Fox: Well, because if 527s were banned, then it's banned for both parties. And so long as they're not banned...
Kerry: So two wrongs make a right?
Fox: Well, I don't know, but if one side is contributing then the other side...
Kerry: But is that your judgment? Is that your judgment that you would bring to the ambassadorship? That two wrongs make a right?
Fox: No, I didn't say that two wrongs make a right, sir.
Kerry: Why would you do it then?
Fox: Well, I did it because politically, it's necessary if the other side is doing it.
And no matter what Kerry asked, Fox played dumb, saying he forgot who asked him for the $50,000 and that he had no clue that the Swift Boat Liars were doing such dirty deeds with his money.
Kerry: My question to you is why? When you say you couldn't have known -- these were people very publicly condemning it. How could you not have known?
Fox: I guess, Mr. Senator, when I'm asked I just generally give.
Kerry: So, again, I ask you the question, do you think now that you and others bear responsibility for thinking about where we put money in American politics? What we're saying, what we present to the American people -- is truth important or isn't it?
Fox: Senator, if I had reason to believe and if I were convinced that the money was going to be used to, in any untruthful or false way, knowingly, I would not give.
Kerry: Well, sir, let me ask you this question: Did you or did you not in any of the public comments being made at the time, which I assume you were following, hear or read of any of the public statements at that point in time, with respect to the legitimacy of these charges and these smears?
Fox: Mr. Senator, I can say this...
Kerry: Did you miss this: In September of 2004, Vice Admiral Ruth, with the Navy Inspector General, wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Navy that was made public -- the New York Times, the Washington Post, every major newspaper in the country carried, saying their examination found that the existing documentation regarding my medals was legitimate.
Did you miss that too?
Fox: I don't remember those, but I'm certain at the time I must have read them.
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), who was chairing the meeting, told Fox that he found his answers to Kerry "somewhat unsatisfying" and said that "The swift boat ads were of a different degree, even in the ugly arena of politics. They were extraordinarily well publicized, that there was essentially a fraud being perpetrated on the American people. It had a profound impact on the election."
And Obama tied a nice bow around the whole afternoon by basically calling Fox, who spent the entire time disavowing any knowledge of the Swift Boaters' mission or methods, a liar.
"To say that you gave because it's ugly out there and somebody asked you to give. I mean, it sounds to me like you were aware of it -- that this was not the best of political practices -- and you thought it was OK to go ahead and contribute to that," said Obama. "By the time you contributed, it was pretty widely noted -- it would have been hard for you to miss the fact that there was something particularly nasty and insidious about these ads. It had been well publicized at this point."
"I don't think you necessarily crafted the message but you certainly knew at that point what the message was."
I have a lengthy, partial transcript here of Kerry questioning Fox about his involvement with the Swift Boat Liars and how that lack of ethics and judgment should disqualify Fox from representing our country at a cocktail mixer, much less with an important ally abroad.
You can read more from Bob at BobGeiger.com.