When it first hit the airwaves in battleground states, the now-notorious ad campaign by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth seemed a devastating indictment. One by one, veterans who served with Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry claimed he was a faker, a flake and a fraud.
On closer inspection, however, the ads fell apart. None of the accusers served on Kerry's boat. Virtually all of their charges are contradicted by Navy documents. Major Republican donors bankrolled the attack.
The spotlight then shifted to the accusers--specifically, to a Clackamas County prosecutor named Al French, whose venture into the national spotlight was torpedoed when an old grudge trumped party loyalty.
French, 58, appeared in the first Swift boat ad, declaring that Kerry "lied about his war record." French also signed an affidavit saying that two of Kerry's Purple Hearts were obtained "under false pretenses." Later, French admitted those allegations were not based on personal knowledge but came secondhand from friends or acquaintances.
The spectacle of a local prosecutor pooh-poohing Kerry's medals on hearsay evidence sent shudders of outrage through local veterans. Protesters descended on Clackamas County Courthouse, demanding French's resignation. The Oregon State Bar received dozens of complaints. Democrats fomented much of this outrage. But French's undoing came courtesy of a fellow Republican nursing an old resentment.
Terri Gustafson, once the Clackamas County district attorney, was voted out of office in 2000 after being accused of disobeying a judge's orders to destroy files relating to a juvenile suspect. She was eventually disbarred--thanks in part to Al French, an office rival who testified against her during disciplinary proceedings.
"I don't like Al French very much," Gustafson told WW.
When Gustafson heard about French's star turn in the Swift boat ads, she emailed an Oregonian reporter a juicy tip: French lied to his former boss, ex-DA Jim O'Leary, about an affair with a secretary in his office.
Confronted by O reporter Stephen Beaven, French admitted having the affair and lying to his boss about it. He was promptly suspended by current Clackamas DA John Foote pending an investigation--extramarital affairs among employees violate office policy.
It's too soon to say whether French's walk-on role will affect the presidential race. For now--with his job on the line and his personal life on the front page--he might ponder two ironclad political axioms. One: All politics is local. Two: Revenge is a dish best served cold.