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Staring Adversity In The Face

Not that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) was out for revenge or anything. But he sure did seem to enjoy at least a wee measure of satisfaction in making mega GOP donor Sam Fox squirm during Tuesday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to consider Fox's nomination to be ambassador to Belgium.

Fox, a Bush "Ranger" whose generosity has likely helped him on his way to the Land of Beer and Chocolate, contributed $50,000 to help fund the infamous 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a "527" group that ran ads aimed at smearing Kerry's Vietnam record. So it was no surprise that Kerry, of all the senators on the committee, had a particularly keen interest in questioning the nominee about his participation in American civics.

Kerry walked in at the tail end of the hearing, which was being chaired by 2008 contender Sen. Barack Obama(D-Ill.). Kerry explained that he didn't intend "to play some kind of 'gotcha' game," but he wanted to know as he looked into the eyes of a man who helped sink his presidential quest: How did the nominee feel about the level of "personal destruction" in politics these days?

Fox replied that he was "very concerned" that politics have become too "mean and destructive," especially with the participation of independent 527 groups. He subtly alluded to the Swift Boat campaign against Kerry and not-so-subtly tried to redirect Kerry's line of questioning by saying (with a straight face) to Kerry, "Senator, you're a hero," adding that no 527 group "can take that away from you."

Why then, given Fox's dim views of 527s, did he give such a large chunk of money to help Swift Boat Kerry? Kerry asked.

Fox explained that he and his wife both donate generously to GOP political causes. "When we're asked, we generally give," he said. He further said he felt it was important to give to a 527 working on behalf of Republicans since a 527 "on the other side" was stooping to such low levels as comparing George W. Bush to Adolph Hitler.

"So two wrongs make a right?" Kerry asked.

Obama, who has just embarked on the journey Kerry has already taken as a presidential candidate, remained quiet.

Kerry wanted to know who exactly recruited Fox to give money to the group. Fox couldn't remember. "You have no recollection of why you gave away $50,000?," Kerry asked.

"I can't tell you specifically who asked me, no," Fox answered.

The volley continued with Kerry asking more pointed questions such as "Why would you give away $50,000 to a group that you have no sense of accountability for?" and "You believe that anything goes in a political campaign?" And, finally, "Is truth important or isn't it?"

Fox seemed to squirm more as the inquiry went on, and Kerry sank his teeth in more. A partial transcript follows:

KERRY: And you don't know who asked you.

FOX: No, sir, I really don't. I do not know who asked me.
If you were to take our 1,000 contributions and go right down the list, I
bet you I couldn't give you five percent of them, of who asked me.

KERRY: Do you recall whether it was somebody in Missouri or
was it in person? Was it is by telephone?

FOX: I have no recollection.

KERRY: No recollection of how that came about.

FOX: No, sir.

KERRY: Do you recall thinking about it at all?

FOX: No more than that somebody must have asked and I gave.

KERRY: Boy, no wonder so many people are here to embrace your
-- what about now?

How do you feel about it now, knowing what you know today?

FOX: Mr. Senator, let me say this. Be it 527 or anything
else, if I thought what they were printing was not true, I would not
contribute to it.

But I personally have no way if knowing generally when I give.

Kerry quoted Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who derided the Swift Boat campaign and asked Fox if he regretted giving money to the group. He asked Fox, "Do you think this should matter to me?" And, with perhaps a slight nod toward Obama, Kerry asked if Fox thought it should matter to "everyone here, as a senator?"

"Absolutely," Fox answered, adding that he thinks the role of 527s in presidential politics is "disgraceful" and "terrible," but "that's the world we live in, that's what it's come to -- it's unfortunate."

Kerry remained conspicuously -- almost incredibly -- calm, explaining his demeanor at one point to the audience in this way: "Sometimes you go to these hearings and senators rant and rave and scream and I'm not a screamer."

By Mary Ann Akers  |  February 28, 2007; 7:21 AM ET
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