Anti-McCain vets ready salvo against Senator's presidential campaign
Two familiar faces will soon be dogging Senator John McCain on the campaign trail, as activist Vietnam Veterans Jerry Kiley and Ted Sampley resume a campaign they have conducted for years against the Arizona Republican and former prisoner of war.
Jerry Kiley filed papers last week to establish the nonpartisan group Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain. "When people truly get to know him, there's no possibility they'll consider him for president of the United States," says Kiley, who served in the Army and completed the Internal Revenue Service paperwork to establish the "527" group.
RAW STORY spoke last week with Kiley, as well as Ted Sampley, a North Carolina-based publisher who has been harshly criticizing McCain for more than 10 years. Sampley teamed up with Kiley in 2004 to found a similar group that targeted Senator John Kerry as he ran for president. They see McCain as an apologist for Vietnam's Communist government who sold out fellow POWs and servicemen missing in action from America's lengthy war in Southeast Asia.
"We know him best because we've dealt with him over the years, and we know how he's acted," Kiley said. "We're taking no salaries, we do this voluntarily, and every penny will go into defeating him."
Kiley is no stranger to political controversy. He was found not guilty in 2005 of intimidating a foreign official, when he threw a glass of wine at visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai's chair during a dinner. In 2003, he was ejected from a women's college basketball game for confronting a player, Toni Smith of Manhattanville College, who refused to face the American flag during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Kiley will be raising money to pay for an informational website and to produce television and radio advertisements targeting McCain as he competes in the crowded field for the Republican nomination for president in 2008.
"We will expose how McCain has supported the brutal and repressive Communist regime in Vietnam," the Garnerville, New York-based activist said. "You have to ask why a man who was a POW would support this regime?"
Kiley will be working with Sampley, who produces the newspaper and website US Veteran Dispatch and served in the Army in Vietnam. The two worked together on the website Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry, which they claim registered 20 million hits in 2004. He also speaks harshly of McCain on POW/MIA issues.
"He led the way on normalizing relations with Vietnam, and it took away all our leverage on prisoner of war issues," Sampley said. "McCain has proudly touted for years that he and Kerry were saviors of the POW issue, but he's really the betrayer of the issue."
Sampley has also long hammered away at McCain's mental state and argues that his experience in a Vietnamese POW camp makes him unfit to serve as president.
"The Chinese and Soviets, the Communist Vietnamese, they had sole control over him, they know more about him than the American people or than he knows about himself," Sampley asserted. "He's done somethings that they're holding over his head, and with how that affects a man, should he really be president?"
Kiley also suggested that McCain had problems controlling his temper and challenged the senator's sincerity in his current presidential campaign.
"Our basic message is that he's a wolf in sheep's clothing, and he pretends to be something he's not," he said. "He pretends to be a conservative Republican but he's not the man that people have projected onto him."
Matt David, a spokesman for McCain's 2008 Presidential campaign, said the senator would have no comment about Kiley's campaign at this time. But McCain has interacted with the two veterans on many occasions, particularly Sampley, and commented on their actions.
In the New York Times in Feb. 2004, McCain was reported as saying that Sampley was "one of the most despicable people I have ever had the misfortune to encounter."
"I consider him a fraud who preys on the hopes of family members of missing servicemen for his own profit. He is dishonorable, an enemy of the truth, and despite his claims, he does not speak for or represent the views of all but a few veterans," he added.
McCain's longtime staff-member Mark Salter also described how hurt McCain was by Sampley's allegations in a March 1999 Phoenix New Times article. "I remember the first time I saw the Sampley thing in his paper, the first Manchurian Candidate article, and I showed it to him [McCain]. He was stung. And I was kind of laughing, to make light of it. He said, 'It's not funny.'"
Sampley had a physical altercation with Salter in December 1992, which resulted in the activist's misdemeanor assault conviction in January 1993. A January 1993 report in the States News Service said Sampley spent two days in prison and received 180 days of probation.
At this point, the anti-McCain group is still in its earliest phases of preparation for its campaign. Kiley explained that he had just opened a bank account for the organization and that a website would launch next week.
Kiley also promised that McCain's support for engagement with the Vietnamese government and POW/MIA issues would not be the sole focus of their campaign against him.
"There will be other issues, but the full agenda is something I cannot get into right now," he explained.
When Kiley was asked if there was another presidential candidate his group supported, he noted that the legal strictures prevented him from discussing his chosen candidate within the context of Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain.
"There'll be nothing on our website, or in our literature, having to do with any candidate other than McCain," he explained.
But Sampley praised Rep. Duncan Hunter, the former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who is also a Vietnam veteran and served in the Army. Hunter was one of the first Republicans to declare his candidacy for president, and received a formal endorsement in Sampley's publication.
"I'm in favor of Duncan Hunter," he explained. "He's going to have an interesting situation because he has to distance himself from McCain, because Veterans are not going to accept [the Senator]."
Hunter's campaign accepted the endorsement willingly, though his spokesman wasn't aware of Sampley's praise for the congressman.
"We haven't heard of the endorsement. I don't think we know him," said Roy Taylor from Hunter's campaign in an interview with RAW STORY. "We would like that, if a man goes to the polls and votes for him, we'd appreciate it."
The spokesman also said that Hunter had no comment about Sampley's attacks on McCain's record as a Vietnam veteran. "We're not out to condemn veterans," Taylor added. "But they have a right to think what they want, and it's not appropriate for us to reflect on other people's views."