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Vets call for resignation of Clackamas prosecutor in Swift Boat ad

07:18 PM PDT on Monday, August 23, 2004

By kgw.com and AP Staff

OREGON CITY -- A group of about a dozen Clackamas County veterans rallied on the steps of the coutny courthouse Monday afternoon calling for the resignation of a prosecutor who appeared in a controversial television ad criticizing Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam War service.

KGW photo
Clackamas County asst. district attorney Alfred French.

Alfred French, 58, a senior deputy district attorney, appeared in the recent ad by the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth and said: "I served with John Kerry. . . . He is lying about his record." French also signed a legal affadavit attesting to the claim.

But French, in an interview with The Oregonian newspaper last week, said he was relying on the accounts of three other veterans when he said Kerry lied.

"I was not a witness to these events but my friends were," said French, who was awarded two Bronze Stars during the war.

That acknowledgement fueled Monday's protest, where the veterans contended French is unfit to serve as a prosecutor after swearing to facts that he never personally witnessed.

"It is outrageous that Al French and others would try to smear the military record of John Kerry, a man of courage who put his life on the line to save the lives of others," said Don Stewart, the veteran who organized the protest.

"Mr. French signed an affidavidt defaming John Kerry's military service and then he admitted that he had no first hand knowledge of what he swore to," Stewart said. "To lie in a sworn affidavit goes beyond political smear, it is cause for this assistant district attorney to resign, and resign now."

Before recording the ad, French did indeed sign an affidavit that said: "I am able to swear, as I do hereby swear, that all facts and statements contained in this affidavit are true and correct and within my personal knowledge and belief."

It goes on to say: "Kerry has wildly exaggerated and lied about his record in Vietnam," and that Kerry received his Purple Heart medals "in the absence of hostile fire."

Kerry was awarded three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star as commander of a Swift boat in Vietnam.

The veterans assembled outside the district attorney's office defended Kerry and assailed French.

"As a senior assistant district attorney, you know as well as we do that that kind of ridiculous statement would never pass muster in a court of law," Terry Kirsch of Canby said of what he called French's hearsay account.

"We question your fitness to serve as an enforcer of the law after swearing to facts in a legal affidavit that you do not know to be true," Kirsh said.

Kirsch, who received two Purple Hearts and is on permanent disability from shrapnel wounds received during the Tet offensive on the Vietnamese capital in 1968, attempted to hand deliver a letter to French in the district attorney's office, but was told by a receptionist that French was busy.

Another Vietnam veteran from Canby, Rick Gano, said French has no more credibility than "someone conjuring up tales from his imagination."

Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote said his office has received "numerous angry phone calls" from residents asking that French be fired, but for now the D.A. is standing by his assistant.

"I do not personally share the opinions expressed by (French)," but he has a right to his opinion and is a "trusted and respected" prosecutor, Foote said in a statement.

French has rebuffed repeated requests by KGW and the AP for comment on the calls for his resignation or firing.

French was one of 13 veterans from around the country who appeared in the attack ad, which stopped airing last week but has lingered in the public spotlight as Kerry demanded President Bush repudiate its message. On Monday, Bush said he opposed all ads by independent political groups such as the ad by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that French appeared in.

Monday's protest ratcheted up the involvement of Oregon veterans in the presidential campaign, with French leveling accusations against Kerry and fellow Vietnam veteran Jim Rassmann of Florence, Ore.

Rassmann has played a prominent role in the senator's bid for the White House with personal testimony of how Kerry saved his life 35 years ago. Another veteran, former Air Force Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak of Lake Oswego, is also appearing in ads supporting Kerry.

(KGW reporter John Becker contributed to this report.)