Cheney attacks Kerry's position, says he flip-flopped on Patriot Act

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney denounced Sen. John Kerry's position on the USA Patriot Act yesterday, saying the Democratic candidate has baselessly criticized a law vital to protecting the nation from terrorism that Congress passed almost unanimously after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Kerry campaign issued a statement calling Cheney's salvo "misleading," saying that Kerry had joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers who see a need "to fix the Patriot Act to improve its effectiveness as an anti-terrorism tool and keep it from being used to violate civil liberties."


Cheney's attack came during a political speech in Kansas City, Mo., as President Bush's job approval ratings have dipped to record lows of about 45 percent. The speech underscored how the Bush campaign has increasingly turned negative in its effort to discredit Kerry as a trusted voice on foreign policy.

"This good law has done nothing to diminish our liberty - it has helped us to defend our liberty," Cheney said of the Patriot Act, which broadened the government's powers to track suspected terrorists, giving law enforcement, for example, more leeway to wiretap Americans.


Cheney accused Kerry of showing a pattern of flip-flopping on issues and said the senator has displayed a "glaring contradiction" in "changing" his position on the Patriot Act, having voted for it in 2001.

In fact, Kerry still supports the law. But he has joined other Democrats and a few Republicans in calling for some of its most contentious provisions to be rewritten, to allow for tighter judicial oversight of wiretaps and subpoenas.

Kerry is in the midst of an 11-day "national security" tour, in which he is expected to lay out parts of his foreign policy agenda. Yesterday in Florida, he unveiled what he called a new initiative to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism. One proposal would halt production of "mini-nukes" for tactical use in battle.

The Kerry campaign also directly attacked Cheney, distributing a report in Time magazine that suggests that the Pentagon "coordinated" with the vice president before awarding a multibillion-dollar contract to Halliburton, the company Cheney formerly led. Cheney's spokesman, Kevin Kellems, called the report "deeply flawed" and said the vice president and his staff "have had no involvement whatsoever in government contracting decisions" since Cheney ran for vice president.

The Kerry campaign has ridiculed Bush television ads as misleading. Some of them portray Kerry as flip-flopping on the Patriot Act and supporting rollbacks of Bush tax cuts.

Kerry has never specifically proposed rolling back Bush's tax cuts - only tax cuts for the wealthy. Bush advisers say the ads are justified because a rollback would be the only way Kerry could fund his new health care proposals.

In a CBS News poll released yesterday, more Americans said they viewed Bush's television ads as "attacks." In the survey, 48 percent said Bush's ads "attack" Kerry, compared with 35 percent who said the ads merely "explain" what Bush stands for. Only 38 percent said Kerry's ads "attack" Bush, compared with 43 percent who said they "explain" Kerry's stands.