VFW disavows anti-Sanders memo

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(Host) A national veterans group says its name is being improperly used to criticize independent U.S. Senate candidate Bernie Sanders. The Veterans of Foreign Wars issued a statement on Thursday saying it does not want its name associated with a political attack in Vermont.

VPR’s John Van Hoesen reports.

(Van Hoesen) The document showed up earlier this week under the heading of a “VFW Briefing.” It’s a lengthy criticism of Sanders’ voting record on military issues and veterans say it’s shown up anonymously around the state.

The document made its way to the Washington office of the VFW where Joe Davis is the director of public affairs.

(Davis) “It’s basically three pages entitled a ‘VFW Briefing,’ which right there alludes to the fact that it’s an official VFW document, which it is not. It’s three pages of a laundry list — he’s against this, this and this. What that implies is that the VFW is handing this out and is campaigning against Congressman Sanders, which is absolutely false. They’re dragging the VFW and our good name into a campaign and we don’t do that.”

(Van Hoesen) Davis said the document makes it sound as though Sanders is anti-veteran. But he says Sanders is a longtime supporter of veterans and their families. Davis says it’s the political action committee of the VFW that determines if a candidate will get an endorsement. Endorsements have not been decided yet this year, but the PAC has endorsed Sanders in the past.

According to Tim Lennon at the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Rich Tarrant, the document Davis received was an internal memo prepared for Tarrant.

(Lennon) “What we’ve got here is an internal document that was not distributed by the campaign. Some members of our Veterans Steering Committee did have possession of this internal document that was prepared for Rich’s visit to the VFW, which is why it says VFW Briefing. And it clearly lays out Sanders bad votes, which are three pages worth of bad votes on veterans issues.”

(Van Hoesen) Lennon says the campaign did not intend to have the memo distributed. But he says they can’t control what their supporters decide to use.

(Lennon) “It’s clearly factual and it was not our intent as the campaign to have this document distributed, but the facts behind it will continue to be highlighted as the campaign goes forward.”

(Van Hoesen) Jeff Weaver is the campaign manager for Sanders. He says the fact that the Tarrant memo is out is a sign of negative campaigning.

(Weaver) “It’s clearly an anti-Bernie piece and it is similar to other tactics the Tarrant people are using. Vermonters are seeing in their mailbox dishonest and deceptive pieces from the Tarrant campaign. And this type of attack is part and parcel of the Karl Rove playbook the Tarrant people are recently relying on.”

(Van Hoesen) The Vermont VFW says the document has shown up all over the state, although they’re unsure how many copies have been passed out. Ed Laviletta is the national legislative officer for the VFW in Vermont.

(Laviletta) “It’s been as far as Brattleboro and as far north as Newport and I’ve had them come out of Rutland. It’s a shame this is happening and maybe this is not coming out of anybody’s campaign. It might be somebody on a vendetta against the man. I feel they should come out and identify themselves. But they can’t use our name.”

(Van Hoesen) There are about 9,000 members of the VFW in the state.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Van Hoesen.

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