CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush, facing new questions about ads attacking the military service of his Democratic rival, urged an end on Monday to the “tons of money” he said were being poured into the presidential campaign by outside groups.

Still, Bush again declined to specifically denounce ads run by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which accuse John Kerry of lying about his military service and betraying fellow veterans by alleging widespread U.S. atrocities in Vietnam. Instead, the president reiterated that he wants all outside ads off the air.

“That means that ad, every other ad,” Bush said.

“They’re bad for the system,” he said, denouncing the so-called “527 organizations” that have been formed under that section of the tax code to help, or hurt, one presidential contender, or the other.

The Kerry campaign has fought back with its own campaign commercial, dismissing the attacks as “smears” and “lies” and urging Bush to denounce them.

“The moment of truth came and went, and the president still couldn’t bring himself to do the right thing,” said Kerry’s running mate, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. “We need a president with the strength and integrity to say when something is wrong.”

The charges and countercharges aside, the Swift Boat Veterans continue to air their ad – and a second one just as critical – and the Kerry campaign continues to cry foul. The Democrats contend that the Bush camp has coordinated with the veterans – a charge that, if true, would violate the new campaign finance law.

The White House denies it. But, in the meantime, the din of the charges and countercharges has swamped discussion of most other issues.

On Monday, Bush, who’s spending a week at his ranch preparing for next week’s Republican convention in New York, conferred all morning with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other national security advisers to discuss Iraq and other world hotspots. But when they met later with reporters, the most pressing questions were about attacks on Kerry.

“We ought to be debating who best to be leading this country in the war against terror,” Bush suggested. “We ought to be looking forward instead of backward.”



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