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Kerry still questions Sam Fox nomination, as vote nears


Washington, DC – The standoff continues between Sen. John Kerry and Republican donor and St. Louisan Sam Fox, even as a Senate panel prepares to vote Wednesday on Fox's nomination to be ambassador to Belgium.

Fox, Missouri's biggest Republican fundraiser, faced tough questioning from Kerry during his confirmation hearing last month because of a $50,000 contribution Fox made in 2004 to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

The group of Vietnam veterans played a leading role in sinking Kerry's presidential hopes that year after it aired a series of ads charging that Kerry did not deserve the medals he received in the Vietnam War.

In a series of written responses to questions posed by Kerry after the Feb. 27 hearing, Fox has continued to deny knowing how the Swift Boat group would use his money. That hasn't satisfied Kerry and could pose problems for Fox if he convinces other Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to scuttle the nomination.

"Senator Kerry and other members of the committee still have questions for Mr. Fox, and it's fair to say the concerns raised during the February 27 hearing haven't vanished," Kerry spokeswoman Amy Brundage said Monday.

The committee is expected to vote Wednesday on Fox's nomination. Fox declined, through a spokesman, to comment on Monday.

A number of scenarios could play out: the committee could vote to send Fox's name to the full Senate with a favorable or unfavorable recommendation, or with no recommendation at all. A member of the committee could also seek to postpone the vote.

Among the written follow-up questions Kerry posed to Fox earlier this month: "At the time of your donation, what was your understanding as to what your money would be used for? What did you understand SBVT's purpose at that time to be?"

Fox's answer: "I assumed that my contribution would be used for SBVT's general purposes including administrative expenses, fund raising, advertising, but did not have any understanding whatever as to how my contribution would be spent."

When Kerry asked if Fox received any acknowledgment for his contribution, Fox initially replied that he hadn't. Fox later resubmitted his answer, stating, "After my assistant checked my records, we found the attached acknowledgment of my contribution."

A letter from the Swift Boat treasurer thanking Fox for his $50,000 contribution said, "The only way we can get the truth out about John Kerry is with the help of Americans such as you."

Complicating matters is the presence of three Democratic presidential hopefuls on the committee the chairman, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.; and Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn.

After Kerry grilled Fox at the hearing last month, Obama noted that the Swift Boat group had already been widely condemned by members of both parties when Fox made his contribution.

"I have to note that the Swift Boat ads were of a different degree, even in the ugly arena of politics," Obama said at the hearing. "They were extraordinarily well-publicized. In that there was essentially a fraud being perpetrated on the American people. It had a profound impact on the election. And I have to say, sitting here Mr. Fox, I found your statement somewhat unsatisfying."

Representatives for Obama, Dodd and Biden did not return calls seeking comment on Monday.

It can be risky to seek political payback against a diplomatic nominee, said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University.

"There is the tit-for-tat problem that you let that genie out of the bottle and it's likely to come back and bedevil a Democratic president," Baker said.

"Everybody really understands how important these big money contributors are," Baker said. "At some point, they've got to be rewarded and the usual treat for them is an ambassadorship."

Fox is national chairman of the Jewish Republican Coalition and has donated well over $1 million to Republican candidates and causes since the 1990s, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Fox, 77, is founder and chairman of the Clayton, Mo.-based Harbour Group. He is revered in St. Louis for donating millions of dollars each year to more than 150 different charities.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., on Monday predicted Fox's nomination would be successful. One of Fox's strongest supporters, Bond called him "a leader in the community and a generous champion for charity."

Fox also has garnered the public support of at least two Democrats, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., both of whom testified for him nomination at the hearing last month.