Dukakis Hires Back Ousted Aide to Boost His Campaign : Sasso Had Left After Biden Flap
Democrat Michael S. Dukakis, trying to inject new life into his presidential campaign, today re-enlisted former aide John Sasso, who resigned under fire last year after he compiled and released a videotape that helped devastate the White House bid of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.).
“Almost a year ago, John Sasso made a very serious mistake. He’s paid the price. A year is a very long time,” Dukakis told a news conference at which he announced that Sasso will become campaign vice chairman.
He said that Susan Estrich will remain as campaign manager and that Paul Brountas will continue as campaign chairman.
Sasso resigned as campaign manager last Sept. 30 after it was disclosed that he was responsible for putting together and leaking a videotape demonstrating that Biden was using without attribution the campaign rhetoric of British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. The questioned passage came from a Kinnock speech in which he described his personal background. Biden incorporated Kinnock’s words to describe his own background.
Charges of Plagiarism
The videotape, combined with revelations that Biden was guilty of plagiarism in law school and lied about his academic achievements during the presidential campaign, forced him out of the race a week before Sasso’s confession.
Sasso resigned the day after Dukakis had told a news conference that no one in his campaign was involved in leaking the videotape.
Dukakis said that he told Biden he wanted to bring Sasso back into the campaign and that the senator “could not have been more gracious.”
The return of Sasso, announced jointly by Dukakis in California and his senior advisers in Boston, was widely seen as another signal that the Democratic nominee has decided to mount a more aggressive campaign at a time when Republican George Bush has pulled even in most polls.
But Dukakis denied that Sasso’s return is linked to his recent decline in public opinion polls.
“I want the strongest team I possibly can (have),” he said, noting that Labor Day--next Monday--is the traditional start of the stretch drive of the presidential campaign.
Asked whether he thought Sasso’s return would blunt Democratic charges of ethical violations by members of the Reagan Administration, Dukakis replied that “there was nothing illegal about what John did.”
In Boston, Sasso dismissed suggestions that his return would give the Bush campaign an excuse to accuse Dukakis of planning a “sleaze” campaign. That would be “outrageous” of the Bush people, he said. “They certainly have a problem along those lines.”
“What I did back on September was an error in judgment, and I am sorry that it hurt Sen. Biden and his family,” Sasso said.
Not ‘Unethical or Illegal’
Although he apologized to Biden, Sasso said there was nothing “unethical or illegal” about distributing accurate videotapes showing the similarity of speeches by Biden and Kinnock.
Biden issued a statement saying he was glad that Sasso had agreed that the Delaware senator “never meant to mislead anyone.” Biden said he still supports Dukakis for president.
If nothing else, Sasso’s return energized a campaign staff that has been sobered in recent weeks by Bush’s surge in the polls. Many believe that Dukakis’ failure to respond to the Republican nominee’s salvos has cost the Massachusetts governor the momentum--and the lead in the polls--that he took from the Democratic National Convention.