WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest firefighters union has accused Republican presidential contender Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, of committing "egregious acts" against firefighters who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In a letter to its members Friday, the International Association of Fire Fighters, excoriated Giuliani for his November 2001 decision to cut back the number of firefighters searching the rubble of Ground Zero for the remains of some 300 fallen comrades.
The union accused him of carelessly expediting the cleanup process with a "scoop-and-dump" operation after the recovery of millions of dollars in gold, silver and other assets from the Bank of Nova Scotia that had been buried.
Giuliani's campaign insisted that he supports first responders.
The former mayor and the union have feuded for years over his policies in the aftermath of the attacks.
The union's latest broadside initially was included in a scathing letter dated Feb. 28. Union officials say that letter was drafted but never distributed to members.
Nevertheless, the letter showed up on Web sites this week. After it surfaced, the union sent a revised letter with the same criticisms to its members Friday and posted it on the union's Web site.
"Mayor Giuliani's actions meant that firefighters and citizens who perished would either remain buried at Ground Zero forever, with no closure for families, or be removed like so much garbage and deposited at the Fresh Kills landfill," the letter said.
Lee Ielpi, a retired New York firefighter, said for his part he was "deeply disappointed and disheartened" by the union's recent political activities and called the letter offensive and inaccurate.
Tim Brown, a former firefighter and executive director of Firefighters for Rudy who is also a Giuliani campaign aide, added: "We are honored by the support of so many first responders from across the country and are appreciative of their continued enthusiasm for Mayor Giuliani's candidacy."
The union says it's bipartisan. It endorsed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004.
At least 10 Republican and Democratic candidates plan to attend Wednesday's forum, including Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, and former Sen. John Edwards. On the Republican side, the only top tier candidate who has committed is GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, declined an invitation.