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Bush Vows to Say More about Clinton's College-Era Conduct

By Douglas Jehl
Los Angeles Times


With time running out in his bid for re-election, President Bush said Thursday that he would have "more to say" about Bill Clinton's involvement in anti-war demonstrations and his 1969 trip to Moscow, a sign that a bitter campaign could take an even more negative turn.

Only hours after Bush questioned Clinton's youthful patriotism by calling attention to his conduct while a graduate student at Oxford University, the president told reporters in Houston: "I thought I expressed what was in my heart last night pretty well."

Bush said on CNN's "Larry King Live" that Clinton was "wrong" to demonstrate against the war while overseas, and implied that there could have been something sinister about the visit to Moscow. At the same time, Bush admitted, "I don't have the facts."

The president's top aides quickly took up the cudgel Thursday, accusing the Arkansas governor of being less than candid in describing the episodes. "It's another vintage Clinton," deputy campaign manager Mary Matalin said. "It's pathological deception."

And Vice President Dan Quayle said in a St. Louis television interview Thursday that if Clinton "organized an anti-American demonstration on foreign soil, he ought to apologize."

With the candidates due to square off Sunday in the first of a series of intensive debates crucial to his comeback hopes, the new flurry of Bush team assaults offered a preview of what are likely to be face-to-face attacks aimed at Clinton's character and conduct.

By using a live television appearance Wednesday night to depict Clinton as a young man sympathetic to Moscow at the height of the Vietnam War, Bush has added to a wild-swinging repertoire that in recent days has also seen him raise questions about his rival's avoidance of the draft, his 1986 meeting with an Iraqi official in his role as Arkansas governor, and his youthful experimentation with marijuana.

All are issues of which the Bush campaign has been aware for months; at a rally in Orange County, Calif., last month, Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Calif.) even used a speech introducing Bush to accuse Clinton of spending his student days chanting anti-Vietnam War and pro-Viet Cong chants.

At the time, White House aides took pains to avoid appearing in alliance with Dornan's attacks. But now, eight months after Bush told an interviewer he would do "what I have to do to be re-elected," he and his strategists appear to have concluded that there is little to lose by raising questions from which they had previously shied away.

That decision can be seen in the map-hopping course Bush is taking in the days before heading to St. Louis Sunday for the first of three presidential debates.

While Clinton has holed up with aides in a Kansas City, Mo., hotel to prep for the debate, Bush has chosen to keep campaigning until Friday night, pressing his assault in the hope that he can land a blow.

Bush's questions about Clinton's conduct during the Vietnam War seemed to conflict with his own inaugural address four years ago, when he asked the nation to put the controversy behind.

In his address four years ago, he suggested that "the statute of limitations" had passed and that the war's "final lesson" was "that no great nation can long afford to be sundered by that memory."