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Bush Disavows Top Aide’s Attack on Democrats

August 3, 1992

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ President Bush today disavowed a top campaign aide’s slashing attack on Bill Clinton that invoked rumors of marital infidelity by the Democratic nominee.

″The president is determined to keep this campaign out of the sleaze business,″ White House spokeswoman Judy Smith said in a statement read to reporters aboard Air Force One as Bush flew here from campaigning in Dalton, Ga.

The apology came just a few hours after the Bush campaign spokeswoman, Torie Clarke, defended the broadside issued Sunday by Mary Matalin, the campaign’s political director. But she said Bush had not seen it beforehand.

″Mary Matalin today issued a statement apologizing and taking full responsibility. The president has accepted her apology and has full confidence in her,″ Smith said.

Bush, heavily criticized for the tenor of his 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis, has vowed to avoid personal attacks out of this election and instructed his lieutenants to avoid the low road.

Matalin later issued a statement of regret that swiped at the Democrats’ ″hypocrisy.″

″It would appear to some that I might have violated, at least in spirit, the president’s dictate to the campaign that we avoid references to Governor Clinton’s personal life. I regret if the tone of my statement left the wrong impression in that regard,″ she said.

But she added, ″I stand by my criticism of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party for their unprecedented hypocrisy and for daily disparaging, in the most egregious and personal terms, the president of the United States.″

The Clinton campaign demanded earlier today that Matalin be fired.

Later, when the Clinton camp learned of Matalin’s apology, spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers said, ″That’s fine with us. We’re glad that the Bush camp wants to get this campaign back to the issues.″

Asked if she believed that Bush had nothing to do with Sunday’s attack, Myers said: ″We’ll take him at his word and hope this campaign gets back to the economy, health care and issues that affect Americans.″

Bush, before an enthusiastic crowd that lined the riverfront in downtown Jacksonville, gave a fiery speech denouncing the Democrats and making his own case for four more years.

″Let’s see how they can take it. I am going to carry it back to them and take my case to you, the American people,″ said Bush. ″They’ve had their day. six months of carping and griping and tearing down the United States and that day is over.″

He made no mention of the mudslinging dispute or the disavowed Matalin memo.

Campaigning in Dalton, the carpet capital of the world, Bush accused Clinton of distorting his ″good, solid world leadership record″ belittling America’s standing in the world.

Speaking to several hundred carpet workers, Bush said, ″I heard a certain Southern governor say the other day that this country was being ridiculed around the world.″

″I suspect that he hasn’t been around much,″ said Bush.

″I’d like to have him walk the streets of Warsaw as I did a few days ago or Moscow or maybe sit down with Boris Yeltsin or Helmut Kohl or Miyazawa or a myriad of leaders south of our border and they’d tell him what you and I already know: the United States is the undisputed leader of the world,″ he said. ″And that did not happen by accident. It happened by leadership.″

Matalin last week ignited a mud-slinging controversy when she was quoted in The New York Times as saying, ″We’ve never said to the press that (Clinton’s) a philandering, pot-smoking draft dodger.″ But she said there was ″nothing nefarious or subliminal going on.″

The Clinton campaign responded by accusing her and other Republicans of engaging in sleazy tactics, not withstanding Bush’s promise.

Then on Sunday Matalin issued a sardonic three-page release compiling nasty things that Clinton and other Democrats have said about Bush. The Bush campaign styled its broadside in the form of a who-said-what quiz for Clinton and other ″sniveling hypocritical Democrats.″

It said the Clinton campaign has ″had to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars on private investigators to fend off ’bimbo eruptions.‴

That is the phrase that Clinton research director Betsey Wright used recently in describing to The Washington Post her work in dealing with allegations that the Arkansas governor had extramarital affairs.

Clarke, the campaign spokeswoman, initially defended Matalin’s broadside as an attempt to set the record straight.

″We have been laying back entirely too much this year,″ Clarke told reporters today. The Democrats ″have done a very good job convincing you that we’re the mean, nasty ones.″

She said the Republicans would not ″let them get away with murder. That would be like the Dukakis team of ’88 - just sit back and take it. ... We’re going to try everything possible to keep them straight and honest.″

But Clinton spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers in Little Rock, Ark., said, ″The president laid down the marker, and he ought to fire whoever is responsible. This is the sleaziest hit of the campaign.″

She compared his clean campaign promise to Bush’s ″read my lips, no new taxes″ pledge and said that absent any action, ″The American people will see that his word is worthless.″

Meanwhile, Bush tonight was launching a multimillion-dollar ad campaign portraying himself as the candidate of change and vowing to press the fight in Congress for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

The ads will run on the Cable News Network and local television stations across the country over the next two weeks leading up to the Aug. 17 Republican National Convention in Houston.

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