Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Democratic sources believe that the harsh response by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign to criticism by Hollywood producer David Geffen stems from an overreaction by Bill Clinton to any attack on his pardon policy as president.

Geffen sniped at the Clintons in his interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd because President Clinton had pardoned financial contributor Marc Rich instead of American Indian activist Leonard Peltier. Geffen, a longtime backer of Bill Clinton, is backing Sen. Barack Obama for president.

The movie mogul's comments marked the first time Bill Clinton had been subjected to an attack from his party since the 1992 campaign. The former president was reported as infuriated, raising the question of whether he will rise to the bait in any further intraparty criticism of his wife.


Close supporters of Sen. Barack Obama's presidential candidacy were pleased for the short term by his campaign's sharp retort to Sen. Hillary Clinton's criticism of him but are concerned by its long-range implications.

Obama backers said his tough response demonstrated that as a newcomer to big-time politics, he could take a punch and then hit back. The broader problem is whether Clinton and Obama will engage in a continuous head-to-head struggle that would open the way for another candidate (especially former Sen. John Edwards).

A footnote: Obama's strategists were happy about him skipping the first Democratic presidential candidate forum last Wednesday at Carson City, Nev. (preceding the inaugural Nevada caucuses next Jan. 19). Obama did not want to tear up his schedule in order to get five minutes at the forum and felt Clinton wasted her time doing so.


Although the White House claimed ignorance about the resignation last month of Robert Joseph as under secretary of state for arms control and disarmament, associates say he was upset generally with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's policies. The recent nuclear arms accord with North Korea was the last straw.

When asked last Tuesday whether Joseph disagreed with the Korean policy and resigned in protest over it, White House spokesman Tony Snow replied: "Not that I'm aware of. In fact, I don't have any idea." That evoked laughter from the assembled reporters.

Joseph had left the government after four years as a key aide to National Security Adviser Rice during President Bush's first term. But Rice pleaded with Joseph, saying she badly needed him at the State Department, and he agreed to take the job. His first experience at State did not prove a happy one, as he felt cut out of the action.


Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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