“I wish you could conduct a campaign on policy and policy differentiation,” Howard Wolfson, Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign communications director, said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday morning. He added that Clinton “would like nothing more.”
This was moments after Wolfson and Phil Singer, another top Clinton aide, had hammered Barack Obama for having held a fundraiser during his first state senate campaign in Illinois at the home of William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois and a former aide to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who was a member of the radical Weather Underground Organization, which was responsible for several bombings in the early 1970s. Ayers was never arrested for his activities. But in 2001, he did say, “I don’t regret setting bombs.” The issue had come up during the previous night’s debate. Responding to a question about Ayers, Obama had said, “the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn’t make much sense.” Wolfson, this morning after, insisted that Obama had “to be more forthcoming about that issue” and state clearly whether it had been “appropriate” to attend a fundraiser at Ayers’ home.
When it came time for questions for Wolfson, I asked an obvious one: Did Hillary Clinton believe that it had been appropriate in 2001 for President Bill Clinton to have pardoned two members of the Weather Underground as he left office? The two recipients of Clinton’s munificence were Linda Evans, who was sentenced to five years in prison for her participation in a string of 1980s bombings, and Susan Rosenberg, who was charged with participating in a bank robbery that left one guard and two police officers dead. And, I continued, has Senator Clinton ever criticized this decision? Has she ever said anything publicly about it? Rosenberg, I noted, had been apprehended with 740 pounds of explosives in her possession.
Wolfson replied, “I am not aware of Linda Evans or Susan Rosenberg…hosting a political event for Senator Clinton.”
I interrupted to note that I had not asked whether they had. I had asked whether Clinton had supported or opposed her husband’s pardons for these two women. (I resisted the urge to throw in Marc Rich.)
Wolfson responded that while I have the right to ask questions the way I see fit, he has the right to answer them in the manner he chooses–and then I can evaluate his reply. (Given that the Clinton aides do take many questions from all comers, I could not argue with him on that.) Wolfson went on to accuse the Obama campaign of trying to conflate the pardons and the Ayers issues. And indeed it is. The Obama campaign did disseminate email about the Weather Underground radicals pardoned by Bill Clinton. Wolfson then maintained the critical difference here is that Ayers had been a “key supporter” of Obama.
I tried again: the question is whether Senator Clinton believes the pardons for Rosenberg and Evans were appropriate. Wolfson replied “I am not an expert on the pardons….I don’t know what she said” about them.
Could he find out and get back to us? Yes, he said.
During the call, Wolfson said, “voters deserve as much information about the candidates as possible.” And Clinton’s view of the Weather Underground pardons, given her campaign’s effort to pump up the volume of the Ayers matter, certainly meets that standard.
By the way, Wolfson added that neither Linda Evans or Susan Rosenberg had ever hosted an event for Senator Clinton–just in case any of the reporters had missed that point. He added that Clinton had not raised the issue at the debate on Wednesday night. True, but now her campaign had–and it was signalling it would keep doing so, as part of an effort to tie Obama to a “terrorist.” The ploy was a clear one. In this instance, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.