By SHANNON McCAFFREY
The Associated Press
Friday, September 14, 2007; 6:17 AM
ATLANTA -- Republican presidential contender Rudy Giuliani on Thursday accused Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton of participating in "character assassination" for questioning Gen. David Petraeus about his assessment of progress in Iraq.
Clinton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was one of several Democrats and some Republicans who expressed skepticism with President Bush's top military general's more positive outlook on Iraq than recent independent reviews.
Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker told Congress Iraq remains largely dysfunctional but said violence in recent months had decreased since the influx of 30,000 additional troops earlier this year.
"The reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief," Clinton said Tuesday.
Campaigning in Georgia, Giuliani assailed Clinton for the second straight day and tried to link her to a newspaper ad from the liberal anti-war group MoveOn that was critical of Petraeus. The ad accused Petraeus of "cooking the books" for the White House. "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" it asked, playing off his name.
MoveOn is an independent organization.
"We believe, unlike Hillary Clinton, that General Petraeus is telling the truth," Giuliani said.
Calling the ad abominable, Giuliani said Clinton's comments followed up on it "in a very, very coincidental way."
He added, "What I don't think should happen in political discourse is the kind of character assassination that MoveOn.org participated in in calling him General Betray Us, that The New York Times gave them a discount to do and that Hillary Clinton followed up on with an attack on his integrity."
He also said, "It is time for Americans to really insist that American politicians move beyond character assassination and this is exactly what they attempted to do with General Petraeus."
Responding to Giuliani's criticism, Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said the former mayor "supports George Bush's Iraq policy and believes it is working. Senator Clinton knows it isn't and will keep up her efforts to end the war. She believes the best way to honor our heroes in Iraq is to bring them home."
Giuliani also said of Petraeus: "Maybe you can disagree with his tactics. I agree with them, but you have no right to disagree with his integrity."
"Their excessive political zeal led them to character assassination," he said
Giuliani also suggested that MoveOn received a discount from The New York Times. The organization did not; they received the rate of $64,575 that the newspaper charges for a special advocacy, full-page, black and white, standby ad.
President Bush himself expressed his displeasure with the MoveOn ad in a conversation with network television correspondents on Thursday.
"The president does not think that generals should be denigrated at all," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. If critics of the president "want to attack him, fine, but the generals, and by association the military, should be out of bounds from partisan attacks."
Giuliani made the comments after shaking hands with a the lunchtime crowd eating fried green tomatoes at the OK Cafe in Atlanta. A version of the old Georgia flag, which contains the Confederate battle emblem, hung on the wall.
Responding to reporters' questions outside the restaurant, Giuliani repeated his contention that illegal immigration is not a crime.
"It's up to the U.S. Congress to decide that, and the U.S. law books say that crossing the border without permission is a misdemeanor. Other than that, it's not a crime," he said.
"Congress tried to make it a crime, but didn't make it a crime, so that's a question of law, not political rhetoric or political spinning or political position."
He quickly changed the subject.
Giuliani also headlined three fundraisers in the state Thursday.