By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Just days after a series of sharp exchanges in a debate Thursday night, a tense back-and-forth erupted between two top Democratic presidential candidates Saturday as Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) accused Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) of spreading rumors that her campaign is in possession of potentially damaging information about her rival.
Robert D. Novak wrote in his syndicated weekend column that "agents" of the Clinton campaign have been "spreading the word in Democratic circles that she has scandalous information about her principal opponent." Novak did not offer any further details about the allegedly negative information.
The Obama campaign lashed out at the report, saying it is "devoid of facts, but heavy on innuendo and insinuation of the sort to which we've become all too accustomed in our politics these past two decades."
Obama challenged Clinton's campaign to either make the information public "or concede the truth: that there is none."
Clinton campaign aides, in turn, denied any knowledge about what led to the Novak remark and accused Obama of "echoing Republican talking points," as well as of falling prey to a conservative columnist's attempts to pit Democrats against each other. Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, in an e-mailed statement accused the Clinton campaign of evading the question of whether she was behind the item.
"The Clinton campaign refuses to answer two simple, direct questions: Are 'agents' of their campaign spreading these rumors? And do they have 'scandalous' information that they are not releasing?" Plouffe wrote.
Further escalating the exchange, the Clinton campaign again mocked Obama for betraying his promise to implement a "politics of hope" and said he is wasting his time on insubstantial matters.
"It's telling that the Obama campaign would rather spend the day throwing mud in Bob Novak's sandbox than talking about the issues," said Phil Singer, a Clinton spokesman, in an e-mailed statement. "Our statement was crystal clear: Democratic voters should be concerned about any presidential candidate inexperienced enough to fall for Republican talking points. The Clinton campaign has nothing to do with this item."
None of the parties involved -- including Novak -- specified the substance of the rumors. Novak wrote that Clinton has "decided not to use" the material.
"This word-of-mouth among Democrats makes Obama look vulnerable and Clinton look prudent," Novak said, in the three-paragraph item.