At a summit on Wednesday focused on the fiscal challenges that face the United States, former president Bill Clinton was drawn into a discussion of more immediate political issues, including the recent suggestion by Republican political operative Karl Rove that his wife might be trying to disguise a brain injury.
On Monday, it was reported by the New York Post that Rove had made comments at a private event regarding Hillary Clinton’s treatment for a concussion she suffered in 2012. “Thirty days in the hospital?” Rove said. “And when she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that.”
The injury occurred when Clinton, dehydrated from a stomach virus, fainted and struck her head, causing a blood clot between her skull and brain. Rove overstated her hospital stay by a factor of 10 – she was in the hospital for three days. At the time, Republicans suggested the injury was a ruse meant to protect Clinton from testifying at congressional hearings on the attacks that killed four U.S. diplomats, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in Benghazi, Libya.
Interviewer Gwen Ifill asked the former president to respond to Rove’s statement. “First of all, I’ve got to give him credit,” Clinton said. “This embodies the old saying about consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds. First, they said she faked her concussion and now they say she’s auditioning for a part in The Walking Dead.”
Clinton dismissed the attack as politically-motivated, and said his wife, widely viewed as the Democratic front-runner for the presidential nomination in 2016, is in good shape, physically and mentally.
“Look, she works out every week, she is strong, she’s doing great. Far as I can tell she’s in better shape than I am and she’s certainly seems to have more stamina,” he said.
Regarding Rove’s statement, he said, “I was sort of dumbfounded. They went to all this trouble to say that she’d faked what was a terrible concussion that required six months of very serious work to get over. It’s something she never low-balled with the American people, something she never tried to pretend didn’t happen. Now they say she’s really got brain damage. Well, if she does, then I must be in really tough shape because she’s still quicker than I am.”
When Ifill asked the former president if he believed it was Republicans’ way of inserting doubts about his wife’s age or physical ability into the national conversation about the upcoming election, he replied, “I don’t know, but if it is, you can’t get too obsessed about it. It’s just the beginning and they’ll get better and better at it. I mean, you know, I’m still waiting for them to admit there was nothing to Whitewater.”
He seemed to concede that questions about a candidate’s ability to stand up to the rigors of the presidency are legitimate, adding, “When a question is asked that has to be answered in a serious fashion, that raises serious issues even in a ridiculous way after that you just have to trust the people and get back to the business of what’s really in the public interest.”
As part of a broader question about the array of issues currently facing President Obama in his second term, Ifill mentioned the decision by House GOP leadership to create a special investigative committee focused on the Benghazi attack – a step derided by Democrats as a political move designed to keep the issue alive in order to damage Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency.
Republicans have criticized the immediate response to the attacks by the State Department, as well as the security arrangements for the U.S. diplomatic compound that was attacked.
“Hillary did what she should have done,” he said, in creating a high-level investigative panel chaired by retired General Mike Mullen and Retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering, which delivered a set of conclusions and recommendations to the State Department.
Clinton also defended his wife against claims that she had failed to properly provide security for the compound, noting that the panel found that, historically, Secretaries of State had never been part of the decision-making process on security arrangements.
Bill Clinton urged people called before the House panel to be defensive and to answer the questions, but to “realize what this is.”
“What is it?” Ifill asked.
“Ah, you just want me to get in a political fight,” Clinton replied. “I’m not gonna.”
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