The White House Friday admitted presidential political strategist Karl Rove targeted a liberal organization and filmmaker Michael Moore when he said liberals responded weakly to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Democrats including New York Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer have lashed out at Rove, the deputy white House chief of staff, in press releases, at news conferences and in comments on the Senate floor.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada called on Rove to retract the comments or resign.
The bitter partisan exchange broke out two days after a Republican-led uproar over remarks by Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin comparing U.S. treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to that meted out by the Nazis, at Soviet gulags or by Cambodia’s Pol Pot.
“It’s just puzzling why Democratic leaders are trying to defend the views of people like Michael Moore and organizations like Moveon.org that took a very different view after the attacks of September 11,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.
On Thursday and Friday, McClellan defended Rove’s remarks and rebuffed suggestions he apologize.
Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said on Thursday, “It’s outrageous that the same Democrats who stood by Dick Durbin’s libeling of our military are now expressing faux outrage over Karl Rove’s statement of historical fact.”
White House counselor Dan Bartlett told Fox News on Friday that Rove’s criticism was specifically directed at Moveon.org and Moore, and that “he wasn’t pointing out Democrat Clinton or Democrat Schumer or the other folks who came out with the outrage.”
Bartlett said of Clinton and Schumer, “These are folks who right after 9/11, who voted to support the president and the response to 9/11.”
The political back-and-forth was sparked by comments made by Rove to the Conservative Party of New York state on Wednesday night.
“Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers,” Rove said.
Rove cited a petition the liberal organization Moveon.org circulated after 9/11 urging moderation and restraint in responding to the attacks.
Rove also singled out Moore, who weighed into the 2004 presidential campaign with a scathing anti-Bush documentary, as well as Howard Dean, former Democratic presidential hopeful and Democratic National Committee chairman.
MoveOn Executive Director Eli Pariser accused Rove and Bartlett of trying to “divert attention from the president’s reckless, failed policy in Iraq by attacking us.”